United States Specialty Sports Association An Interview with Don DeDonatis, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer THE UNITED STATES SPECIALTY SPORTS ASSOCIATION (USSSA), headquartered in Osceola County, Florida, is the world’s largest multi-sport athletic organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 3.7 million participants, competing in 13 nationally-sanctioned sports including baseball, fast pitch, slow pitch, karate, basketball, soccer and more. Sports Destination Management: USSSA is an experienced organization that produces an extraordinary number of sports events. Will you tell us about it? Don DeDonatis: This is our 48th year as an association. We started out as a slowpitch softball organization, but expanded to other sports. We’re probably the largest multi-sport organization in the country, with 4.2 million members. There were 37,000 events registered in our system last year. SDM:With that many events going on, USSSA must have an enormous impact on the communities that host its events. DeDonatis:We don’t have statistics nationwide, but our events were responsible for 100,000 room nights in central Florida last year. SDM:What do you think contributes to a good tournament experience for the youth market? DeDonatis: USSSA guarantees teams a minimum of five games in each tournament; there is no one-and-done here. Facilities are very important and we are seeing so many great ones being built around the United States. We love it when kids get on those really good fields and they have that ‘wow’ moment: ‘Oh, here we are. This is the show.’ That’s the reaction you want. In addition, USSSA has single- age groups; for example, nine-year-old boys are only going to play other nine-yearold boys. At that age, a two-year age gap can make a huge difference among players. There also are several different programs because you have some kids who are very talented and you have kids who aren’t, so we have AA, AAA, everything. You want kids to have a good experience. They won’t want to play again if they don’t feel like they have a chance. SDM:What do you look for in cities to host events? DeDonatis: Outside of the facilities, which are, of course, really important, we look at the surroundings: the locations and the amenities. You always need cities that are easy to get into and get out of, that have conveniently located airports. There’s no sense in putting on an event where something like the facility or the hotel is too far from everything else. You also want something people can afford, expense-wise. Our events have quite a following; you’ll have tournaments with teams from 41 states participating. SDM:What new initiatives or programs does USSSA have going on? DeDonatis: We’re working on coaching and teaching. There has been huge growth in sports and particularly in travel teams, but coaching hasn’t really caught up to that growth. There just aren’t enough coaches; unfortunately, there are a lot of parents who are attending team meetings and suddenly finding out they have been named coach or assistant coach and they don’t really know what they’re doing. That’s not good for them and it’s not good for the kids. We’re seeing some organizations offering certification and instruction programs, and that’s a good start but there is still a shortage. We are working with MLB to offer clinics for boys’ baseball teams. For girls, USSSA has a professional franchise in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) league, the USSSA Florida Pride, and they are working with the girls to provide coaching and education. In terms of our technology, we’re currently upgrading our website. It had over 480 million hits last year. We have set it up so that coaches can plan events and post that information immediately. These are the things parents want to see – when and where their kids’ teams are playing, and against whom. We have apps that directors can use to plug in schedules and more so that parents can look at their phones or their tablets and get the information on games that are coming up. We also have the capacity to record and live-stream any event that is going on, so grandparents who are in Las Vegas, for example, can go to our website and watch their grandkids play in Florida. We are very proud of that.
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