Sports Biz Camps, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, is driven by the mission to increase social mobility for high school students through education while expanding diversity within the sports industry. The Camps accomplish this goal in part, by “providing students with access to fulfilling careers through education and interaction with industry professionals and increasing diversity within the sports industry,” according to Lana Truese, Director of Communications and Operations. The youth program helps teen campers from under-resourced communities learn about the wide variety of opportunities that are available in the sports industry outside of being a player. Its programs showcase professional opportunities in sports marketing, media, talent management, statistics, and more.
Like many youth programs in the summer of 2020, Sports Biz Camps had a major hurdle to overcome: how to tackle the challenge of social distancing when camp programming is based upon in-person connection and learning. The Sports Biz Camps team needed a way to connect industry leaders with teen campers, track engagement, verify participation, and report on results. Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and the short timeline within the weeks between the stay-at-home order and the launch of camp, the Sports Biz Camps team pulled together a robust virtual camp experience for teens in Charlotte and beyond.
Sports Biz Camps relied on digital tools such as virtual meeting software to connect industry professionals with teens eager to learn about the sports industry. It also used gamified goal-setting software from Ascend, which enabled Sports Biz Camps to engage campers through gamification, track engagement and participation, and report on overall camp results.
Sports Biz Camps engaged teens through relevant and interesting content delivered by industry professionals. Live virtual presentations and pre-recorded content allowed students to feel connected to the presenters and gave them the opportunity to choose their own content at their own pace. The Ascend platform hosted daily challenges for students to complete. These challenges included reflective questions on the content they chose, writing thank you notes to the presenters, and more. Each challenge offered the opportunity for campers to earn points in the Ascend platform, which Sports Biz Camps staff used to promote healthy competition. High point earners were announced at the end of each day, and the winners at the end of camp were eligible to win opportunities for mentorship from industry professionals among other prizes, such as micro-scholarships, subscriptions to industry publications such as The Athletic, and free access to the workinsports.com career platform. Campers reported that the platform and the challenges were user friendly and fun.
Through Ascend, Sports Biz Camps was able to track camper participation. “Our main concern with going virtual was keeping kids focused and engaged. [With Ascend, campers] were more aware of what they were doing. There were some really thoughtful responses [to the challenges].” In total, 216 students participated in the challenges through Ascend to be eligible to win prizes. Campers completed 1,354 total challenges. Ascend also enabled campers to set personal goals regarding their time at camp: 503 personal goals were achieved. Pulling this data was easy for Sports Biz Camps staff. Throughout camp, they were able to have a snapshot of camper activity.
Accessing data throughout camp allowed Sports Biz Camps staff to track engagement and incentivize participation. After camp, that information was used to review camp outcomes and plan for upcoming programs. “As we review camper reflections, one of the things we’ll be doing is identifying what [parts of the program] resonated with them the most, and depending upon what those were, we’ll build additional specific content around it for future programming,” said Truese. This information is also being used to promote Sports Biz Camps programming to future campers and parents. “We’re now transforming that data into storytelling. We’re actually making a video of camper responses and reflections right now,” she added. This content will also support funding initiatives. “When we meet new potential sponsors or donors, we can outline for them how many kids participated, what content resonated with them, who they wrote thank-you notes to, etc.”
The team at Sports Biz Camps adapted well to the realities of COVID-19. But before the pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders hit, they had already been seeking a way to gamify programming and digitally track camper engagement. “We had already been considering the transition to virtual camps, and this experience forced us to accelerate that process,” said Lana Truese. The move to virtual came with a lot of uncertainty, but through digital technology, the team was able to persevere and put together an incredibly thorough camp experience. “For the campers who took the program seriously, it helped them plan their future. The assignments we gave them through challenges made them think through some things. They were more aware of what they were doing, and there were some really thoughtful responses.” The experience of moving to virtual camps is also shifting future program objectives. “We’re trying to build a mentorship program, and I think that’s where Ascend could really shine. Mentors to our exemplary campers will be able to check-in on student progress throughout the year vs. just during camp.”
Ascend is a student empowerment platform that enables schools and mentoring organizations to cultivate, track, and measure student goals and achievement. Ascend is proud to be a minority and woman-owned business and supports organizations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Texas, and beyond.