Here’s a formula we can all learn from: Realize you’re passionate about something and figure out the steps to get it done. Start building step by step, and just keep plugging away no matter what. (While you’re at it, influence and motivate several hundred kids in the process). That’s the model for BEST Youth Sports League, a relative newcomer to the youth sports scene in St. Joseph that has quickly generated social media buzz and positive feedback from parents in the region.
BEST (which stands for Building Excellence with Sportsmanship and Teamwork) was created by Katie Barnes and RaChelle Gaylord for youth ages three through nine in and around the St. Joseph area. BEST reflects some “old school” values of playing sports in childhood, such as having fun, learning sports skills, teamwork, trying new things, confidence, and again, having fun. Winning matters, but it’s not the ultimate “no matter what” priority for Barnes and Gaylord. Instead, you’ll often hear them say “we want to see some kids play some ball.”
In terms of playing ball, BEST offers an ever-growing list of options, such as youth basketball, t-ball, coach pitch baseball and flag football. This spring, they introduced track and field to area youth as well. The community plays a key role in the success of the league, with business leaders often serving as coaches and area gyms, churches and schools opening their doors for practices and games. Because of the strategic thinking and dedication of BEST’s founders and volunteers, a new summer camp option is also available. For some who attend, this may be their first experience at summer camp … and it’s sure to be positive.
At the heart of the action, no matter which sport a child is trying, is a dedication to getting out there on the court or field – and this applies to several kids who wouldn’t have the chance to play sports otherwise. BEST offers significant scholarships to kids to help make playing possible, regardless of their income or past experience. BEST organizers have been known to take special steps to make sure every child gets to participate.
Using a mix of social media outreach with consistent posts and lots of photographs, BEST has reached nearly 800 Facebook fans who actively share information about leagues. Barnes and Gaylord set up an area at the local mall almost weekly to talk to parents and recruit new youth from a casual, hands-on approach. A new website also helps communicate what’s different and special about the league, including testimonials from parents.
Another point to consider: BEST operates as a business that’s continually serving its customers, and this is evident in their personal interactions. Each child who participates in winter basketball received a CD of photos and a handwritten note from Barnes and Gaylord, which creates a genuine connection with the families and the youth. It’s not uncommon to see the two business owners spending time at numerous practices, encouraging kids and learning their names.
Now, that’s one little league that isn’t so little in terms of customer outreach and reputation. We can all go to bat with our own customers using similar strategies.
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