• Ian Sandbrook

How we can continue the shift towards a ‘community-value’ sporting system

I wrote a week or so ago about whether the goal for sport should be to return to normal. My argument centred around whether the current system for sport was broken, particularly in relation to its impact on community sport, the place where 99% of sport takes place.

In that article I started to outline some high-level actions National Sports Organisations could start to do to shift towards a more ‘community-value’ approach as a positive reset for sport. These included:

1.      Re-visit your purpose and whether your actions truly align to it

Honestly reflect whether you are living your purpose or have let money and winning become the focus.

2.      Start myth busting

Number 1 myth to bust – successful elite teams or athletes are the main driver of long-term participation growth in sport.

3.      Look at the balance of staffing structures in your model

Are you top heavy? Are there inefficiencies? Are there ways you can ensure more resource reaches the ‘front-line’ of your sport and is effective.

4.      Understand where your resource is really going

Is ‘community/development’ funding getting redirected into ‘pathway opportunities’ for the few, under the guise of ‘community/development’?

5.      Support the leaders – look for the ‘future-thinking’ people

This is your opportunity to identify and promote leadership, over management. To keep the conversation going, I wanted to outline a couple more ideas NSOs could consider embracing for the long-term future of their sports.

Evolve how you evaluate success at Community Sport level

This essentially revolves around the ‘Quality v Quantity’ debate that has always bubbled away beneath the surface in sport. To cut to the chase, we still have a system that prioritises and rewards ‘numbers’ over the quality and sustainability of the experience.

Why do we continually have to demonstrate growth to be deemed successful and worthy of continued funding?

I’ve been there and experienced those pressures first-hand. As much as we talk about quality experiences and impacts, all the decision making linked to funding and resourcing is overwhelmingly based on the ‘participation numbers’, the quantitative measures. We need to change that mental model within leadership and its application to decision making and ensure there’s a more balanced assessment of what is effective. Some of the consequences of an over-emphasis on ‘participation numbers’ include:

1.      ‘Inflated’ reporting of figures

You are extremely naïve if you think this doesn’t happen. If you are constantly pushed for ‘growth’ then people will find a way to deliver that. A ‘false economy’ has been created as every sport tries to demonstrate their growth and importance, all in the crush to receive a bigger piece of the funding pie. In fact, if you believe all the numbers then soon, we’re going to have more people ‘participating in sport’ in our countries than there are people! This ‘participation arms race’ is undermining the system.

2.      Internal Accountability v Accountability to the Sport

Linked to above, has a system that is heavily weighted towards quantitative measures led to us being blinded by internal accountability, rather than what is necessarily best for the sport?

Has hitting KPIs for participation figures to demonstrate ‘growth’ to report back to key funders become the priority? And in that process, have we lost sight to a degree that we should be accountable to the sport itself, and its key stakeholders?

I’m positive that this isn’t something done intentionally but has just become a product of the system we are encouraging.

This internal accountability has led to short-term gains and thinking, while skirting around the real issues of addressing sustainable, high-value participant numbers e.g. club membership and teams, that the key stakeholders of your sport are really after, but are much harder to achieve.

Use of Social Return on Investment (SROI) as the primary evaluation method

This is the new frontier for a ‘community-value’ driven sporting system, and links to my points above. SROI isn’t new, and some sports have dabbled in it, but it most definitely isn’t prevalent in how we currently evaluate the majority of the community sport system. Rather it exists in the more niche 'sport social enterprise / charity sector', or for one-off programmes we might deliver.

Should we start embracing this more prominently as an evaluation method within the traditional sporting system to initiate the systemic change I believe we want to see?

Tim Smith from EventID Sports in the UK has written an excellent article – - explaining this and what it evaluates. He was at the forefront of the work the FA did in this space. In his words, “Essentially, SROI evaluates the individual and community benefits that sport generates. It seeks to understand the broader benefits of an activity or entity (e.g. a club) for the people who engage with it and the community it serves.”

The ability of this form of evaluation to demonstrate the social outcomes of sport, place a monetary value on it, and combine it with the obvious economic impact to create an overall social and economic value of that club or activity, is powerful stuff. A system that emphasises this approach would really start to shift priorities in my opinion.

Introducing a standardised model that can easily evaluate this at club, regional/state, and national level within your sport would create a far richer picture of your sport and a more sustainable and impactful road map for developing your sport. It would bring to the forefront things like satisfaction, quality of experience, well-being, understanding your community and their needs, and delivering according to that. This would broaden people’s thinking in terms of adding value, and that success isn’t just determined by the unrealistic goal of constant participation growth.

Football have by far and away been the front-runners in this space and there’s some really good case studies and methods that are being developed by organisations like the FA in England, Scottish FA and UEFA. Here’s a link below to some SFA case studies that make for excellent reading.

Anyway, there’s a couple more ideas to add to the conversation about how we can evolve towards a community value sporting system. They are raw and detail would need to be worked through, but I do fundamentally believe in exploring their potential. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments below.

Also, feel free to contact me – – or visit my website - to sign up to my ‘3 Good Things’ newsletter which is full of thought-provoking ideas and content to help you.

99 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Join our mailing list

Never miss an update