What’s in a name?

Since we re-branded a couple years ago, I have had a lot of people wondering and asking…where did the name JAM come from?

After 25 years as the Sport & Social Club, why would you change your name, especially during a global pandemic?  What does JAM mean?

Short answer.  I thrive in chaos…kidding (sort of).

Here’s the truth.  Pre-pandemic, we had been discussing a name change for a variety of reasons.  Sport & Social Club is long and a bit of a tongue twister.  The common acronym “SSC” was easily confused and frankly, many people who played with us, didn’t necessarily know they were playing in an SSC league, they just knew they played on a Tuesday night rec soccer team with friends or co-workers. 

We had built a business focused on delivering good service to our players, we had not focused on building a recognized brand per se.  And as we were strategically expanding our operations into new cities across Canada and the US, we believed we had an opportunity to build a brand that was synergistic with connecting people through PLAY.  

During the pandemic, as all our sports leagues were mandated to stop playing – we had to pivot to survive.  And pivot we did (still not a fan of the word pivot mind you!)  

We started helping corporate teams to connect through PLAY in new ways.  As we started to sell our virtual games and events to corporations around the world, it was a clumsy pitch… “Would you consider having your corporate team enjoy a game of Name That Tune Bingo – or try a Virtual Escape Room – with the Sport & Social Club?”   So awkward.  

We needed a new name for our new corporate PLAY vertical.   We brainstormed with our team, with friends and colleagues who are brand specialists – we even toyed with the idea of a made-up name, and nothing was feeling just right.  

One day in the early fall of 2020, my brilliant friend Clay Hebert called me and said “What about JAM?”    The minute I heard him, I loved it and the fireworks went off for me. It was perfect for so many reasons.  

It’s active, it’s playful, it’s short, it’s a verb, it’s a noun, it’s easy to say and easy to remember, and lots of JAM-azing puns to be had…see what I did there? 😉  

And the best part was – which Clay could never have known – was this.  When my Mum passed away, after a 3.5-year battle with cancer in 2002, we started the Judith Anne Memorial bursary at the Northern Ontario cancer research center.  And we started running charity sports tournaments called JAM tournaments to raise money for the bursary.  

So similar to when you are choosing baby names…when you’re re-branding a business – when you know you know. And when I heard “JAM” I just knew, it was perfect! 

I loved our new name and brand so much that a few months later I pitched my partners on the idea of rebranding our entire organization to JAM. 

Thus in March 2021, with the core purpose of connecting people through PLAY, we officially became known as JAM! What’s your JAM?

Why force the issue?

Companies around the world are forcing their employees back to the office, against their will.

Remember when your Mom forced you to wear a dress but you wanted to wear jeans, or when your Dad forced you to take a nap and you weren’t tired? 

How happy did you feel being forced to do something against your will? 

With the pandemic behind us, some companies are starting to force their employees back to the office 4 or 5 days a week. 

Over the last few years, millions of employees in companies around the world learned how to productively contribute to the operation of their organizations while working from home and we learned there were some upsides including; more time for sleep, exercise, hobbies, family, and friends.   

  • We also felt some potential downsides to remote work, including a lack of mentorship for new or junior teammates and a lack of in-person human connection which can potentially negatively impact culture (although it doesn’t have to).  

But why force people back against their will? I believe with a little creativity there are flexible solutions that will help meet the needs of both employees and the organization.  Consider: 

1. How many in-person days are really needed each week? 

  • Instead of mandating 4 or 5 days a week in the office, consider might 2 or 3 days suffice.  
  • This flexibility will ensure some in-person human connection happens and provide time for some in-person mentorship and coaching, while also providing occasional upside of remote work 
  • Some employees will still opt to be in person 5 days a week, but others will appreciate the flexibility of choice 

2. Provide full remote work flexibility and autonomy two months a year.

  • Why does your new in-person work schedule need to be for the full year?  
  • Why not provide your team the option to choose two months each year when they have full flexibility to work from wherever they choose?  
  • Some will prefer the same routine – while others, may take this opportunity to work from a family cottage in the summer, or perhaps opt to live and work from a foreign country for a month or two.  

Of course, certain rules may need to be put in place around booking and planning people’s schedules in advance, but providing options will have your team feeling respected and also ensure that in-person mentorship and camaraderie occur throughout the majority of the year.   

As the owner of my own company, I’ve been enjoying the flexibility of remote work for over 15-20 years now. And now that my team has gotten to enjoy the same flexibility and shown themselves to still be passionate about our purpose, share our company values, and drive towards our vision, I feel it would be rather hypocritical to take this flexibility away from them. 

Organizations that choose to force their employees back against their desires, with little flexibility or options, will inevitably lose good people to their competition. 

Companies with great workplace cultures, know to treat their people as priority.

To watch my video on this topic click here: https://youtu.be/UX8wLF6b0Ng

Huddle Up!

Is your team missing seeing each other as you are working from home with only the occasional day in the office? Or perhaps everyone is working fully remotely? Are you feeling the loss of those random sparks and laughs you used to enjoy when you would connect with your teammates at the office? You may want to consider introducing a daily huddle.

I first heard about daily huddles in 2015 from Brian Scudamore and his team at 1-800-GOT-JUNK and O2E Brands, whose award-winning workplace culture I have always greatly admired. At that time, I loved the idea behind their daily huddle, yet didn’t feel the same format would work for us.

So instead of a 7-minute daily huddle, we started hosting a huddle once a week for 15 minutes. We would gather in person for an all-hands stand-up meeting, to communicate important metrics and updates. Our huddles were fun but as our team grew, they started to run long often becoming 20 and 25 minutes, as we had more important information to convey, so we moved to hosting a huddle twice a week.

When the pandemic hit and suddenly our entire team was working remotely, we felt communications become more challenging and our normally playful camaraderie was waning. We needed to improve the connection among our full team. So in the summer of 2020, during the heart of the pandemic, we started having 7-minute huddles every day.

It felt a bit awkward at first, but we stuck with it and our daily huddle has become a fantastic touch point for our entire team to share good news, key metrics, and important updates, as well as enjoy some laughs altogether.

We run a tight agenda, with a rotating schedule of hosts, so everyone from student interns to the C-suite takes a turn. And while the agenda is the same each day, every huddle feels unique and filled with important information and playful connections. It has become a highlight of my day.

If you would like to see our huddle agenda or watch a quick video to get a feel for how we run them at JAM, head over to www.kristiherold.com/huddleresources/ Consider implementing daily huddles in your organization and taking another step towards a thriving workplace culture!

Keep playing!

My 2023 Workplace Culture Prediction

Fostering flexibility and belonging will create a thriving workplace culture. 

Like a 500-hour trained yogi, utmost flexibility will be demanded by the workforce in 2023.  

With technological advances the age of “work from anywhere” is here to stay as the flexibility it affords is very appealing to employees. Organizations that want to retain great people will be amenable to providing this flexibility, however with remote and hybrid work comes a reduced sense of belonging for employees. 

The last few years have seen the rise of company wellness programs, yet most lack focus on a critical component of human well-being: social connections. This year, to strengthen community in remote and hybrid environments and create a sense of belonging, expect to see an increase in efforts to foster social connections.

Optional offerings like company sports teams, musical bands, and book clubs will provide a much-needed outlet for employees who are working remotely, to meet weekly or monthly in-person for fun social engagement. And we will see an increase in playful virtual events like escape rooms and game shows enabling geographically diverse teams to connect for some laughs. All of these will help cultivate connection which will enhance the sense of belonging, improving retention, and engagement. 

In short, hybrid workplaces will become more prevalent and companies who care deeply about their people and want to have a thriving workplace culture will provide flexibility for their employees while also creatively offering social opportunities in order to foster a sense of community and belonging.

It pays to play.

PLAY creates lives.

PLAY creates friendships…and lives! 

Levi Cooperman is the co-founder of FreshBooks, that little Canadian start-up that achieved unicorn status a year or so ago, and he credits playing with JAM for his marriage and beautiful two daughters. 

Here is the story, in Levi’s own words: 

“It was the summer of 2003 when Naama and I first started playing ultimate frisbee together with JAM, and that team sparked our relationship. 

I believe it was a Tuesday or Thursday night team, and I think it was one of the first iterations of our team called Banana Cream Pie.  I invited Naama out to play and I don’t think she had ever played ultimate before then.  

We obviously hit it off on the field and, of course, even more so when socializing at the pubs over nachos and beers after the games.  

We started dating that fall and were never apart from that point forward. We got married in the summer of 2007 and now have a family of four. I’ve always been a loyal player and a big fan of JAM!” 

In addition to playing with JAM on a personal level, Levi, and his team at FreshBooks, have always cared deeply about the culture and their people finding ways to integrate play into the workplace. 

Over the last decade, FreshBooks has provided its staff with the opportunity to play a variety of sports like dodgeball, floor hockey, and softball on company teams in our JAM sports leagues. And they have also participated in several JAM virtual team-bonding events like Scavenger Hunts, Trivia and Survey Says. 

It is no surprise that FreshBooks has been recognized with many awards over the years including making the prestigious Canada’s Top 100 Employers list, being certified as a Great Place to Work – Canada, and being named to Greater Toronto’s Top Employers list.  

This intentional commitment to play has provided FreshBooks with a great opportunity for their team to strengthen friendships in the workplace, and it helped Levi find the love of his life! 

Levi’s story is not unique. Over the last 27 years, thousands of marriages and beautiful relationships have formed, and in turn, babies have been born, thanks to people connecting through play with JAM over the last 27 years!  

Wanna feel all the feels of more of JAM’s love stories? Read more from a sampling of our favorites here: www.kristiherold.com/lovestories

And if you know someone who met their love match playing with JAM (formerly Sport & Social Club) please share in the comments below – we would love to hear more! 

My book is launching and I’m scared sh*tless!

I have worked very hard this past year to get my new book It Pays to PLAY – How Play Improves Business Culture written and I am not afraid to share it. In fact, I am excited and proud of my book. I believe it is filled with powerful information, fun anecdotes, and helpful practical tips on intentionally implementing play in the workplace which will help a lot of organizations with their culture and make a positive impact on a lot of people’s lives.

Having said that, I am scared sh*tless because the book is launching in a few weeks and I have no idea how to launch a book. I have never done this before, so I’m uncomfortable and scared.

Today, I was talking to a friend and she asked me how I was doing. In my open honest style, I shared, “Well, to be honest, I am not great, I am having a rough go right now. I became an empty nester just over a month ago, then my Dad passed away unexpectedly, and the grief I am feeling around these “losses” has been exhausting. On top of that, I’m launching my new book in a few weeks, in addition to my regular CEO responsibilities at JAM. And the truth is, I have no idea what my personal website should look like or how to launch a book, and I’m feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m scared.”

My friend then said, “Wow, I am so happy you just shared this with me. It is so refreshing to hear an accomplished businesswoman, who seemingly has her life together, be so vulnerable and admit you don’t know what you’re doing.”

We went on to discuss that the truth is none of us know how to do everything, we are all learning and growing each day. And these places of discomfort are where huge growth happens. We both agreed, that we wish it were more common for people to be honest when they don’t know how to do something because this vulnerability can help others.

It felt good to have my feelings validated and it felt really good to know that by sharing my feelings of fear, I had helped my friend. So I figured, perhaps I should share my fears with more people (thus the blog), and hopefully in so doing, it may encourage others to be open and ask for help when they are feeling scared, out of their league, or overwhelmed.

So while I am absolutely still feeling scared, I know I need to be vulnerable and ask for help. In the weeks ahead as my book launch comes closer, I will need to reach out to my family, friends, and colleagues to ask for help in spreading the word, buying copies of the e-book or paperback, and writing reviews. Please know if you are willing to help, I will accept it most appreciatively, I do believe you’ll enjoy the read!

Keep playing!

We FCKD UP…and we are celebrating!!

Last evening, while preparing my son’s birthday dinner, I received a call from one of my teammates.  As it is rare for me to receive calls from my team in the evening, my first thought was, this is either really good news (they’ve landed a big deal) or really bad news (what could it be?).

