Sunday, April 29, 2018

Responsibility in Providing Sport

I had a great week at the National Association of Sports Commission's annual Symposium. The event was my fifth, and my favorite. I always relish the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones; and, Minneapolis was an exceptional host city.

A number of relevant topics were discussed at this year's symposium, but one that struck a cord with me: specialization in youth sports.

I know I've discussed this topic in passing before, but this time it caught my attention for a different reason. Traditionally, we hear the loud sirens blaring to warn us about burnout, overuse injuries and the like resulting from specialization of young athletes in one sport at young ages.

The good news is, according to the Sports Fitness Industry Association data presented at the symposium, indicators may be pointing to a shift in these trends...if not a shift, than perhaps a slowing. In other words, some startling previous data noted how young the peak ages for sports occurs and the average number of sports per youth was well less than 2. This means that kids were participating in fewer different sports and specializing at a younger age.
Courtesy: YMCA

Clearly this is problematic for a variety of reasons, but interestingly, the rise in specialized, competitive sports, also lent itself to bolstering the number of regional and national tournaments, and thus likely accounts for at least a portion of the "boom" in the sport tourism industry over the last couple decades.

Here comes the "BUT".

But...the SFIA data showed this phenomenon may be slowing through rising peak ages among sports, increasing total number of sports played by youth. Even though small increases, they are increasing none the less.

This is great news for the health and wellness of some of our youth. Note, SOME, not all.

However, what are the implications for the sport tourism industry? Will a potential increase in recreational opportunities result in decrease in team travel among youth? Is a plateau in the future?

The State of the Industry report presented at the symposium indicated, yet again, a rise in total value of the sport tourism industry to somewhere just a bit shy of $11 billion annually. It's important to note that these are self-reported numbers by industry members. Here is a link to the report from 2016's data.

My estimation is that while sport tourism is still flying high so-to-speak, caution should be exercised in terms of looking to the horizon and carefully monitoring these trends. Particularly as new venues are coming online nearly every week.

So back to the good news of health and wellness implications quickly. Increased peak ages, increased number of sports which a youth participates...these all sound like home runs for the industry, right? The answer is yes, but.

Frankly, not surprising, these odds are still astonishingly high that little of this change impacts youth participation for many of our community areas that need it most, our most under-served populations, and our most at-risk families for numerous dangerous socio, economic, and cultural indicators.

The "haves" and the "have nots" are still prevalent in area that should know no such boundaries. If your household income is more than $100k per year, good news, you can play as many sports as long as you want. Under $100k, sorry about your luck.
Courtesy: Project Play, Benefits of Active Kids
So that drives to the question, what is the responsibility of us, as deliverers of sport across the country from a variety of different industry segments, to change these statistics? This issue is not contained to inner-city kids in large markets, it's the kids in each of our community's struggling areas.

I contend as an industry, we must do more to address these needs, not just focus on room nights generated. What this looks like, I'm not quite sure, but I know there are groups in each of our communities, and at the national level (such as Project Play by the Aspen Institute), beginning to discuss these barriers and how to overcome them.

So leverage your role, be a part of the solution. It's one thing to acknowledge a problem exists, it's another to do something - anything - to fix it!

As Albert Einstein once said "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." This is Stoll on Sports.

Check out the Project Play's 7 Charts that Show Why We Need to Fix Youth Sports.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Just Kick the Can

Just. Kick. The. Can.

These simple, four words have become my mantra over my time at the sports commission, and even more so as of lately.

Coursework and comprehensive exams are now in my rear view mirror. This marks a time when many people stall out. One source says more than 56% of doctoral students do not complete their degree within 10 years. ABD (All but dissertation) stagnancy. Being so taxed after exams, I can understand how this happens.

My solution?

Just. Kick. The. Can.

I'm not referring to the silly game for little kids - though that is fun too.

Each day do something - ANYTHING - even the most minute step to move forward.

Does it work for life, goals, health, work, ____ (fill in the blank). I believe it does. Will it work for my dissertation? I hope so, but only time will tell.

Researcher, author and professor Angela Duckworth would call my "Just kick the can" philosophy "grit". She defines grit as "passion and perseverance for long term goals".  Chances are, you are familiar with her wildly popular TED talk on the same subject. Here is her Grit Scale test.

Fascinating. But my simple mind needs a more visual depiction. Enter "Just kick the can".

