Over the past 9 years I have been so fortunate to work with a large number of sports clubs in a variety of different sports. Regardless of the sport, many of these clubs share something in common. That is, they don’t know the answer to a simple question:
Why do you exist?
Now, I am not meaning to get all existential. We could easily ask “Why do you do what you do?” or “Why are you here?” My gut feeling is that MOST clubs have not thought about this, or cannot articulate it. Clubs are happy to get through a season, bringing in enough membership fees to keep the lights on, get to the end of the season and take a break.
There is now so much discussion in the personal development space, as well as the corporate world, about purpose. Most of us will have gone through at least one “Vision Statement” writing, or a “Mission” or “Values” session. Clubs should be able to articulate this in 2019. Defining this reason for existence provides a prism through which all decisions can be made.
An easy answer to the existence question is “to give people a place to participate in this sport” – and that is a totally acceptable answer! Although the way we consume sports may be changing, I believe that the sports club is still central to our sports. People need to feel like they belong to something, and sports clubs can provide this. However, I believe that growth is not a reason for existing, it is a result of doing something well.
I feel that too many clubs are trying to be too many things to too many people. They want huge participation numbers and they want to produce elite athletes. They want to generate money to improve their facilities and they want to “do something” for the community. In my experience, the most successful clubs are the ones that have clarity on exactly WHY they exist.
Sport has the power to change lives, and some sports clubs are putting this intention at the heart of everything that they do. They are making this their reason for existence. Instead of simply offering the opportunity to participate in sport, they are are setting out to solve social problems in their communities. The sport is secondary; the benefits of sport are primary, acting as a solution to whatever social problem is important to that community.
As leaders of clubs, I think it is time to be very honest and very brave. It is OK to say your purpose is to give children the chance to play sport in your community, as long as your resources and decisions align with this purpose! If you say that is why you exist, but actually spend more of your energy and resources on your performance programme, then you will never be successful, or fulfilled.
I am not saying that clubs can’t do more than one thing well. On the contrary, some of the best clubs I work with are successful in many different areas of their sport. What I am saying, is that if you have not articulated your purpose, then start small. Look at the people in your club and in your community, and have some conversations about why they turn up to your club every week.
This at least will be a starting point to discovering the answer to our question.