Turns out it was the latter – really bad news.  My teammate told me he had made a mistake and dropped the ball on getting an event booked into our master schedule.  We had completely let down a client as they were expecting us to host an event for them and we were not ready or able to do so.  We messed up and really let our client down. 

So why are we celebrating?  A few reasons:

1. My teammate felt psychologically safe enough with me and within our JAM Events culture to own his mistake.  He did not make excuses or place blame or try to hide his mistake.  He called me right away to own it and share his plan for how he hoped to win back the client.

2. This morning at our daily team huddle (with his permission), I shared the mistake with our entire team.  Now they are all aware so we ALL have an opportunity to learn from it.  We know exactly what we did wrong and we will work to improve our process to ensure this never happens again.  The rest of our team hopefully sees clearly that it is ok to make mistakes and own them and will feel safe doing so when they inevitably make a mistake in the future. We all make mistakes.  Learning from them is how we will continue to “find a better way” (one of our core values) and get better.  

3. We now have the opportunity to create a raving fan in the future!  We will go over and above to apologize and delight our client.  Studies have shown that an unhappy customer that’s transformed into a delighted one becomes even more loyal than a satisfied customer. In other words, people tend to be even more satisfied when they’ve had a problem and it’s been satisfactorily handled than if they never had the problem, to begin with.  So while we cannot change what happened we can take full responsibility and work to impress our clients and create raving fans out of them in the future.  

We will keep making mistakes, learning from them, and finding a better way!

#findabetterway #teambuilding #cultureiseverything

Purpose = Joy.

What is the core purpose of your work? Does it bring you joy?

After what felt like a refreshingly normal dinner out on King St the other night, (after so many dinners in), we were driving past Lamport Stadium and I made my husband pull over so I could jump out and stand by the fence and simply watch JAM soccer and ultimate frisbee in action.  25 years after starting JAM (formerly the Sport & Social Group), any time I drive past JAM players out playing it fills me with joy. 

I haven’t always clearly known my “Purpose”. It was only in looking back at how I spent my time when I was in my mid-40s that I realized “connecting people through PLAY” is my core purpose.  

In high school, I started the ‘social committee’ for my student council, leading car rallies, scavenger hunts, and ‘whodunnit’ type games. In university, I was the captain of the ski team, organizing deals with bars that would agree to pay my team (the largest team in our division), cash or free drinks, in order to come to their bar on race weekends. As I convinced the bar owners, doing so would then attract all the other school teams to the same place – it worked. Shortly after university, I started the “Toronto Sport & Social Club”, which has gotten over 1.5 million people playing adult recreational sports in the last 25 years. Around 2010, I started an adult community musical theatre group, so that friends of mine who were doctors, lawyers, teachers and CEOs, could gather once a week to sing, dance, and play and raise money for charity. Clearly, there was a theme – I enjoyed organizing people to play and be social.

In 2016, after 20 years of running JAM (Sport & Social Group), I was feeling a bit bored and needed a new challenge. I was trying to figure out what the legacy I wanted to leave would be. I asked myself “what brings me joy?”.  It didn’t take me long to realize that when I see people PLAYING soccer or softball or volleyball, because of the work that I do, that this is what brings me the most joy in life. Thus, instead of moving in a totally new direction as I had been considering, I decided to go all-in with keeping people playing. I decided the legacy I wanted to leave would be to help get 1 million people playing annually.

I have no idea how long it will take me and my team to reach this vision of 1 million people playing, or whether we ever will. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. What I know is that by all of us being very clear on the fact that our Core Purpose at JAM is “connecting people through PLAY”, it brings my entire team an incredible amount of joy to see the results of work each day.  

What is the core purpose of the work you are doing each day? Does it bring you joy?

Keep playing!

Our Official JAM Re-brand

This month marks 25 years since I started the Sport & Social Group and we have some exciting news to share and celebrate!

This past year has been incredibly challenging and has had many of us wearing different hats. With our sports leagues on pause, our team stayed focused on our core purpose of connecting people through play, pivoting to running virtual events for over 50,000 participants on corporate teams around the world.

For strategic reasons over the last few years, we had been considering a re-branding of our Sport & Social Group.  As we watched our SSC members and new corporate clients laugh, connect and play in new ways this past year, we decided now was the time to launch a fresh new name and brand.

I am excited and proud to announce that we have officially re-branded our entire organization to JAM (powered by Sport & Social Group).  You can get a feel for our fresh new look here at www.jamgroup.com

While we have a new name, nothing else is changing, we will continue to focus on connecting people through play with both JAM sports and JAM events.  Our commitment to ensuring our clients’ JAM time is the best part of their day, remains the same.

Keep playing!  Let’s JAM!

#KeepPlaying #letsJAM #adultsocialsports #virtualteambuilding

It was the WORST of times; it was the BEST of times

March 13, 2020, was easily the hardest day of my career.  On the first of what would be many zoom video calls in the year ahead, (I was in Mexico for my daughter’s grade 12 grad trip),  I had to inform our 40 full-time teammates they were being placed on temporary layoff until we had a better sense of how long our adult sports league operations would be shut down for.  Never did I imagine that 12 months later our sports leagues, doing 8 figure revenues and getting 150,000 people off the couch and playing annually would still be non-operational.  Further, never could I have imagined that anything positive would have come out of not being allowed to operate our sports league business for 12 months.

April through August our organization was in complete turmoil, panic, and uncertainty. We were in ‘war’ mode. The majority of our team were on reduced salaries and hours and our customers were confused, some angry but thankfully the majority were understanding and patient.  I personally was working non-stop and with many critical issues to focus on, and I did a poor job as a leader of prioritizing culture which we had worked so hard for 25 years to ensure was stellar.  During this time, we all worked incredibly hard at innovating new ways to generate revenue in order to keep our beloved Sport & Social Group alive.  Overall, ours was a stressful team to be on with not a lot of fun being had by anyone.  

