Can a single email make or break a sports team? What if your star player misses a game due to not receiving an email about a change in the game time and location? What if a “reply to all” email thread turns into a heated discussion and hurt feelings? What if an inspiring message from the coach at the end of the season encourages all the players to come back to play again next season?
Communication is critical to the cohesiveness, efficiency and spirit of a team. It can be a competitive advantage that helps teams win games. Or it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for teams that aren’t working well together.
So why do coaches and parents dread it so much? And why do so many teams do it so poorly?
First, with too much to do and too few people to do it, it’s often not a priority. Practice planning, games, celebrations and picture day are all high priorities (rightfully so). However, the communication about these things is usually an afterthought or a necessary evil.
Second, up until now, there has been no good training, resources or tools. Search the web for resources on coaching youth sports and you’ll find dozens, maybe hundreds of practice drills, videos and books. But search for resources to help teams communicate with each other and you’ll come up empty.
Based on first-hand experience and dozens of interviews with coaches and team parents, we’ve come up with 10 tips to help your teams communicate better and to help you turn communication from a burden into a competitive advantage:
1. Make communication a team priority.
At the first team meeting or practice, use any real examples of how good communication can be a competitive advantage can make the season more productive and more fun. Use examples of how poor communication can do the reverse. Let the team know that you’ll be using your website and SmartMessage Center for all team communication throughout the season and to be on the lookout for the first team messages. Let them know that communication is not optional and each player or parent should designate someone from the family who will respond on behalf of the player or parent to each and every SmartMessage.
2. Help your team to be “SmartMessage ready.”
Also at the first meeting, tell them to be on the lookout for a message from you providing them with some instructions on how to make sure they receive their team SmartMessages. Then send the team a regular email instructing them to add firstname.lastname@example.org to their address book or “safe senders” list in their email service or email program. CircleUp is our partner providing the SmartMessage service and doing this step will help ensure that the SmartMessages you send will be received by everyone.
3. Set your SmartMessage schedule.
If you plan ahead for your messages, things will be less rushed and more organized, giving the team plenty of notice and plenty of time to respond. Setting a regular message schedule also puts in place a weekly rhythm for the team and you’ll get better responses. On your team calendar or schedule, be sure to add every key event and every game and then go back about 3-7 days and write “send SmartMessage about ____” where the “____” is “game attendance” or “picture day” or “team party.” Or keep it simple and designate one or two days every week (Mondays and Wednesdays work well), and set a weekly reminder in your calendar to “send SmartMessages to the team.”
4. Ask, don’t tell. Turn EVERY SmartMessage into a question or request.
Of the 10 tips, this is probably the easiest to do and also the most effective in getting your team to respond. Rather than having something like “Picture day this Saturday” in the subject line of your SmartMessage, change it “Will you be at picture day?”. Then use the Multiple Choice or other SmartMessage formats to collect appropriate responses, rather than the Announcement format which leaves little room for response. Change “Tournament info” into “Who can volunteer to help with the tournament?” Turn “Team Dinner” into “What will you bring to the team dinner?” Turn “League safety manual and rules” into “Please acknowledge receipt of league rules.” Yes, it’s possible to turn EVERY message into the form of a question or request and you should do it once in the subject line and then again within the message body.
5. KISS: Keep it Short & Simple. Focus on ONE key question or request per SmartMessage.
Yes, there is a LOT of information that needs to be communicated and a lot of responses you need from players and parents throughout the season. But if you try to pack too much into one message, everyone who receives it will go into a brain freeze and say to themselves “I don’t have time for this, I’ll look at it later.” They rarely will come back to look at it later, and they’ll be less likely to pay attention to any of your messages. So chunk things up and make the question or request so easy and simple that the person receiving it can read it and respond quickly and easily. Send “softballs” with “yes/no” answers once and a while that are so simple that anyone could respond, i.e., “Will you be at the game this Saturday?” When responding to your messages becomes a habit, you’ve got it made.
6. Provide deadlines to respond for every message.
Make sure every message also has a deadline to respond and give yourself and the team enough buffer time for those responses which may come in a little late. Add the deadline to the subject line and in the message body, “Who can volunteer for picture day? Pls. reply by Thursday!” Not everything can or should be urgent, but make sure it’s clear which messages absolutely must be responded to and by when.
7. Thank those who have responded, remind those who haven’t.
Using your SmartMessage Center, it’s easy to add or send comments or to remind those who have not yet responded. Just go to your “Sent” folder and open the message. At the bottom of your message results page, there are some tabs. Click on the one that says “Not Replied” and check boxes next to each team member or just click the box at the top to select all on that page. Then click on “resend” and each member selected on that page will receive the message again. Also, on that same results page, you can click on the “Post Comment” blue button in the middle of the page and click on the “Email everyone this comment?” checkbox to send a reminder. Your comment will go to everyone and this allows you to customize your reminder message to something like “Thanks to all who’ve have responded! Just a reminder to those who haven’t, I need your response by Thursday!” It’s also pretty effective to do this in person or at practice in front of the team every once in a while, “I really appreciate that you respond so quickly to our messages, Mrs. Jones.” Or create a “SmartMessage Award” for the parents/players who respond the most to your SmartMessages.
8. Use SmartPay and the Order Form format to collect orders and team payments.
When the team gets into a regular rhythm responding to SmartMessages, it makes it very easy and seamless to collect orders and money for things like team T-shirts, dinner tickets and coach or team parent gifts. It’s free and easy for you to use the order form and SmartPay, just watch the Order Form video for more information.
9. Don’t regress back to regular email.
It’s easy to send an email to the team. It’s harder to make the email useful or to deal with the aftermath of any responses. If you set the expectation from the start that the team will be using SmartMessage Center and then you use it regularly and exclusively, regular emails to the team should become rare or non-existent.
10. Have fun! Use ranking or rating options and collect stories or photos.
Be sure to plan for and send SmartMessages that use the “Rating” or “Ranking” formats or ask for photos using the “Suggestions” format. These are fun tools that can be used to vote for team MVP’s, to rank restaurants to have the team dinner, to vote on team names, to collect the best photos from a game or season, etc. Ask for suggestions for the best play of the season or the funniest moments. Look for easy ways to encourage responses and take some of the “edge” off your messages.
Watch these videos for more information: