Returning to Training with Safety and Tech

Today will be the first time on over three months that teams and players across a range of team sports have got back to coming together in training.

Boots will have been resurrected from the bottom of cupboards, shirts stretched to account for the natural and relentless growth of young players and coaches and mentors will have wrestled with the rules and regulations put in place to ensure safety, health protection and contact traceability.

It has at times looked like an impossible burden to place upon volunteer coaches, and there will be slips and tweaks in the technology that is being deployed.

At times there will be a reliance on trusting children and parents to have done the right thing in terms of completing personal health checks and providing the right details.

In week two it will be easier, in week three easier again but a start has to be made and that will happen later today on pitches up and down the country.

A big part of the traceability will come from a variety of club resource systems that have been developed over recent years and have improved the efficiency with which amateur sport is run.

On the eve of the great re-gathering of amateur team sport we posed a few salient questions to the companies that are working away on the technology to make lives easier and now, safer.

How have you been of use to clubs and sporting bodies in terms of the return to play?

Clubforce:

Serving volunteers is at the core of what we do so we have been actively engaging with clubs throughout the pandemic with one eye always on a potential return. As the emergency developed we saw the club administrator go through all of the emotions ranging from shock to confusion but the initial inertia has been replaced by massive efforts to prepare for the season and to represent their clubs in the best and safest light. Throughout the pandemic, we have worked with clubs to refund camps, delay or suspend instalment membership payments, suspend lottos, reactivate lottos, modify the system etc. Many volunteers have used the last 3 months really effectively and have reassessed their approach to fundraising and group communication in particular. While some functions of the Clubforce system were somewhat under-utilised in the past, we see the most engaged volunteers are far more mindful now of the depth of functionality in the Clubforce system. They are reimagining their roles and driving us forward, which we relish.

We have a team of 15 who have been engaged every day during the pandemic working with the clubs and answering their calls and emails and responding to their needs – it has actually been a really busy time for us! We are actively working with them to adjust for the season ahead and these efforts are now culminating in the development and release of our current upgrade of the Clubforce app which will have a significant effect on how the club coaches and other volunteers operate. The collaborative aspect of our system means multiple administrators and coaches can securely share data and reports while operating remotely and the new COVID19 functionality is a natural extension of that integrated approach to club data management.

Surpassport:

On the Surpassport platform and App, Contact-tracing is simply part of regular team management, with added support for recording guests, and therefore Clubs do not require an additional system or App to use.
In addition, our technology already supported the key functionaries needed, such as our research questionnaire infrastructure and support for bio-/ performance data, naturally all in a secure and compliant environment. The result is that the Club enables, for example, the declaration template to be requested for availability notices, and when players and coaches confirm their intent to attend, they also need to complete the declaration. The head coach or Covid-officer can then access the responses, should they be needed.
Our aim, as always, is to ensure that the required process is made as simple as possible, without compromising on the responsibilities implied by the intent of the process.
We also support clubs in “onboarding”, managing the process for clubs, helping them to accelerate adoption of the platform.
ClubZap:

ClubZap is an administration tool for sports clubs to simplify communications and payments. Communications can be broken up into club wide (public) communications (News, Fixtures, Results) and group communication (Coach -> Parent/Players) which is a private messaging channel. Our existing group communication features included 

Event Planning which allowed coaches to check availability of players / parents (RSVP system) 

Attendance recording which allowed coaches to record attendance at events/training.

The return to play requirements is a new use case of our existing features where coaches can now include health questionnaires in their Event Planning and check how many have completed the forms. The attendance tracking feature provides the contact tracing functionality.

All this is managed via the mobile app for both parents / players and coaches / covid officers in a club.

Clubspot:

We are providing clubs with a club management and communications system. That allows clubs to remain connected totheir members remotely. We help clubs to increase member engagement and improve the member experience by providing them with their own customised Club apps. Our system will allow clubs to keep electronic logs of attendance at training or games, making it easy for any of our customers who may need to track and trace their members. We also help clubs to keep their fundraising alive during down times of sport, with our early customers reporting a noticeable increase in fundraising since moving to our system. 

The GAA has gone with an internal module, declaration and questionnaire. Does this information cross reference to that which you hold and which clubs use?

Clubforce: We are witnessing a huge desire for all sport to return and an effort to match that desire! We have found that while clubs are clearly invested in declaration and questionnaire, most are also interested in ongong efficiencies both for the members and especially the coaches. Much of the back to play protocols, responsibility and workload is coming back to the coach and our focus has been on making sure these vital volunteers are not overloaded. We have worked with a number of our clients to enhance the Clubforce app to facilitate health questionnaire, attendance tracking and reporting on attendance. This is being released as we speak and will leverage the member data that already exists in the Clubforce platform for the existing clubs should they choose to use it – this will lessen the burden on members and volunteers.

Surpassport:

It’s commendable that the GAA have developed a solution for its members, especially given the short timeframes. However, by hosting this on yet another platform, the Club officers are now tasked with an additional responsibility to check with the GAA platform, for every participant at every session, in addition to scheduling, availability management and keeping contact records.
From our perspective, Surpassport supports each individual NGBs requirements, because they are configured. To make this easier, clubs can select, for example, the Basketball Ireland declaration template from our library. Furthermore, should changes be required, then this will be done centrally.

ClubZap:

No, there is no interface to the GAA tracking system for external entities like ourselves. However the GAA system does not cover event planning or tracing (attendance) so GAA clubs would still use ClubZap for simplifying the return to play. We have custom forms built for other sporting organisations such as Rugby, Hockey and Soccer so coaches can select a form template and include it in an event invite. As well as seeing who is planning to attend training coaches can also see how many have completed the form while the COVID officer can see what information they provided.

ClubSpot:

No, we are not connected to the GAA’s portal. All sporting codes will have their own guidelines put in place by their respective governing bodies. Our product will assist with the return by providing track and trace, direct communications and allowing for a central document storage point for clubs to retain information on who has completed these online modules or courses. 

Are there different models in place in different sports?

Clubforce: There are slight variations but there is a consistency in what all sports are looking for and it is in this consistency of effort that we have focused our technological enhancements. The technology makes it easy for each coach in a club to organise a training event with date, time, location, and to send an invitation to a select group. Parents in that group, upon receipt of the invitation, will self declare that all is okay (or still okay) from a health perspective and then either accept or decline the invitation to the training event or game. The coach at practice, or the game, then simply taps the players on the app to record attendance and the reports are automatically generated and saved securely to the club admin panel and can be mailed to appropriate COVID personnel. We estimate that use of the app will save the coaches 5 to 6 hours admin per week – it’s the same way they currently track player payment status in real-time. Our guiding principle at all times is convenience for both parent and coach – if it is not convenient, it will not be maintained.

Surpassport

Indeed, and there are a number of sports bodies who are still at the planning stage, with indoor sports in particular playing catchup with last Friday’s announcements. They do, however, also have the advantage of observing what others have done before them, and hopefully it’ll be a faster process for them.
With regard to Covid-19 return to sport protocols, specifics vary across sports, and are, in the main, offered as a guideline to Clubs. Our concern is that such implementations may incur substantial administrative overhead, by participants and club officials, inevitably resulting in gaps and short-cuts and thereby defeating the intent and purpose. Where paper (physical or virtual) is generated, there is of course the added responsibility under Data Protection to consider as well.
Lastly, I expect that requirements will need to change, loosening or tightening controls as we learn about how Covid-19 progresses under a relative normality.
ClubZap:

The main difference is the content on the form – the process remains the same which is basically who is available? How are they feeling and did they turn up?

Clubspot:

The seasonality of each sport comes into play here, the IRFU, for example, have a more graduated return to play than the GAA, their aim is to begin the new season in September, by which point the GAA club season will be almost complete. All NGB’s seem to be taking a similar approach in terms of providing training and guidelines for clubs, with online webinars proving a popular method of communicating these new guidelines to clubs and their volunteers. 

