Summer is fast approaching: the days are long, the weather is hot, and vacations are booked. But as an organizer of sports and leisure activities, you know that this short and intense season comes with its own set of challenges, including irregular schedules, vacation time, staff management issues, and unpredictable participation rates. With this in mind, we decided to speak with an expert, whose mission is to make sports accessible to all—to share how she makes sure her activities are successful all summer long!
Marie-Hélène has been working in the world of sports in Quebec City since 2004 and understands it like no one else. She’s been working at the Quebec City Decathlon store as the Program Manager of the Decadium—an in-store area dedicated to sports and fitness — since August 2021. According to Marie-Hélène, her role is to "develop opportunities for local organizations, coaches, and participants, and to get them to promote their activities and increase participation."
Here's what she shared with us when we asked for her best tips to maximize participation during the summer season.
Tip #1 - Adapting to Summer’s Unique Circumstances Helps Retain and Increase Enrollment
With vacation days, varying schedules, and the irresistible desire to be outdoors, summer is a season like no other. Marie-Hélène recommends three ways to adapt your offerings to the summer season:
- She emphasizes the importance of combining a session-based and à la carte activity offering: “Session-based activities are still important because we want to create a habit of coming back, but it's also important to offer à la carte options to attract people with more irregular schedules.”
- For activities that normally take place indoors, Marie-Hélène suggests finding ways to offer them outdoors: “For evening classes, we know that people prefer to be outside. For example, at Decathlon, we set up test and play areas outside, which allows us to meet the demands of our participants.”
- She also suggests creating special events to attract the general public, using the Festival of Sports that some Decathlon stores are planning this summer as an example: “It's a concept that comes from the Decathlon stores in France. These free days are open to everyone and allow people to practice sports outside, in a fun environment.”
Tip #2 - Record Keeping from Year to Year Is One of the Best Ways to Improve Participation Rate
Marie-Hélène emphasizes the importance of taking notes throughout the season to identify successful initiatives and things you could improve: “There's no one-size-fits-all solution and that's why it's so important to take notes and analyze what works for you.” In her role as Program Manager of the Decadium, she compiles information on the success of the activities in relation to the targeted clientele and the chosen schedules. She then uses this information to recommend appropriate time slots so that each activity finds its audience.
Here are some things to consider when making such notes:
- Do you notice any demographic trends in your participants (gender, age, skill level)?
- Are there certain time slots that are more successful, and can you make connections to demographic trends?
- Do you notice an increase or decrease in participation at certain times during the summer (statutory holidays, popular vacation times)?
Tip #3 - Connect to Your Community, Use the Right Tools to Promote Your Activities and Save Time with Technology
Marie-Hélène encourages all sports organizations to connect with the important players in their region’s community in order to establish a dialogue, learn, and find opportunities to promote themselves: “For example, at Decathlon, we currently have a basketball partner who has a beautiful facility, but it's new and not well-known. I put them in touch with a company specialized in the organization of sports leagues and events that has been in business for over 10 years. Together, they’ll be able to share knowledge and experiences to help each other grow. And I'll continue to be a reference point for them, by answering their questions and guiding them as needed.”
She also explains that using the right software tools, like SmartRec, can make administrative work easier and save time. For activities with children in particular, “you need a registration platform that allows you to create contact lists and take note of allergies, phone numbers, and emails.”
Decathlon Activities is another incredible resource to promote the passion of sports to local customers. This tool allows participants to find sports classes and events in and around Decathlon stores. As an organizer, you can post your programming and even enjoy in-store rental spaces, all free of charge. SmartRec also allows automatic synchronization of information with Decathlon Activities which gives you the opportunity to take full advantage of the visibility with minimal time and effort.
Tip #4 - Planning Your Programming Several Months in Advance Is Essential to Increase the Number of Participants
Marie-Hélène recommends starting your summer planning early in the year, in January. She says, “it’s the perfect time to identify all the steps you need to take and the resources you need in order to be ready to launch your programming.”
She also reminds us that “in the summer, you have to manage a season that has interruptions.” She therefore recommends dividing the season into several calendars, which will be adapted to the needs of each period of the summer (end of the school year and beginning of summer camps, vacation season, end of summer). This allows you to anticipate staffing needs, and to offer programming that is aligned with the schedules and needs of your customers.
Tip #5 - Transferring Your Coaching Experience to Your Management Duties
Marie-Hélène’s final tip? “In your role as coach and instructor, you’re probably already applying many of the strategies we've talked about to help your athletes and students succeed—adapting to the needs of your clientele, keeping track of performance in order to improve, using technological tools to facilitate operations and compile information, as well as planning ahead.” She therefore encourages you to continue to apply these principles while you wear your entrepreneurial and management hats.
Have a great summer and enjoy the weather!
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