By early fall, realizing one of our attempts at innovation – online virtual games helping corporate teams connect through play – was really taking off, we decided it was time to launch a rebrand of this new vertical as “JAM”.  Many of our full-time SSG teammates moved into new roles supporting JAM and we excitedly hired an amazing group of new JAM hosts (most of whom are out of work actors and comedians).  It is incredible to note that in the last 10.5 months, our team has produced over 1000 virtual events, connecting over 50,000 participants through play in 20 different countries and we are on track to hit 7 figures in revenue in our first 12 months of operating our new ‘pandemic pivot’ of JAM.  

The best part of all this is that by staying true to our core purpose of “connecting people through play” with our creation of JAM, we have created over 40 new part-time jobs, we are helping company teams to make time for play and laughter and when we are allowed to get people playing team sports again, we will have two businesses to work on growing, our B2C sports league business and our B2B virtual and IRL events business – all with a focus of connecting people through play.  With new ways to help keep people playing, we will be able to achieve our vision of “1 million people playing annually” that much sooner!

Twelve months to the day later, I am filled with incredible gratitude for my fabulous team as I look back on March 13th, 2020, and feel so proud of how we worked as a true team in facing the challenges we were forced to deal with.  We will be stronger in the long run.

Keep playing!

Chase the Vision. Do you know where you’re going?

Vision 2023

Do you have a clear vision for where your organization is headed? Is it shared with your entire team? I believe, clear purpose, vision, and values are essential to building a healthy, empowered, and fun organizational culture.  

In 2016 (20 years after starting my business), I shared the first 3-year “Vivid Vision” with my team of what I and my partners wanted our Sport & Social Group to grow to feel and be like by the end of 2019.  Three years later it was exciting to see we had accomplished much of what we had set out to and I was ready to share our new Vision for 2022. After sharing with my entire team, the positive energy was palpable – they were excited and bought into helping grow and scale our organization further. Three months later our Vision for 2022 was derailed when the pandemic stopped our operations.  

After what has been a roller coaster of a year – our SSG team did an incredible job of staying true to our core purpose of “connecting people through play” and pivoting with the creation of JAM, and we’ve now connected close to 50,000 participants globally through virtual gameplay in the last year.  

While JAM has been developing out of infancy and into its “toddler years”, I’ve spent much of this past year working to re-envision the future of our entire organization. The vision was starting to crystalize in my head and I was making decisions and moving forward with new ideas.  Meanwhile, many of my teammates were feeling confused by my actions, as I had not made the time to get the new vision out of my head.  Ooops, quite an oversight considering my big brother (Cameron Herold) wrote a fantastic book on the topic (“Vivid Vision”)!

By January 2021, I realized I needed to share the new vision with our entire team (full-time and part-time) so we could all start “rowing our boat in the same direction” again. Thus two weeks ago, I gave a presentation to our full-time team. I could feel their excitement and buy-in, just as I had back in December 2019. They asked questions, they poked holes and they encouraged me to paint out the picture even more clearly – and to share our Vision 2023 more publicly.  

After taking their feedback and enhancing the vision further, last week, I shared it with about 30 of our part-time JAM team. The entire group felt energized, excited and they also asked great questions seeking further clarity.  

Afterward, I received this amazing note from one of my part-time teammates: “I wanted to say how energizing your presentation on the Vision 2023 was. Thank you for trusting in our PT team to share this with us. I think the growth plan is tangible and exciting. I look forward to growing with JAM and becoming a leader within the company in the future.” Receiving this note was incredibly invigorating and enlightening. It confirmed for me how important it is to share a vision with EVERYONE on our team, (part-time and full-time). In doing so we gained awareness (which we would not have had otherwise) that some of our part-time teammates now see themselves growing with our organization into more full-time roles in the future! And more importantly, they all feel more empowered knowing what a significant part they each play in helping make the growth of our organization happen.

It feels like we are all back in the same boat, pointed in the same direction again – we are rebuilding and will be stronger together as we keep working hard toward our long-term vision of 1 million people playing!

Have you or has your organization shared a vision for the future of where you’re heading with your entire team? Has having a shared vision help you stay on course?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!!

This is the advice I often give to others – yet I struggle with doing so myself.  

Over the last 11 months, I have shared very openly the struggles of operating a small business during this pandemic – especially for those in hardest-hit industries like our Sport & Social Group. I’ve done my best to be open, honest, and vulnerable – and I have so appreciated the supportive feedback and notes received in return.  

I recently publicly shared my experience of having to lay off more amazing teammates and what a challenging time this was for them, for me, my team, and our business. Many people commented sharing my frustration and asking how they could help. Many others messaged me privately offering to help in any way they could. And a handful have offered to help find my teammate’s new jobs. Amazing!

Having given it some thought, I realized it is time that I take everyone up on their offers of help – my goal in asking for help today is to try to avoid future layoffs and keep the SSG / JAM afloat.  

Since March 2020, the SSG has been unable to connect people through the playing of team sports, and in May we pivoted to offer online remote events like Name That Tune Bingo, Trivia, Scavenger Hunts, Survey Says, Escape Rooms, Cooking Classes, and more. In August we launched our new brand JAM (www.workplayjam.com) – we have hired and trained out of work actors and comedians as our amazingly fun and engaging JAM hosts and since inception, we have now connected over 25,000 people through play all over the world.

While corporate teams have been our main focus (with over 65% booking multiple repeat events), we are also providing remote games and events for schools, family and friend groups, conferences, sororities, alumni associations, summer camps, and more.  

Today I realized that every single person I know, living anywhere in the world, knows a company or a family or a group of friends, that might enjoy a JAM event and likely hasn’t heard of us yet.    

So my ask today is simple – I am going to swallow my pride and be completely vulnerable here – if you genuinely would like to help, then I ask that you please consider doing one of the following:

1. Please consider introducing me to a decision-maker at your workplace in the HR department or on the culture or social committee so we can tell them about JAM and the benefits of connecting corporate teams through play.

2. Please consider giving the gift of a JAM event. Many b2b companies have started giving the gift of a JAM event to their corporate clients (instead of yet another gift basket) and many family groups have been giving JAM gift certificates to older parents unable to see grandchildren, so they can connect through playing in a custom JAM event.

