Trying to communicate a venue change through a single email or message to one sports team can be a struggle. Doing so at Premier League academy level would be an administrator’s worst nightmare.
There are no such issues for English clubs Southampton and Bristol City or Major League Soccer’s (MLS) New York Red Bulls, who have all integrated the Teamworks Hub into their operations. An all-in-one solution that incorporates tools for scheduling, messaging, and filling out forms, as well as having the capacity to store countless vital documents, Teamworks Hub simplifies otherwise arduous administrative processes for players, coaches and parents, who are also able to access the app.
Today, Teamworks is used by more than 150 professional sports teams across four continents, including franchises in North America’s major leagues and international sides, as well as every school in US college sports’ ‘power five’ conferences.
Before Teamworks was adopted at Southampton, Jonny Woodhouse, the Premier League club’s head of academy operations, says communication was distributed across various platforms.
“We were using internal software,” he tells SportsPro. “Regarding communication, it was very hard to congregate all of our staff members on a single platform.
“It has been challenging to align processes and organisation and schedules before that time. So there was multiple platforms being used, and coming across to the Teamworks Hub has definitely improved that side of things.”
As for Bristol City, the club’s academy used less sophisticated technology to communicate notices to players and parents before moving to Teamworks.
“Previously we used a network platform called Piota, which was a basic communication tool that was suitable for our needs at the time of being able to send out information instantly to parents on a network,” Paul Metheringham, the second-tier Championship club’s academy head of operations, explains.
“We also utilised the Premier League’s Performance Management Application (PMA) or even mass emails. That’s always a challenge when you’re working with an Excel spreadsheet and you’re trying to ensure that every player or every parent is contacted.”
Similarly, when Ryan Brooks, senior manager of academy business operations at New York Red Bulls, joined the franchise, WhatsApp was the predominant method of communication to connect with players and their families. Two months later, the NY Red Bulls decided to implement Teamworks.
“It was Excel sheets, it was WhatsApp groups, it was through everything, including email,” Brooks notes. “Schedules would be sent through WhatsApp. And forms were all paper and getting signatures involved literally handing parents things to sign and them giving it back. So it was definitely cumbersome.”
Parents previously would depend on finding out information via their email inboxes
Increasing transparency and reducing risk
Brooks cites the need for transparent communication as the main reason why it was important to shift away from platforms such as WhatsApp for the Red Bulls’ academy operations. Each of the team’s academy players has an individual profile on Hub, which provides a direct line of communication for athletes and coaches within a single thread. Family members can also be assigned to a player’s profile, allowing them to keep tabs on the messages being sent.
“I have full access to Teamworks Hub, I can see messages that are sent between the coaches and staff to the players and vice versa,” Brooks begins. “So from my and a few other people’s perspective, being able to see other people, you’re able to catch things. It’s really safeguarding, there’s layers of protection.
“You’re eliminating the side conversations, so there’s no miscommunications anywhere, everyone attributed to that profile will see it. Some players have four or five people within their profile, because that’s how many people are involved in their lives. The parents and families choose who’s going to be a part of that profile and who’s going to see the messages.
“I think that gives a little bit of autonomy to the families to say who should be a part of this conversation.”
Woodhouse agrees that Teamworks Hub’s capacity to save all communications in one place helps “avoid unnecessary conversation”.
Meanwhile, Metheringham says Hub has helped address a major problem encountered when sending out mass last-minute emails or messages, a process which risked important information being lost in a parent’s inbox.
“There’s no real alert for that email when it comes in,” he notes. “Say for example when getting the squad information across to parents, if there’s a last-minute amendment or cancellation, especially when we might be travelling for training or a fixture, you need to communicate instant information for the parents. They could be in the car at that point. They’re not going to be searching their emails while driving on the way to training or a fixture.
“So if there’s a last-minute cancellation, all those sorts of last bits of information you have to provide to people just wasn’t feasible using those systems. This has certainly saved some unnecessary travel.”
He also says the idea of using more socially-inclined platforms like WhatsApp gave him an “uneasy feeling”.
“Teamworks [Hub] is a very professional communications app,” he answers. “WhatsApp would have people’s personal numbers, where coaches could be directly contacted or get directly in contact with players. Whereas Teamworks Hub is a completely secure connection, where you’re not giving out personal numbers, where you’re not contacting people directly.
“So it’s a real difference. Using Hub does, from my point of view, make it a lot safer, and it doesn’t put you at risk.”
Teamworks Hub allows players to transparently communicate with their coaches (Image credit: Teamworks)
Meeting every club’s need
From Woodhouse’s perspective, the implementation of Hub has allowed Southampton’s academy operations to “evolve with the times”.
“From the real-time collaboration side of it, it ensures we’re able to communicate across different departments,” he states. “Because we’re now evolving into a more technological environment with the younger generation, if they have information readily at their fingertips which is constantly being updated, I think that’s only a positive thing.”