Some days, try as we might, we kick the proverbial can and it barely rolls forward. Some days we wind up and kick like crazy, the can sails off our foot...catches a headwind...and comes right back at our face. Some days we whiff altogether (see Charlie Brown inset) - but that's life, AKA Lucy.

BUT...Some days we muster all the energy we have, barely nudge the can, and it rolls down the hill, jumps a creek and hits the goal.

I know it's odd, but I picture Cousin Eddy from Christmas Vacation here after Clark sets the saucer sled land-speed record - "Bingo!" Don't judge.

The point is NOT the DISTANCE the can travels. The point is THAT WE KICK THE CAN. Again and again and again, and then again. Oh yeah, and again.

This daily grind yields long-term results. Case in point, starting the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission. I make mistakes, I (try) to accept them, (try) to learn from them, and just kick the can. In fact, one such "learning opportunity" is happening as I type. My mind naturally wants to deploy defense mechanisms - avoidance, shame, profuse palm sweating, anxiety, failure....ugh.

This is when we need to "just kick the can". Move the needle, whatever you want to call it.

I've mentioned the book Peak Performance before, and I'm in the process of reading The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. These books have in common - as with Angela Duckworth's work on grit - that stress is not only unavoidable, it is a powerful mechanism for success. It's how we harness stress that determines our ultimate outcome.

So whether it's a personal goal, a professional struggle, a project that's been on the back burner, an innermost dream, or a big research paper (double ugh!), I encourage you to JUST. KICK. THE. CAN. There are lots of cans for the kickin', plenty to go around, so have a whack!

I think you will be pleasantly surprised. And in no time you will look back and your starting point will be out of sight.

As Thomas Edison said, "Many of life's greatest failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." After all, the story goes that Edison himself put more than 10,000 attempts into perfecting the light bulb. Even if the number of attempts was really only half that, 5,000 kicks of the can isn't too shabby! Now that's kicking the can.
This is Stoll on Sports.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Lessons from the NASC's Women's Summit

Surely it hasn't been almost a month since my last blog post? I'll dust off and get back on track as there is so much happening in the world of sports right now.
Spring in the Grand Valley. Courtesy Visit Grand Junction
I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Sports Commission's inaugural Women's Summit in Columbus, Ohio (Go Bucks!) at the end of March. The event, held in conjunction with the NCAA Women's Final Four tournament was a wonderful experience all-together. Fifty female sport-tourism professionals had the opportunity to build relationships, hear from industry experts, and share best practices.

What impressed me the most about this event was the inspiration I drew from these women - regardless of professional success or market-size - and the encouragement I felt for the future of our industry. I truly walked away humbled, wheels turning, and excited for the next edition of this great event. Topics of conversation included negotiation, mentoring, trends and issues, among others.
NASC Women's Summit. Courtesy NASC

I'm not going to lie, it didn't hurt that for an extra few bucks I got to attend the semi-finals games, in which I witnessed two of the best basketball games I've ever seen in my entire life! Despite the fact that my Louisville Cardinals gave a way their chance at the championship game with a little over 11 seconds to spare in regulation, before falling flat in OT, both games were unbelievable!

I'm ashamed, but must admit, I had a 7am flight out the next morning and actually leaned over to ask a friend if she was ready to leave with 3 minutes left in the UCONN/Notre Dame game! Sometimes I forget that being in your mid-30's does not mean you can't stay up late every once in awhile, and sleep on the plane.

Needless to say, I'm grateful that she politely told me there was no way in hell she was leaving. I was glad I didn't, too.
When Game 2 got really interesting!
Digressing back to the Women's Summit.

You see, this event may have been catered to women in the industry, but the demographic is irrelevant. The lessons and take-aways are universal. As with much of sport...and life.

Here were my Top 5 Take-Aways from the inaugural NASC Women's Summit:

5. You can learn just as much by getting to know colleagues out of the formal sessions as you can in them. Learn from both.

4. Cross-generational support and mentorship is INVALUABLE. Be willing to mentor and be willing to be mentored.

3. The good news is, if you're facing an issue, odds are overwhelmingly high that you aren't the only one. Be vulnerable, find someone who has been there, and connect.

2. Stay up a little late every now and then! It's okay, you can sleep on the plane, and the memories just might be worth it.

1. There is no better lesson in sport than the triumph of an underdog. Well done, Notre Dame.

In sport, as in life, the things that mean the most require the most sacrifice and effort.