3. Please consider introducing me to a friend or family member who might enjoy a fun remote event (a friend recently booked an escape room and scavenger hunt for his 12-year-old daughter and her group of friends so they could connect and have some laughs as they cannot do so in person and next week we are hosting a birthday party for 80-year-old twins as their family is spread across the country.)

4. Please consider introducing me to a journalist (newspaper, digital, radio, TV) who may want to share our ‘pandemic pivot’ story about how JAM came to be – in order to help us build awareness.

5. Please share any other ideas you may have to help my team and me to grow JAM.

Any help we can get to grow JAM – will help us reduce our risks and cover our monthly SSG overhead costs that government subsidies don’t cover. Thank you in advance for offering to help in the past and considering doing any of the above. And to the many of you who have already booked a JAM event for your own company – thank you so much for your support!!

Keep playing! Let’s JAM!

Today, I laid off 6 of my teammates.

Today was a bad day.

Today I had to have incredibly difficult conversations with 6 people I adore. Further to the layoffs, I was forced to undertake in the fall, today I had to lay off 6 more absolutely amazing people from our Sport & Social Group / JAM team and I’m left feeling angry and sad. Neither I nor anyone on my team made bad decisions putting us in this position – rather our various level’s of government’s decisions in how to handle this pandemic have put us in this position.  

Wal-mart, Costco, Target are all posting massive gains in 2020, banks are paying bonuses, many big corporations – that received the wage subsidy – are paying dividends and have CEOs receiving six-figure bonuses, and no elected government officials have had their salaries reduced. Yet small business after small business in the hardest-hit industries like sports, hospitality, health and wellness, travel, and entertainment are going bankrupt, entrepreneurs are losing their life savings and life’s work, and loyal dedicated employees – amazing teammates like mine – are losing their jobs. This is not right.

The Sport & Social Group delivers a service that is a physical and mental health benefit to our society – keeping hundreds of thousands of adults playing recreational sports annually. Today marks the start of the 11th month that we have been mandated to not operate and generate revenues – yet our overhead costs like office rent, auto leases, insurance, communications, and payroll still continue to need to be paid for. How will we rebuild and offer our services again if we don’t keep many of our great teammates on the payroll? We are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Most people are unaware that our federal government’s wage subsidy program is not even remotely sufficient to cover all the payroll costs let alone all the overhead costs when a business is mandated to stop operations and not generate revenues. The CRA’s constant changes to the subsidy program have been consistently last minute and poorly explained, making it nearly impossible for small businesses to effectively plan. Unbeknownst to me or my team, when the CRA changed the wage subsidy program to new percentages in September – they didn’t publicly announce one critical change. From April through August they had been providing 75% of an individual’s pre-pandemic salary (to a capped amount) regardless if you topped an employee up to 100% of their salary or not. Effective in September they changed the program only providing 65-75% of what was paid out to an employee vs 65-75% of their salary. Thus if like us, you had only been paying out the wage subsidy amount – suddenly we were receiving far less in subsidy than we had anticipated. The CRA did not post this change on the web page titled CEWS – What the changes are”, as they’ve done every other month, (in fact it still is not listed), and when we finally realized the change in December right before the holidays – we had the shocking realization that we had been losing tens of thousands of dollars a month more than what we had already thought we were losing.

These teammates that I had to say goodbye to today are people whom I care about deeply – they are fantastic humans who’ve been innovating and working hard with us as we’ve pivoted to create JAM (our new remote events service) – they have been loyal and dedicated to chasing our vision of getting 1 million people playing. They and we – have been trying to do everything right – cutting costs where possible and trying to pivot to generate revenues in new ways. And while our pivot to JAM has been amazing, as we’ve found a new way to stay true to our core purpose of ‘connecting people through play’ – it simply is not enough. Our overhead expenses are too high – our government subsidies are not sufficient. So today I had to say thank you and good-bye to 6 more of my friends. This is simply not right.

3 Easy Tips to Reduce Work Stress

The holiday season is over, a new year is upon us, along with a return of day-to-day work, responsibilities and more zoom meetings.  Beware, there is an inaudible enemy lurking amidst your zoom calls!  It exhausts your energy levels, ruins your attentiveness, and eats away at your self-assurance. Your co-workers complain about it and your boss may not even realize or believe it exists.  Who is this silent enemy?


Stress is the ultimate culture-killer within a workplace and it has worsened over the past year, due to the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on everyone’s lives.  

Studies have shown that excess stress can cause a multitude of physical symptoms, such as migraines, chest pain, stomach illnesses, increased blood pressure, and even problems sleeping.  Further, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have learned that stress has also been linked to creating mood disorders like depression and anxiety.  And a team of researchers from Harvard and Stanford recently discovered that stress stemming from the workplace may in fact reduce your life expectancy.   All in all, work stress is something we ought to be striving to minimize. Here are three easy tips that will help to reduce workplace stress.

1. Create a Buddy System

Creating a buddy system or mentorship program is extremely helpful in reducing the stress of individual employees while generating an overall healthier workplace for both staff, and the company culture as a whole.   Connecting new employees to existing knowledgeable staff members through a mentor program can provide a sense of direction and support and help a company’s newer teammates familiarize themselves with the organization’s values, lingo and culture.  A veteran employee will feel empowered as a leader and will benefit from the inevitable learning that comes when teaching others.  A buddy system will help reduce stress by creating closer relationships and bonds amongst your team helping employees to thrive and grow.

2. Encourage Walking Meetings

The newest office fad that was gaining popularity before the pandemic hit was walking meetings.  This beneficial new craze will hopefully continue amidst the pandemic.  Discussing important topics while getting some exercise through a walk is easily done and in fact, our focus is likely improved as we are inhaling fresh air and not distracted by notifications popping up on our multiple screens.  I have experienced many “walk and talks” with my own team and a number of other entrepreneurs in my network this past year and love how invigorated and focused I feel when I sit back down at my desk.  Exercise and fresh air have been scientifically proven to reduce stress.   Amidst the pandemic with everyone working remotely – why not encourage your team to turn off their video for at least one meeting a day (especially if they don’t need to be looking at a spreadsheet during the meeting), and get outside for a ‘walk and talk’.

