Community sports pose management challenges

This is an excerpt from Contemporary Sport Management, Fourth Edition, edited by Paul Pedersen, PhD, Janet Parks, DA, Jerome Quarterman, PhD, and Lucie Thibault, PhD.


Community sport presents a unique challenge concerning management because its structure and delivery system is varied and nonprescriptive (Cuskelly et al., 2006). That is, some organizations are highly professional, using paid staff to govern, manage, and deliver the sport offering. Others are loosely organized, informal volunteer groups that form more of a cooperative coalition to provide sport for themselves and a small network of community members. In many cases, the community sport organization is governed by a volunteer board of directors that sets policy for the organization. The board’s wishes are carried out by a paid executive director, who employs a small paid staff and a larger cadre of volunteers, especially volunteer coaches. Although volunteers have long been a mainstay of community sport delivery, pressure is increasing to make sport programs more professional because of legal issues and government policy. This circumstance can create tension in management styles between professional, standardized, and clearly defined procedures and volunteers’ desire to have freedom over their volunteer experience (Cuskelly et al., 2006). Still, most experts agree that volunteers are a critical component of community sport, and managing volunteers is essential to organizational functioning and survival.

Although a professional human resource management (HRM) model can sometimes be a hindrance in completely volunteer-run sport organizations, it can be helpful in providing guidelines, structure, and accountability for community sport organizations (Meijs & Karr, 2004). Establishing HRM procedures and guidelines for worker (paid or volunteer) recruitment, selection, training, and development can help organizations streamline program delivery and make better transitions as people come and go through the organization. The basic HRM functions and their relationship to volunteer management are described next.

Personnel management begins with planning, a task that involves examining the organization’s strategies, goals, and resources. As the organization’s managers plan their programs and services, they can then begin to think through their personnel needs to deliver the programs. In planning for volunteers, organizational managers may ask the following questions: Does the organization have the resources to provide paid personnel, or will it rely on volunteers? What work will be performed by volunteers, and what activities will receive compensation? How many volunteers will be necessary to perform essential functions? From where will volunteers be recruited? How many hours will volunteers need to commit? What skills or training will volunteers need? How can we ensure participant safety (e.g., child protection laws) and privacy protection (e.g., participants’ personal information that can be accessed by volunteers)?

After these questions are answered, the organization can develop a plan for recruiting and selecting volunteers and paid personnel. Recruitment can involve informal word-of-mouth contacts, advertisements, or broader search mechanisms. In local communities, volunteers are often the members themselves or parents of members. For example, a player on an adult soccer club team may volunteer to organize the league’s schedule and book fields through the local community center. Selection of volunteers involves completing background checks (to ensure child safety) and matching volunteer skills and desires with organizational needs.

Next, volunteers often need to undergo training and development to understand the organization’s goals, policies, and procedures and to help them be competent and successful in their volunteer duties. Much training is focused on volunteer coaches, because they are often at the forefront of sport delivery and participant experience in sport largely depends on the quality of coaching (Wiersma & Sherman, 2005). If children, in particular, do not enjoy their sport experience, they are unlikely to continue to participate. Coach training should include ethical standards, proper child safety (if coaching children), education in the particular sport coached in terms of techniques and tactics, and education in motivation and behavior management (Cuskelly et al., 2006).

Although quality HRM is essential to community sport delivery and volunteers in particular need guidelines and training to ensure a quality experience for themselves and the participants, community sport managers must also ensure that volunteers enjoy the experience, see it as valuable and worthwhile, and do not become overburdened with procedure at the expense of experience.



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