PLAY Sports Coalition
6 min readMay 3, 2022

Program leaders across the country facing more pandemic-induced issues

Photo by Alliance Football Club on Unsplash

Several trends have combined that are making it harder and more expensive to hire and retain youth sports program staff. For different reasons, these challenges are pronounced for lower compensated roles and tech workers.

In a recent survey of Coalition members:

78% were either very or extremely concerned about labor availability
63% do not believe they will meet their 2022 hiring plan
61% are either very or extremely concerned about rising wage levels
65% are offering larger than usual employee wage increases
43% are offering higher than usual starting compensation.

Approximately 40% of respondents felt that an inability to be fully staffed would affect:

  • Staff-to-kid ratios
  • Offer programs
  • Deliver on other roadmap goals
  • Hit revenue or fundraising goals

Respondents were most concerned about the coach, instructor, referee, driver, event & front-line staff, and development roles. More than half of the respondents did not note an impact on the ability to deliver on goals because of labor challenges.

Solutions to hiring and retention likely differ amongst the variety of organizations that make up PLAYS. Action tactics include raising fees, optimizing hiring, optimizing retention, leveraging technology, and improving operating processes and offerings.

Four Macro trends that drive this challenging labor environment:

  1. The percentage of people who are participating in our labor force has modestly declined (~2%) in the last two years. This is a long-term trend, punctuated by the pandemic. BLS Data EPI Data
  2. Birth rates are lower now and the percentage of the labor pool that is younger and historically considered the entry level is lower. The percentage of workers over 55 is increasing. BLS Projections
  3. Many governments printed a lot of money during the Pandemic, expanding M2, driving inflation, which shifted wages higher, especially at the lower end of compensation. M2 Inflation Rate CPI Target Min Wage
  4. Tech returns for Venture Capital and Private Equity firms continue to be extremely strong, which drives a lot of investment, which drives competitive tech hiring and wage inflation. VC Investments Tech Salaries

Tactics — Our goal in facilitating this discussion is to share context and approaches by different Coalition members to the challenging labor market. We understand that there is a wide variety of organizations in the Coalition and not all members have the same challenges or will find the same solution tactics useful. Here are a handful of ideas to consider:

Price or fee increase or sliding scales — We can’t all increase fees and in many cases increasing fees is antithetical to inclusion goals. Additionally, pricing is an area where many of us feel uncomfortable making changes and feel inexperienced in knowing how to get started. Unfortunately, the mechanics of our economy make it necessary to regularly raise revenues through fees or other means. Inflation drives CPI which drives compensation increases, which creates this need. When CPI lurches and labor rates follow, revenues need to lurch to match, or there will be an immediate hole in the budget. Basic strategies include creating tiers or subsidies for different customer types, adding optional fees instead of increasing base price, allowing paths for wealthier customers to subsidize less fortunate, or the creation of a testing framework to learn your way into what the most appropriate price change is.

Two examples:
1. One services company has three pricing tiers, a. Full price, b. 50% discount for a family on NSLP and c. 100% discount for a family that still can’t afford that.
2. One recreational sport company didn’t want to raise participation fees so instead created many optional equipment add-ons that allowed them to capture extra revenue from families that had means and were interested.

Please see the following links for ideas: Pricing Tips Pricing tips 2 Elasticity

Improving hiring success

There are many tactics to improve hiring success. They all take time, so it’s worth calling out that likely the best place to start is to shift more focus into hiring and retention.

Please see the following links for and list below for ideas. Below market rate hiring Hiring tips Nonprofit hiring Tips

  • Invest time, processes and tech on recruiting. Consider an Applicant Tracking System to get organized, professional and best process the best candidates.
  • Compensation increases — Many of us don’t have the means, but the difference between setting the right comp and being slightly under market may create wildly different outcomes when hiring. Do research on what your local market comparable comp levels are.
  • Expand age (informal) parameters — With fewer folks in the workforce and fewer skewing younger in American demographics, it may be time to be creative about how we think about filling roles. There are more workers over 55 now. We have lots of coach roles to fill. Is there a fit there? Highly ranked colleges are more competitive than ever to get into and many high school students are looking for interesting internships. Is there an intern program that we can put in place that values a great experience rather than great compensation?
  • Expand geographic parameters — Clearly a coach can’t work from home, but are their roles in your org that can? Does that change open up opportunities like allowing hiring in untapped cities or even new countries?
  • Referral bonuses — Referral bonuses create a great path to bringing friends to the office and building culture while building a team. Some companies find referral bonuses work against diversity goals, so see what works for you.
  • Reignite volunteering — For the nonprofits, it’s often hard to find great volunteers, but as labor costs go up, it may be worth doubling down on making the roles engaging and recruiting strong volunteer talent. YMCA tips article 2
  • Expense shifting — This may sound like an odd one, but in triage situations, focusing on what is most important is everything. Can we hire more here, or increase comp there to enable more effective hiring if we cut back somewhere else that is less critical to the org? What is critical? What is core? What is not?
  • Culture & Perks — Our local Flag team offered volunteer coaches nothing last year and then changed to $50 off registration for their kid this year. It helped. One company offers a $65 per month wellness stipend that you can use on gym membership, running shoes or whatever helps you stay healthy. There are many ideas and many that are relatively inexpensive that go a long way in helping a candidate feel like this is the team for them.

Improve retention

  • Proactively increase compensation — Typically being proactive is more effective and much less expensive than reactive. Overall hiring needs are obviously not just who is in hiring your plan but also who you lose. Spending time on identifying any rockstars within your organization that you wouldn’t want to lose (and maybe those who you wouldn’t mind losing) is an important step.
  • Work flexibility — The pandemic put many of us into survival mode. Work from home, juggle kids, deal with online, cancellations, and everything else that came with it. No science here, but it feels that many of us have much more integrated home and work lives now vs more compartmentalized and time-boxed pre-pandemic. Linkedin Blog
  • Help the team advance and add skills –One of the best ways to help and retain your team at the same time is to help them develop themselves. Building skills Talent Development

Leverage Technology — Historically, the counterpoint to rising wages was investment in technology. While we aren’t at the age of the robot-coach, there may still be some tools that can help reduce overtime, increase productivity, and reduce repetition. Yale Article Article 2

Change Processes — There are many strategies to reduce labor through process change. Ideas include improving training, removing operating bottlenecks, change scheduling to minimize staff requirements, and moving org structures to teams from silos. Labor Savings Strategies Change Management



PLAY Sports Coalition

Our mission is to ensure youth sports programs thrive as part of a vital movement to help repair a society that needs community, connectivity, and joy.