3. Make Time for Play…Even at Work!

Typically, when one thinks of play at work, we might think “inappropriate” or “distraction” – employees ought to be focused on the business at hand. However, given my 25 years of experience in keeping adults playing – I would argue there is in fact huge value for both the individual and the corporation, in finding time for play in the workplace.  Research suggests that play at work actually boosts levels of creativity, engagement, and productivity, in employees of all ages.  Encouraging some time for work teams to play, laugh, and connect – whether on a sports field, via a virtual Escape Room or enjoying a customized game of virtual company Trivia – the great benefit will be derived for both the employees and the business in doing so.  Embracing some adult playtime provides a massive stress release, creates improved team-bonding and thus engagement within the workplace, while also leading staff members to feel more joyful at work.  Play within the workplace creates a more collaborative happy team of employees – which in turn leads to happier customers and better results for the organization overall.

While dealing with workplace stress was a real and problematic issue before the 2020 pandemic – workplace stress continues (and is likely exacerbated) even when working on a laptop from the living room couch.  But the good news is – this intense stress for our co-workers and organizations is definitely resolvable.  Hopefully by choosing to implement some of the easy tips above you and your team will experience a reduction in stress and an improvement in the company culture!

Keep playing!

Hindsight is 2020.

2020 is about to be permanently in the rearview mirror – permanently behind us – permanently hindsight. A fact I’m certain many of us are grateful for.

2020 had begun with such a clear vision (pun intended) for a bright future. I launched into 2020 by saying “yes” on Jan 1st to a marital proposal from the man that I love – my best friend who ignites my passion and makes me laugh harder than anyone – the year was definitely starting off strong.

In February I was working hard on two exciting deals that would effectively double the size of our Sport & Social Group by springtime – only to watch them both come to a crashing halt with the onset of the pandemic in March.

Suddenly, I was leading a 25-year-old organization that should have been celebrating the positive impact we had made in the lives of over 1.3 million people, but instead, we were mandated by our government to stop our operations. The SSG has been keeping people playing and effectively helping them stay connected with old friends, make new friends, meet a significant other, find a new job and help with physical and mental health since 1996. The SSG has also created full-time jobs for hundreds and part-time jobs for thousands over these years. This should have been a year to truly celebrate – but a celebration was not what 2020 had in store for us.

Instead, I spent large parts of 2020 feeling depressed, anxious, and fearful of what would become of my beloved team and organization. 2020 forced me to make incredibly difficult decisions, and attempt to lead my team through the most challenging time I’ve ever experienced in my career – some of this I did well, and in hindsight, some of this I did very poorly.

For seven months I let our SSG culture slide – with my focus entirely on how the SSG would survive – we paused on celebrating our monthly core value awards, we paused giving out 1-year veteran jerseys, we missed book clubs and we were not having regularly scheduled fun sessions for our own team. Instead, I was desperately struggling to figure out how to navigate in a new world where our government would not allow any team sports to be played – outside or inside – effectively stopping our ability to generate any revenue – yet not sufficiently helping us cover our very real monthly overhead costs. In hindsight – lesson learned – I would have not let our culture slide at all – it really is the most important thing.

In March or April, when I could often be found crying in a fetal position in my bed, I would not have believed anyone who would tell me that in hindsight I would look back at 2020 and find gifts and silver (or perhaps rusty) linings to be grateful for.

As I look back on the year 2020 – with 2020 hindsight – I am incredibly grateful for some very special gifts that came from this year.

Firstly, I am incredibly grateful for the support of my fiancé and my six teenage children, my brothers, and my parents who all gracefully stood by and encouraged me through some very dark times.

Secondly, I am so grateful for the support of dear friends from all aspects of my life, (growing up in Sudbury, Queen’s university days, cottage friends, ski-racing pals, musical theatre besties, SSIA colleagues, and my incredible entrepreneurial network) whom all helped me whether it was listening to my tales of woe, providing empathy, brainstorming new ideas, helping connect me to people in the government or sharing suggestions for the launch of a new business – JAM. I would not have made it through this year we’re it not for an incredibly amazing network of very giving friends.

Finally, I am immensely grateful to my entire SSG team (as well as our amazing SSG customers) who have all stepped up in their own unique ways within their own abilities to get through a challenging year for the SSG but also lean into our launch of a brand new business. We stayed true to our core purpose of “connecting people through play” and have launched JAM which is helping corporate teams all around the globe to “keep playing” with our hosted fun remote events!  

I now have very clear 2020 hindsight that had the year 2020 not hit our SSG so hard – JAM would never have been born. And while JAM is still a long way from the size SSG was at – it is growing quickly and the revenues we are driving from this little “pivot” are greatly helping to cover some of our monthly overhead expenses while also helping make a difference in the world at large by bringing play to corporate teams and organizations, helping reduce stress and improve personal connections, which makes me smile.

And so it is with hindsight that I look back on 2020 and can honestly say – I am grateful to all of you and for all the learning and gifts that have come from this immensely challenging year! Thank you!

Bring on 2021! Keep playing! Let’s JAM!

Small business stung by pandemic pivots to raise $200,000 for charity

Today Canada’s largest adult recreational sports league, the Sport & Social Group (SSG), announces a $200,000 corporate challenge for charity called “Titans of Trivia.”  The initiative is led by JAM (www.workplayjam.com), the newly created remote events arm of SSG which helps corporate teams worldwide keep their culture thriving by hosting playful events keeping their teams connected while working remotely!

Titans of Trivia (ToT) is an elimination-style, team trivia tournament that will provide an opportunity for corporate teams to playfully connect with their remote working staff and challenge corporate rivals to compete for bragging rights as the “know-it-alls of nothing”, all while playing for a charity of their choice.  Every $5,000 ToT team fee guarantees a $1,000 contribution to the team’s charity of choice. The further a team progresses in the tournament, the more money they earn for their charity with the winning team earning $50,000 for their charity.

Since May 2020, JAM has now hosted over 150 customized events (Scavenger Hunts, Trivia, Musical Bingo, Escape Rooms, Pictionary, On-boarding, and more), for organizations in Canada, USA, UK, Belgium, France, Turkey, Columbia, Nigeria, China, India, Philippines, and Thailand, creating laughs and connection for approximately 15,000 participants in the process.

