Blog entry by Chris Accipio

Anyone in the world

The Club Matters team expresses their sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the late Svend Elkjaer, founder and director of The Sports Marketing Network. Svend’s passion for his work and constant desire to improve the sporting sector was evident in the work we, and others, did with him. The thought-provoking blogs and ideas Svend contributed will continue his legacy and inform the work of many more. In remembrance of Svend, Club Matters wishes to share his ‘Welcoming clubs’ blog article.

Some sports clubs, groups and organisations do a fantastic job of making sure that people feel welcome and included. Others do not, which means they miss out on the benefits of being more welcoming, such as attracting new members. Here, Svend shared his views on how clubs and groups can become more welcoming and why this matters, to help organisations understand any changes they can make to ensure positive experiences. For more information, explore the links at the end of the post. 

Community sports clubs and groups can benefit from adapting their mindsets and learning a new skillset – taking examples of best practice from successful social enterprises and the hospitality sector. It’s important to recognise that sport operates in the experience business and is competing for people’s leisure time and money, so it has to attract people away from other hobbies and habits. It can do this by providing better experiences for customers. 

Life is changing and community sport has to change with it. Or, even better, if you listen to your people and understand their lives, you should be able to anticipate the changes in their needs and wants. You can then adapt your offering and services so you are always half a step ahead.  

Develop great leadership and management

Some clubs and groups don’t place a lot of focus on how they lead and manage themselves despite its importance. Having the same few people on the committee and a 32-year-old constitution, for example, is unlikely to support a club to be well-run and progress in the right direction and at the right speed, both on and off the pitch. 

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to leadership and management style. There are many different styles and each suits various situations. The key is to be aware of what style is right for you, at this moment in time. 

We have all seen plenty of examples where the right leadership, individually and collectively, makes a significant difference to the growth and development of clubs. Unfortunately, there are also too many examples where bad, or a lack of, management can stifle and almost kill a club.  

You are not just a sports club

You are in the experience business

For more detail and some great case studies on how to become a welcoming club you can watch this video. (You may need to register with GoToStage for access).

So, be honest, how welcoming is your club or group? Here are five simple statements; which one best describes how your people?

Ask as many people as possible within your club or group which of the five statements below best describe your culture and attitude based on their experience. Listen to your people and act on their comments.

1. We are completely focused on being welcoming towards participants, members, supporters, sponsors and others. We are aware of their different needs and we work hard to satisfy those needs.

2. We are becoming increasingly more welcoming, although not everybody may be as welcoming as we would like. We know how we want to improve and we are working hard to get there.

3. We need to focus less on internal and political issues and more on being welcoming.

4. We rarely talk about being welcoming - do we really know what that is?

5. We are a sports club - why should we be talking about being welcoming? 

A community sports club should be welcoming for the WHOLE community

Despite continued efforts and various initiatives, there are still clear inequalities in participation and volunteering across community sport and physical activity in England. People with different backgrounds and attributes including ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and religion may feel less welcome at a club or group. 

The demographic of the communities in which sport operates has changed dramatically. Our culturally, linguistically and gender diverse communities are looking for sporting options and experiences that celebrate diversity, promote inclusion, and most importantly, make people feel like they belong.

We need more welcoming activators - not more technical coaches

For many people, great coaching is roughly 10% technical skill, 20% being reactive and able to think on your feet and about 70% being nice to people. In their research into the sporting workforce published in 2017, London Sport asked almost 2,000 regular Londoners what they'd mostly be looking for in a sports leader and things like 'focused on fitness' and 'focused on technique' came pretty far down the list. What came out consistently on top were qualities like 'motivating', 'friendly' and 'not going to judge me'.

Yes, we do have some community sports clubs that are indeed welcoming, inclusive, diverse and equitable, but sadly some are not and they are paying the price in terms of struggling to retain, let alone grow, their membership. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes – if you arrived at your club for the very first time, how welcome would you feel?

Useful links from Club Matters

Reaching different audiences - website section

How to create an inclusive environment

Understanding your participants

[ Modified: Monday, 3 October 2022, 10:41 AM ]