How have you felt about the roll out of the technology behind the principles of a healthy return to play?

Clubforce: We believe that for technology to be adopted and maintained, it must be convenient for all parties. It cannot be a box ticking exercise and must genuinely relieve the additional burden being placed on volunteers – coaches, the new COVID officers, club executives etc.

Surpassport:

As above, I would express my concerns about consistency of process, fitness for purpose, security for the information and ease of use – all are required to achieve the objectives set out for a safe return, which is, of course welcome, given the opportunity to have a summer of sport after all.
I have an additional concern, specifically around the scheduling of competitive fixtures, at all age groups, to begin only a few short weeks after reopening pitches. While everyone is in the same boat, kids have grown in the past 3 months, and if nothing else, it will take them time to recover their skills, and early return to competition, in my mind, exposes an additional risk of injury due to teenage clumsiness. Sports Science also advocates about reestablishing competitive workload after prolonged rest over a period of about 7-8 weeks.
There is a balance, of course, and ultimately it’s also great to get the kids back to playing.

ClubZap:

Clubs have really embraced technology during the shutdown with online conferencing platforms becoming second nature starting out for family quizzes but evolving for club meetings etc. People realised they got a lot more covered when on a video call than and you did not have to be in a meeting room to keep the club running. They were alot more open to attending our webinars also in their own time in the evenings and this educated them in how technology can simplify their job as a volunteer in the club and most importantly save them valuable time. 

Clubspot:

I think the NGB’s have done a good job embracing technology and trying to educate grassroots clubs on what is an ever-changing situation. In a short space of time, a high number of clubs have embraced technology with webinars and zoom meeting’s becoming the norm. I think peoples willingness to adapt due to the hunger to see sport back up and running has been a large contributing factor to the success of these schemes. Covid-19 has accelerated the digitisation of many industries and I think sport has embraced this, and will hopefully continue to progress post Covid-19. 

Are there any further developments you are working on in this space?

Clubforce: Volunteer-led innovation has always driven us forward and without giving too much away we have begun a project to completely redevelop our platform, with the aim of making it even easier for club volunteers to contribute and collaborate. We have successfully raised funds recently to facilitate these developments and are excited about the future. These enhancements and innovations are detailed in an extensive product roadmap and are being developed, as always, in consultation with our most loyal customers and will be introduced in phases over the next 6 months or so.

One good thing that has come out of the COVID19 experience is that sporting organisations worldwide, like most other organisations, have accelerated their transition to working online and are already reaping the benefits.

Surpassport:

We aim to shortly publish an “API” to enable third-party systems to integrate with Surpassport, so that Club registrars can simplify the setup process and then to keep the two systems “in sync” over time.
For Clubs who adopt Surpassport now before membership platforms connect on this API, the integration will work its magic, as long as member membership numbers are included as a reference during setup.

ClubZap:Our main focus is on alleviating the bottlenecks for club admins in their roles – most people have realised how time is precious now and how much of their lives volunteering in a club takes up. We are continually trying to eliminate this manual work. 

The chat feature on the mobile app is always evolving and integrated with 3rd party player systems including apps as well as implementing media sharing of videos and photos for Team/Player analysis.

Clubspot:

We are developing an exciting contactless ticketing system that will be available very soon. We want to help restore confidence in fans attending sporting events and we feel by providing a simple ticketing system that allows for contactless entry to stadiums will be a huge stride forward. Fans will now be able to purchase tickets for local sporting events through their smartphones and simply scan in upon entry. Our product will create greater value for fans, sponsors and competition organisers. 

 

That’s a lot of information to process but also a lot of benefit to be gained for club administrators and officials to take on board.

For today the focus has to be on ensuring a safe return to play.  This indicates though that there is a lot more to come as well.

Watch out later this week when we will publish our next block of webinars in which this whole area will feature…

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