For 25 years, the SSG’s core purpose has been ‘connecting people through play’ – getting over 1.3 million people playing in adult sports leagues since its inception in 1996. Government mandates implemented due to COVID19 have impacted the SSG and its team of 40 full-time and 300 part-time employees brutally hard – completely shutting down all sports league play and revenue-generating capability since March of 2020.

SSG has stayed true to its core purpose of “connecting people through play” by pivoting from its b2c sports league operations and launching “JAM”, a global b2b remote events service. JAM helps corporations, schools, and other organizations with remote working teams stay connected through play.  

“It has been amazing to see the creativity and drive from my team as we have worked to stay true to our core purpose of connecting people through play,” says SSG & JAM founder and CEO Kristi Herold. “We are thrilled to have found a way to help corporations as well as charities, who are all struggling! We’ve found a ‘rusty lining’ through this pandemic that is truly a triple win!”

Keep playing! Let’s JAM!

For more information contact, Kristi Herold, Tel: 416-606-2292, Email: [email protected]

I am struggling and I am certain I am not alone

It has been 4 weeks since the Sport & Social Club made the difficult decision to shut down our operations, a few days before being mandated to do so.

May 2020, should be a celebration of the start of my 25th year of getting people off the couch, playing and making real-life social connections. The Sport & Social Club has been providing an incredibly beneficial physical and mental health service and has impacted the lives of over 1.3 million participants in a positive way since May 1996.

Instead of celebrating, we are shut down. The majority of my team are unemployed and our SSC members are sitting on couches, unable to actively play and engage in real-life social connections. The uncertainty of how long this new reality of physical distancing will carry on for is unsettling and scary.

I am struggling and I am certain I am not alone. I share this to be real, to be vulnerable and to hopefully help other small business owners (bars, restaurants, event companies etc) realize we are not alone in facing these challenges. I also share this to ask for help.

Many small businesses like mine are struggling and we need help to survive this. Wage subsidies while helpful for a business that has slowed down, don’t really help a business that has been mandated to shut down and is unable to generate revenues. We have just given thousands of credits to our members who were playing in our winter season and had their experience cut short. We have members who registered to play in spring/summer leagues, who are now dealing with their own personal struggles asking us for refunds. Like airlines, ticketing companies, event organizations and many other sports league operators we are only able to provide credits. We have real expenses (office rent, phones, insurance, automobile leases, pre-paid facility expenses etc) that have not gone away and there is no government assistance for these.

I have always taken pride in making my own way as an entrepreneur, creating employment opportunities for others and creating a positive service and experience for our customers. I have been struggling with how to ‘pivot’ given the very nature of our organization is about bringing people together for social active gatherings, yet I remain open-minded. I am now asking for help.

I need help to generate awareness and connections with various levels of government (federal, provincial and municipal) to ask that they do more to help organizations like the Sport & Social Club, (we don’t have quite the same clout as airlines). I am also open to ideas for ways to ‘pivot’.

In order for us to survive this and be able to rebuild to get people playing again in the future, we need help now.

Our society will need physical activity and real-life social connections when this crisis ends. I want the Sport & Social Club to be able to be around to help provide our services for people to keep playing!


Slamming your Competition – Help or Hinder??

Does slamming your competition when marketing, help or hinder you?  

Perhaps, the better question to ask, does doing so help or hinder your competition?

Recently, we received some marketing material from a competing organization to ours.  This competitor decided to compare their service to “Other Sports Clubs” using the Toronto Sport & Social Club’s trademarked red shield logo, but they removed the “Sport & Social Club” name inside the shield changing it to read “Other Sports Clubs” in an attempt to subtly (or not so subtly) slam us.  

From there they proceeded to attempt to make “Other Sports Clubs” look bad relative to themselves by creating a checklist of differentiators between organizations.

My initial reaction when I saw this marketing material was irritation and anger at this seemingly cheap shot and a low blow.  However, after I took a breath, and realized the FREE branding and awareness the Sport & Social Club had received, I cracked a smile.  Awareness about our organization had now been directly shared with our competitor’s customer list, people who may or may not have realized “Other Sports Clubs” even existed and now may do some research into competitive offerings and learn more about us.  Besides, isn’t “imitation the sincerest form of flattery?”

Further, I realized that if this type of marketing (putting down others to make oneself seem better) appeals to a customer, then perhaps these are not really the customers we are seeking.  Those customers who find this style of marketing as repulsive as I do, are more likely to want to do the research into those “Other Sports Clubs” and come to play with the Sport & Social Club.  

Truth is, I would never want my team to slam the competition in an attempt to make ourselves look good.  Sing our own praises? Absolutely! Put others down in the process? Never!

I believe so strongly in the service we are providing…keeping people playing.  I also believe there are a lot of great organizations offering similar services to ours and I’m thrilled they are doing so.  I believe that competition is healthy as it breeds better service for all. Our vision is to get 1 million people playing.  Whether playing with the Sport & Social Club or “Other Sports Clubs”, every player kicking a ball, throwing a disc, making a pass and scoring a point, is helping create more smiles and a better world for all.  


— Kristi Herold, Founder, CEO, Sport & Social Group

Do we make our own luck?

Ever hear the saying, “you gotta be good to be lucky and lucky to be good”?  Well I believe this to be absolutely true!

The other day at my staff book club we were discussing our most recent read, Jenn Sincero’s “You are a Badass”.  During our discussion it became clear that some of my team believe we make our own luck (I am one of those believers) and others on my team do not believe in this.

I believe we make our own luck by making choices to put ourselves out there.  Sometimes choosing to do something or ask for something that may make us uncomfortable or nervous can often open a door to luck or a new opportunity that would not have existed if we just sat back in our comfortable familiar place.  The universe works in wonderful ways.

Today, I just had yet another awesome example of putting myself out there and creating my own luck.