Having all information in a clearly defined and easily accessible space has also been a major benefit for Bristol City’s academy staff, according to Metheringham.
“It provides a one-stop shop,” he begins. “With the calendar function, we were able to view each age group across the board, so all academy staff were aware of any potential clashes and they could look ahead far in advance. Previously, we would do a weekly schedule but things would change instantly.
“Say for example we have our team meeting at 9am every morning, and at that point schedules have changed for the day ahead. Managing multi-site with all teams on one site the schedules of the first team can change really quickly; same with the Under-18s and Under-21s and the women’s team, it is essential to be adaptable. If it’s changed at really short notice, we have to be mindful of the impact on all the key stakeholders at the facility and using Hub can keep everyone informed staffing-wise.
“What we’ve found really useful as well from a staffing point of view is adding documents on there and files which we can share really quickly. So we have things uploaded onto there like our coaching curriculum, our operations handbook, our KPI reports, and all the staff can instantly see it and go through it in their own time.”
As well as Teamworks Hub acting as a vital treasure trove for key documentation and communications, Brooks is also keen to highlight its ability to accommodate the various logistical requirements of an academy.
“We had a transportation company that we used previously and there were routes for about 23 different kids, with pickups and drop-offs, it was a lot going on,” he recalls. “So when we started the conversation about managing this logistically, we asked Teamworks how they could play a role in this, because we wanted to make sure it was streamlined.
“Teamworks worked with us every step of the way. We got a group chat going with the driver, with the families and obviously with the players. We got it on the schedule and then have this colour-coding, so only certain people have visibility to it. There was a whole problem-solving process with Teamworks, which I felt was really nice, where they were an active participant with us.”
How Teamworks Hub ensures safeguarding protections
The Hub also encourages players and their families to communicate freely, with parents able to access the platform meaning they are no longer reliant on their children to find out information regarding their training schedule.
“We do get a lot of feedback from parents on this, given that teenagers are very difficult to get information from,” Metheringham shares. “So having that information a fingertip away is really helpful. Being able to check the calendar on a regular basis is, again, really helpful when things change.
“One of the real key things we place significance on is getting to know the player prior to them coming in. So, we upload an insight form, which enables us to find out as much as we can about that player before they come into the club. So when they do arrive, it’s shared with each of the coaches, the medical staff, so we’ve got as much information on this player.”
What the product also allows for is increased safeguarding protections, as parents can be permitted to sit in on conversations between coaching staff members and players. As well as communications being on a secure platform, club staff can track each message and can make regulations easy to find on Hub.
“In terms of making sure that we didn’t have any text messages between adults and minors from a state safeguarding board of compliance standpoint, having the feature [where parents can view messages] was a big selling point to our legal department and the Red Bulls club in general,” Brooks says. “I think that’s safeguarding itself and the transparency for us is really important from a communications perspective.
“From a travel and schedule standpoint, a parent can look at the app and see not just what time the game is. We have it to the minute where people are, whether it’s at the match, or rehab, or study hall. So a parent who’s living a couple thousand miles away is able to still see what’s happening.
“Teamworks Hub really allows that, and I think the parents really appreciate knowing what and how their kid is doing, and their whereabouts.”
Teamworks Hub ensures strong safeguarding protections for young players (Image credit: New York Red Bulls Academy)
More teamwork moving forward
Southampton’s application of Hub will continue to expand, with digital displays due to be set up around the club’s training ground in order to further streamline communications for players.
“That’s something that we’ve been working very closely on with the support team at Teamworks, who have been excellent at being able to display and present multiple schedules across the campus,” Woodhouse says.
“Therefore, key stakeholders are able to see visually what’s going on at any given time, and they’re updated automatically which is much more slick, instead of having to upload a schedule on a daily basis to a screen.
“We’re also in the process of introducing it to our medical and performance department, and also our analysis department. So we’re looking at the signups element where players can book appointments with specific members of the support staff or with coaches for that individual time to make any necessary improvements.”
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Red Bulls have now rolled out Hub platform club-wide, with first team players up to speed with the application.
“In the beginning, you’re constantly pushing people to be using Hub,” Brooks states. “Even the coaches who’d ask for training times, you’d tell them to check Hub and remind them that we have an app for that.
“Now, you don’t need to ask someone when something is anymore, because we all have the app and it’s conditioning everybody to make things more accessible. It cuts down on time and on questions, because it’s definitely a conditioning exercise.
“It took us probably six to nine months to get everybody on board and then our second and our first team started to use it. We also got our Under-10s on the Hub too as they sometimes use our facility. Because we’re all there, there can’t be different people not on the platform.
“Our whole club uses it at this point.”
If you would like to learn more about how Teamworks can help your academy, visit teamworks.com/contact and schedule a free demo.