Saskatoon Minor Football (SMF) and Regina Youth Flag Football (RYFF) League established youth flag football programs in 2014. They saw flag football as a valuable avenue to get more youth involved in the sport, but did not anticipate just how popular this new version of the game would be within their local communities. Both organizations started out with around 20 teams before undergoing rapid year-over-year growth. In the spring of 2018, SMF was up to over 100 youth flag football teams (1,200+ players) and RYFF league now had over 200 teams (2,400+ players). Although both leagues were excited about this rapid growth, it brought with it a number of challenges they had not anticipated.
Both SMF and RYFF wanted to ensure all participants were developing strong fundamental football skills and having great experiences with the game so they would continue to come back every year. Finding enough coaches to meet the demand of their rapidly growing leagues, while simultaneously ensuring all coaches had the necessary training and knowledge to deliver a quality program was becoming increasingly difficult. Since flag football has smaller team sizes (typically 10-15 players), this led to a larger number of total teams and required more head coaches than ever before. When SMF closed their spring flag football registration in 2017, they had a total of 108 teams but only 70 of those teams had someone volunteer to coach. This left SMF scrambling to find 38 new volunteer coaches within weeks of the season starting. Regina Youth Flag Football was experiencing similar issues. In order to not turn away registered players, they found themselves convincing parents who didn't have any form of football experience to coach teams. Although this prevented RYFF from turning away players or increase team sizes, it left them concerned about the overall coaching quality throughout their league.
Thier Old Approach to Coach Training and Support
Both leagues had a variety of coach training and support options offered by their provincial and national associations but found each one came with a variety of issues. Coaching clinics offered by their provincial association were usually designed for experienced high-level football coaches, meaning they were not the best fit for parent volunteers coaching youth programs. SMF resorted to running their own in-person clinics before the season started, but found it was difficult to get their parent volunteer to commit to attending these weekend clinics, making their coaching shortage problem even worse. They also did not have any take home resources for clinic attendees and knew knowledge retention following the clinic was poor, leaving them to question how much of an impact these efforts were truly having on improving player development across their league. Football Canada offered a few e-learning courses for new coaches. Although these learning course were shorter and more accessible than in-person clinics, coaches felt the courses did not leave them with the knowledge base required to adequately coach their team for an entire season. Coach training offered by the the National Coaching Certification Pathway (NCCP) was cumbersome and difficult to navigate for both league administrators and their coaches.
The Football Canada Mobile App
Athlete Era proposed that by equipping all volunteer coaches within SMF and RYFFL with an educational mobile app, this could provide them with the detailed week-by-week guidance they needed to become knowledgable coaches capable of delivering a great program and do it in a way that was more effective than searching for free resources online, in-person clinics or e-learning courses. Additionally, the low-cost of this mobile learning resource meant SMF could provide quality educational materials to all coaches and parents league-wide at the same cost as running a single weekend-long clinic for 30 coaches. The theory behind providing the resource to parents was that by inviting them to utilize the app at home to study plays, review practice plans and try new drills with their kids, this would help build coaching efficacy within the community and make parents more willing to become volunteer coaches during subsequent seasons.
League Implementation Process
SMF and RYFF gave coaches a 45 minute presentation on the mobile app during their coaches orientation meeting at the beginning of their flag football seasons using a pre-designed presentation template. During the presentation, they walked coaches through downloading and creating their app account. Once inside of the app, they gave coaches a variety of tasks to do such as finding drills to develop specific skills, reviewing detailed drill breakdowns to find drill modifications, and reviewing pre-made practice plans. This helped coaches familiarize themselves with the app and more importantly, how it could be utilized throughout the season to help plan and deliver quality on-field experience for every player and align their coaching techniques with Football Canada recommendations and mandates.
Following the coaches presentation, the league administrators sent a mass email to parents informing them about the new mobile learning app coaches would be using this season and that the resource was also available for them to use at home.
App Use Among Coaches
In RYFF league, 121 of their 125 novice (0-2 years of coaching experience) utilized the mobile app during the spring of 2019 following the coaches orientation. App analytics showed that an average of 43% of these coaches logged into the app weekly throughout the season and spent an average of 8.5 minutes using the app each time they logged in.
In the fall of 2018, SMF had 54 of their 79 coaches utilize the app during the season. In the spring of 2019, they were able to get this number even higher seeing 87 of 112 coaches use the resource.
Volunteer Coach Increase
After fully integrating the resource into their league in 2018, SMF was able to significantly increase the number of parent coach volunteers within their league. In the spring of 2017, SMF had 108 teams and only 70 volunteer coaches. In the spring of 2019, they had 119 teams and 112 volunteer coaches when registration closed. They had effectively increased the total number of coaches involved with their spring flag programs by 60% within two years. This allowed them to reduce the number of teams without coaches from 35% to 6% by integrating FC mobile into their league and promoting it as their primary coaching support tool.
Testimonials From Coaches
Impact on Overall League Program Quality
To help assess the impact on overall league quality, SMF and RYFFL distributed surveys to coaches and parents following the season. The surveys contained various questions pertaining to app preference over other coaching resources, how the app changed the volunteer coaching experience, and how parents felt about their league investing a portion of registration fees into improving their coach training and support strategy.
When asked how the mobile app compared to other forms of coach training and support (e-learning courses, YouTube Video libraries, or pdf practice plans), 92% of coaches said they preferred the mobile app. 83% of coaches reported that the app made them feel more confident when coaching. When asked for a quote on their experience with the app, one coach reported that a parent made a comment to him that he must have been coaching for years because of how he ran practice but it was actually his first time coaching.
When asked the question "how important is it to you that your child receives quality coaching and instruction in youth sport", 40% of parents responded it is extremely important and 55% responded it is very important. No parents selected the options of "not very important" or "not at all important". When asked if giving all coaches access to the mobile app provided reassurance that their child received quality coaching regardless of what team they were placed on, 75% of parents said yes. Parents who had used the mobile app at home to review drills and skills with their child were asked "Does having this mobile app increase your chances of coaching in the future?". 35% of parents responded yes, 40% responded maybe and the remaining 25% responded no. When asked how much of their child's registration fees they felt should go towards training and education for their coach, 6% said $1-$5, 35% said $6-10, 32% said $11-$20 and 27% said more than $20.
By integrating the Football Canada mobile learning app within their leagues, SMF and RYFFL provide a coach training and support tool used by the majority of their coaches, promote an educational resource that 92% of coaches preferred over other resources, and access data to show their leagues were delivering Football Canada recommendations for best practice. Additionally, SMF was able to increase the number of volunteer coaches in their flag football league by 60%, allowing them to further grow the number of teams and total registration numbers.
of coaches utilized the mobile app weekly throughout the entire 8-week season.
of coaches preferred a mobile learning app over clinics and other forms of educational resources.
increase in the number of parent volunteer coaches one year following app implementation.
"One parent made a comment that they thought I had been coaching for years because of how we ran practice. In reality, this was my first year coaching."