Adapting to a global pandemic has a steep learning curve. The lessons learned throughout the COVID-19 shutdown will continue to teach and test volleyball directors as the club season approaches and the outbreak evolves. How a club director handles themself during times like these ultimately shows the character of an organization.
We reached out to a dozen JVA Club Directors in various parts of the country to learn how their club is weathering the storm and what adjustments they have made to their business model in order to stay safe and financially stable.
Emphasize Safety and Communication
Amidst so many moving parts, try to focus on the things that you can control. Doing your part to maintain the safety of your athletes and families is within your control. Being safer and more conservative can give your families a greater sense of security in knowing that your club is doing the very best for everyone during this time. Don’t compromise on safety even if someone does not like it.
Spreading out the training sessions over seven days could allow a cleaner, safer environment since there will be fewer people in the building and more time for cleaning in between training sessions. Adjust staffing for events and facility upkeep by staggering staff schedules in an effort to limit their exposure to each other. This way if one person tests positive or goes into quarantine, you have reduced the risk of that happening to the entire staff and can avoid shutting the facility down for a period of time.
If you host a tournament, limit spectators to one per athlete and enforce all admission passes to be purchased online in advance. You could require everyone to wear a mask in and out of the gym and as they walk to and from volleyball courts, along with requiring your coaching staff to wear a mask. Here is a list of Cleaning Supplies and Products that have proven to be effective.
In uncertain times, clear and constant communication play an important role in your club culture and club retention as you navigate the change that comes your way. Continue to build the trust of your athletes’ parents through frequent and honest communication. Even if you are not in the gym training, continue to offer assistance in the recruiting process, fitness, and mental health. Keep up with those athletes that are training and competing for their high school programs.
Also along the lines of communication, the key staff need to meet regularly to touch base at least every few days. Some tough conversations will have to be had, but even connecting on the latest updates from the Health Department or local government is beneficial as you plan your programs. Continue to surround yourself with leaders who are forward thinking and understand the importance of the business side working cohesively with the volleyball side. During this tumultuous time, the clubs that are led by volleyball people and business people will be more apt to survive versus the clubs that are led by only volleyball people or only business people.
Adapt and Plan Ahead
Depending on the status of the high school volleyball season, clubs may need to determine if and how your club will work around the Spring season. You can offer an optional season for recruitable athletes in the spring if there are tournaments and no dead period. Consider having all of your athletes get approval from your staff to opt-in and miss their high school season if there are no stipulations from the state high school athletic association.
Many directors and coaches have witnessed how much the athletes truly love to play volleyball, regardless of the program structure or surface of the court. Continue to be creative in your programming and explore 4v4 tournaments, beach programs and tournaments, grass leagues, etc. If you do not have access to an indoor facility, look into a location to host grass volleyball clinics.
Clubs have been working diligently to figure out their options for a competition season. Since it is difficult to predict where we will be 4-6 months from now, have three to four different plans for different scenarios that may happen come the winter time.
Plan A: By the start of the club season, the virus is under control, there is a vaccine and it is business as usual.
Plan B: Work together with clubs that are within a 5-6 hour drive and arrange a power league to allow limited travel and matched competition for your teams. Many clubs have already collaborated to find one or two centralized locations to host a handful of teams. Connect with the clubs around you and get in on those conversations. Clubs need each other to survive.
Plan C: Limit travel even more so competition is limited to clubs within 2-3 hours.
Plan D: Train and compete in your own building with your club’s own teams. Find ways to keep your athletes training hard and receiving a competitive outlet. Schedule in-house scrimmages, create a Fantasy Draft league, or internal power league to keep it fun and challenging.
Cut Costs and Limit Hassle Where Possible
Many clubs have had to re-evaluate their business model in order to save money, cut costs, and operate more risk-free. First and foremost, clubs need to build up a reserve to help weather an unforeseeable disaster.
Rather than pre-paying for travel far in advance and risking the hassle of refunds and credits from the travel industry, establish basic club dues that include coaching, facility, equipment, and admin. You can remove the portion of the dues that are tied to tournament entry fees, and instead charge tournaments a la carte as you can enter them, so you can see how the season will progress. In addition, you can develop a “Pay as You Go” plan where dues will be charged the 1st and 15th of each month while in season. Once payment is made it becomes non-refundable. If your club has to shut down, the next payment and any subsequent payments during the shut down are turned off and removed from the dues. Once your club resumes, the Pay as You Go plan is turned back on.
If you lease a facility and are not planning to run any programs, or if for some reason the pandemic is still around this winter, find out if you can apply for an abatement and defer your rent for 6 months.
Revisit last year’s renovation or investment plans and see you need to adapt those to your new business model. For example, one club decided against making a large investment to add an indoor facility and is going to add 6 sand courts at the current facility instead. This way, if the pandemic continues, the club can continue operating outdoors.
Work closely with your uniform provider to lower your costs, but still offer your players some great gear. One option would be to lower your “required” apparel package to only include jerseys and spandex for the season. Scale back your uniforms from sublimated to micro-fabric t-shirts. Uniform providers are putting customer loyalty and retention first, and are sensitive to the fact that clubs are not in the same financial situation as last year, so don’t hesitate to see how they can help you lower the financial commitment for your families.
Be Patient and Trust the Process After a Substantial Financial Hit
Last season many clubs offered the athletes that were able to get back in the gym an opportunity, and those that could not received refunds. Many clubs refunded all tournament fees back to the parents regardless of whether or not they received a 100% refund from the tournament hosts. The loss was great financially, but the respect you gained and the parents that return to your organization mostly likely far exceed what you could expect during a pandemic. The same goes for your coaching staff; those clubs who took money out of their own pockets to pay out their coaches and honor the coach commitments will see a great retention rate and have built trust going into this coming season.
This time has been difficult for our industry, but rather than focus on what’s wrong, focus on the lessons learned, and rebuild. Coming out of this pandemic, clubs will be more positive, a lot safer, with enhanced technology and virtual opportunities for their members. Continue to work together, share ideas and be united for a safer return to sport.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.”