Data is the Goal: How Soccer Without Borders Has Made Data Central to Its Practice
Soccer Without Borders, a youth soccer program built to serve refugee children in the United States and disadvantaged youth abroad, has long been a leader on the field. But their approach to data collection is putting them leaps and bounds ahead off the field as well.
The organization has long placed an emphasis on the importance of program data—not only for internal purposes like improving decision-making and learning how better to support participants, but also to tell their story leveraging both quantitative and qualitative information.y. This approach to data is year round, but every year, SWB takes the additional step of creating an internal competition around data collection that engages coaches at every level, and further drives home the importance of knowing whom you serve, and how you are serving them.
That competition is the M&E (Monitoring & Evaluation) Cup.
“The M&E Cup was instituted to incentivize good data collection practices across our programming,” explains 2018-2019 Cup winner Keith Drury, of Soccer Without Borders, Oakland. “We have programs in five cities in the United States, and two international cities—program coordinators for all of those sites participate in the Cup, in hopes of winning the prize.
“There are a couple of different brackets for prizes, and they’re highly sought after. For some of the more experienced coaches, there’s a ticket to an international program; and for the lower brackets, there were things like gift certificates to apparel companies,” Drury says. “So, each month, we put together a leaderboard of who is doing the best in terms of collecting demographic data, keeping track of participation hours (those are the things we leverage the UpMetrics and UpActive platforms for), and people are also able to gain points by working on our self-assessments and peer evaluations, which is something we also take very seriously as an organization in order to continue with that growth mindset, improving our programming by continually reflecting on what we’re doing.
“It’s just a fun way to put emphasis on being a data-driven organization.”
What are some of the daily challenges?
“Good question. One of my roles here in the Oakland office [located at Oakland International High School in Oakland, California] is being the sort of ‘data guy’ for the office, as well as for myself and my own team that I coach. I think one of the things that is key is teaching people how important it is to have all of that information about our participants, and making sure we’re tracking everything we’re doing with these students, because I think (and this is a good thing) a lot of the people involved as coaches and program coordinators are more in the headspace of just doing everything they possibly can to help the kids—the tracking is kind of a secondary thought. They’re so focused on just doing what they can for the students in the moment—so, one of the biggest things is just to make it a priority.
“Adding someone to your UpActive roster is something that can easily get pushed down the list, but when you make sure to do that (and as we showed this year), there are huge benefits—not just knowing more about our program, but also potential funding we’re able to get down the line.
On using technology to track participation
“UpActive has been really good—particularly having images of the participants. It sounds simple, but it makes a huge difference. A lot of times, with a program as big as ours, we find ourselves covering for other coaches, other program coordinators, at sites where we are not as familiar with the students. So, on my way to assist with another program, I’ll find myself before practice going through the system and looking through all the images of the students, just to make sure I remember who everybody is—it’s much more powerful than just a list of names.
“The [mobile] app is great because a lot of our coaches don’t necessarily have their laptops on them all the time, so it makes it really easy, right at the end of practice to go through and take attendance, versus waiting until you get back home or to your office and logging onto a computer to do it.”
“As for UpMetrics, I used the data visualization side to get a better idea of participation metrics—when we were thinking about overall teams, how many people were on each team, and how to make the best use of resources across the program. We have prizes for individuals based on attendance, so it’s easy to use for that, as well as for comparing team versus team, in terms of the number of people involved in practices across programs (it helps reveal things like coach-to-player ratios, and where more support is potentially needed). Like, you might identify a situation where a single coach consistently has 18 players, so figuring out how to support them. It makes us better able to arrange our resources in a way that makes the most sense.
What can other programs do that SWB is doing to build capacity?
“As it pertains to data collection, just make it a priority. I think we’ve been able to see some things just by having more data about the number of people we are actually reaching—if you have really specific numbers around that, then it’s a lot easier to see the resources that you need. And, it’s a lot easier to present that to outside groups, and help them understand the real impact that you’re having.
“I think that the cleaner the data, the more precise, and the more you have—it just makes those conversations easier, and it shows that you’re a data-driven organization. That can go a long in terms of the resources you’re able to attain to serve your participants.”
A big congrats to the winner of this year’s M&E Cup, Keith Drury, and to all of the coaches who gave it their all. More importantly, UpMetrics wants to recognize the entire organization for being a leader in the sector and setting the tone for what it means to be data driven.
Photo courtesy of Soccer Without Borders, Uganda. Learn more about UpMetrics solutions.