I arrived at the airport, heading to Utah for the Mastermind Talks conference,  led by Jayson Gaignard and his team.  I was checking in for my flight and I asked the fellow behind the counter where the biz class lounge was and he informed me that Delta Airlines unfortunately doesn’t have a lounge in Toronto.  He told me Delta are partners with a lounge that he thought cost $80 and with my biz class ticket I get 20% off, so it would be $64.  In my head I thought, “well that’s a waste of amount of money, I won’t bother”.  

As I was walking toward my gate, I saw the sign for the lounge and I thought, “Oh what the heck, I’ve got time, I’ll just pop in and show my ticket and see what happens.  Maybe it’s only $10 and not $80, or maybe the person behind the counter will just be super friendly and let me in, I’ll go ask and find out.”  

When I walked in and showed my ticket, the fellow behind the counter kindly expressed, “Unfortunately, Delta Biz Class tickets are not valid in this lounge.”  So I turned to walk away saying,  “Ok no worries”.  At this moment, a man walked up behind me and said “She can come in as my guest right?”, and he handed over his AmEx Platinum card.  The lounge employee said “Oh yes, with Amex Platinum, you can bring in a complimentary guest.”

Wow – how lucky is that!   Had I not stepped in to the lounge to ask, this lucky situation would never have come my way!  I’m a big believer that it never hurts to ask.  The worst that can happen, they say “No”.  The best that can happen, the person behind you will give you a free pass to join them in the biz class lounge!

Never be afraid to ask.  You may just create your own luck in the process!

— Kristi Herold, Founder, CEO, Sport & Social Group

Bench the Kids and Take the Field

Why Parents should Play Sports too!

When the Sport & Social Club first had members kicking balls, throwing discs and hitting homeruns, the sidelines at our games looked like this;

Empty Bench
Type image caption here (optional)

empty…there were few spectators and definitely no children or baby strollers. Back then the average member was 23 years old and single.

But as the SSC grew up, so did our members and 19 years later we are beginning to see a lot more of this;

These days our average member is closer to 28 or 30 years old and, although there are still plenty of singles, many of our members  have children who make great fans!

We all understand the importance of getting children involved in sports! Physical activity and competition can help improve self-esteem, social skills, academic success and lifelong health.

Even though we understand these benefits, once we move into parenthood we often tend to put our own needs aside. The result? We forget to give ourselves the gift of sports!  Perhaps if we over-programmed our children a little less and made a little more time for our own games we would be benefitting both ourselves and our kids.

Adult Benefits
Child Benefits

My children have spent many hours on the sidelines of my ultimate games and their Dad’s cycling races. They are used to their parents cheering and supporting them with snacks and water bottles in hand. But they’re also equally familiar with being our support crew! Most importantly, the kids get to see that no matter how old we are, it is fun, social and healthy for people of all ages to get out and be active.  And the best part is there are so many options to choose from (check them all out here).

We love seeing kids supporting their parents at our Sport & Social Club games. And as our members continue to grow we suspect our fan base will too.

Three cheers for active parents!

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t give up a thing

As we move into a New Year, that dreaded word “resolution” is back with a vengeance. Every year society encourages us to give something up to improve ourselves. But why should we have to ‘quit’ something to make ourselves better people?!

This year I propose a new twist! Instead of quitting something, why not resolve to ADD something NEW to your life for 2015!

10 Ideas for Adding something NEW to your Life:

  1. LAUGH every day.

Commit to finding a cartoon, a saying, a blog post or a video that makes you laugh and share it with someone who could also use a laugh.  If you’re ever stuck, check out the website Damn You Auto Correct for a guaranteed gigolo (*giggle).

  1. Meditate daily.

Take five to ten minutes a day to breathe a little deeper and be a little more present. Mindful meditation can help reduce stress, anxiety, chronic pain and conflict, as well as improve sleep. Need some help? There’s some great guided meditations available online: Tarabrach, The Meditation Podcast, Meditation Oasis.

  1. Take the Stairs!

Make a personal commitment that every time you are faced with the choice between an escalator or the stairs…you’ll choose stairs. Sure it’ll make you breathe a little harder but I bet you’ll be pleased with the extra bit of exercise!

Take the Stairs
  1. Pay it forward every day!

It’s simple. Just do something nice for someone else. Give away your parking ticket that still has time on it; bake cookies for your co-workers; send a text to someone to let them know how great they are; or pay for the car behind you at Tim Horton’s. They’ll feel great and you’ll feel great! Double win.

Pay It Forward
  1. Drink more WATER.

Commit to drinking 8 glasses of water every day. I bet you’ll be surprised with how much better drinking more water will make you feel and look! I use ITunes to help track my daily water intake to stay on target.

  1. Listen to a podcast.

If you’re like me you spend a lot of time driving in the car. Instead of listening to the same songs over, why not try a podcast? You can educate yourself while you drive and Podbay has a great list on top podcasts these days.

  1. Make a point of complimenting someone once a day.

Simply saying the words, “I like your shirt, that colour looks great on you.” or “Please tell the chef the entree was delicious” costs you nothing and will have a huge impact on someone else’s day.

  1. Buy a new vegetable or fruit at the grocery store at least once a month.

Then learn a new recipe to incorporate it! A year ago I came home with an eggplant much to the concern of my children. Regardless I created a simple recipe by baking the eggplant with some olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic sprinkled with parmesan.  Upshot? My kids love it and it has become a much loved appetizer with friends.

Eggplant Parmesan
  1. Read the newspaper.

Spend a few minutes every morning reading up on what’s going on in the world around you. Enjoy it the old fashioned way with paper in hand and a cup of coffee…or just scroll through a webpage on-line when you get to your desk. Either way, get informed!

  1. Take up a new hobby.

Learn to play guitar, learn to knit or sew, take an improv class or learn a new language.  Try something you’ve always wanted to do but never made time for.  I finally picked up a guitar at the age of 42 and after two years of sporadic lessons and regular practice, I now have a repertoire of over fifty songs. That’s not to say I’ll be going on stage anytime soon but at least it livens up the campfire! Here are some great resources to get you started:

Toronto Guitar Lessons, The Knit Cafe, Sew Be It Studio, Improv Training


The bottom line? Don’t be a quitter this New Year. Instead take on something NEW to invigorate your life!

Happy New Year!