In youth sport, sport leaders have many important roles. They’re frequently tasked with carolling and managing staff and volunteers, setting culture, developing and enforcing policy and rules, and planning and reviewing pathways, programmes, and events — and the list goes on.
To this last point, sport leaders have an important role when it comes to overseeing the design and delivery of quality youth sport experiences — particularly when these experiences need to evolve or change. Here, when we take a long-term view of great youth sport organisations, effective leadership, particularly that demonstrated by sport leaders, comes to the fore as a key component for the ongoing provision of quality youth sport experiences.
Making necessary improvements to programmes, stopping and switching tack for how an event is delivered, changing pathway offerings, guiding staff and volunteers on these types of changes, communicating changes with parents; these types of activities are not always easy — but they’re essential if we’re to continue to improve the experiences we give all youth sport participants. A key theme across these types of activities is the need for bold and courageous leadership. Below, we discuss the importance of bold and courageous leadership, and advise on how to successfully lead in youth sport environments.
Why Is Bold and Courageous Leadership Important?
To design and deliver quality youth sport programmes, we must constantly assess the experiences we give participants, reflect on how we could improve them, be adaptable, and remain open-minded about better ways of doing things. And when we identify potential ways to modify or improve our programmes, we must be proactive in implementing change.
This is where leadership comes in.
It is through effective leadership that we can turn words and ideas into tangible actions and commitments. When we try to implement change or move away from traditional methods of operating, we will often encounter resistance, or even detractors, within our organisations and communities. Even with the best intentions, gaining support for change, and then sustaining those changes over time, can be challenging.
Thus, being able to implement change — and manage it in a way that achieves buy-in from other stakeholders within our organisation and communities — is a crucial skill for sports leaders. Individuals involved in the decision-making and governance within national, regional, and local organisations arguably have the greatest scope to instigate meaningful changes in the ways we deliver youth sport. To do so requires bold and courageous leadership.
Implementing Transparent, Purposeful, and Accountable Change
So how can leaders manage change within their organisations? Below, we consider how to provide effective leadership in youth sport environments.
Develop Your Knowledge
People at the top of our organisations, such as board members and managers, should have a clear understanding of Balance is Better’s overarching philosophy and why it’s important.
It takes time to establish meaningful change. We must be patient and persistent, and continue to reinforce the ‘why’ behind our actions when working with parents, coaches, and other volunteers — especially those who are most resistant to new practices.
Sometimes we may encounter criticism, or even political pressure to deviate from our intended course of action. We must be strong when facing adversity, remember to prioritise the young people in our care, and push forward with changes we have identified in their best interests.
Carefully Manage the Process of Making Change
When modifying the design and delivery of our programmes, we must consider how we’ll manage that change. First, we should inform all relevant stakeholders, consulting the people who’ll be most affected (such as coaches, parents, and participants). Second, we should identify people within our community who could be advocates for change, and educate them in our rationale so that they can inform others of our approach. Next, we must communicate our plans, referring back to the overarching vision of our organisation, and be open to receiving external feedback.
Finally, we should review our organisation’s strategic documentation, so that it is realigned with our new approach.
Read more about managing change in youth sport using Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model
Bring Your People With You
Good leaders should always value, and make time for, the people within their organisation. We should strive to help all coaches, administrators, volunteers, and other staff understand our vision and feel like their opinions are heard. We should also support them in developing their skills and knowledge, for instance by promoting learning opportunities, and sharing our research and the evidence underpinning our decisions.
It is through this collaborative and respectful approach that we can earn the buy-in of the people who make our organisations work, thereby fostering an informed, passionate community that can drive the design and delivery of quality sporting programmes.
- Sport leaders have a crucial role in overseeing the design and delivery of quality youth sport experiences — particularly when programmes need to evolve or change.
- We must constantly reflect on the experiences we provide youth sport participants, and consider how we could improve them.
- Change often meets resistance — even when our intentions are good. Effective leadership is key to achieving buy-in from key stakeholders within our organisations and communities.
- When implementing change, we must constantly reinforce the ‘why’ behind our decisions — especially to individuals who are most resistant to new ideas or practices.
- Resilience is a cornerstone of effective leadership. When facing criticism or pressure, it’s important to remember the purpose underpinning our actions — and always prioritise the best interests of the young people in our programmes.
- Good leaders should always make time for the staff and volunteers within their organisation, make them feel valued, support their development, and be open to receiving feedback.
- Delivering quality youth sport experiences is a collaborative process. In addition to bold and courageous leadership, the stakeholders within our programmes and communities are essential to facilitating great sporting experiences for the young people under our care.
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