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How much is too much when it comes to youth sport?

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How to coach with a Balance is Better philosophy

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Balance is Better Principles Poster

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Creating a positive parent culture

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Unpacking the Balance is Better principles

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Unpacking the Balance is Better principle – Bold and Courageous Leadership 

“Bold and courageous leadership at national, regional and local levels is required to design and deliver quality youth sport participation and development opportunities “. In this video, Sport Development Consultants Alex Chiet and Hamish Rogers, unpack the Balance is Better principle – Bold & Courageous Leadership.

Key Points: 

  • Bold and courageous leadership is about taking a stand – i.e. moving beyond words and committing to tangible action. 
  • Bold and courageous leadership is required because starting and sustaining some of the actions and changes aligned to Balance is Better are not always going to be easy. Those who lead change are very likely to encounter resistance and detractors. 
  • Often, bold and courageous leadership starts with decision makers or leaders in the governance of national, regional and local organisations. It is these people who ‘have access to the levers of change’. 
  • There are many different leading and managing change models. Sport New Zealand has used Kotter’s Eight Step Process as a model with our sport leaders to help frame and guide successful change management practice into the contexts and environments our sport leaders work in. 
Kotter’s Eight Step Process


HR: Hey Alex, so today we’re talking about the Balance is Better principles. One of those principles is about bold and courageous leadership. Specifically, bold and courageous leadership at national, regional and local levels as required to design and deliver quality, youth sport participation and development opportunities.

In this principle, there’s obviously a bit to unpack. To start, can you give me your first take on what this principle means?

AC: Yeah, sure Hamish. You know, these conversations are really involved, so it’s good to start to tackle some of these. What this principle means to me, it’s actually just taking a stand for what’s right.

It’s stepping across the commitment line to do what’s right for our young people, our rangatahi. You know, the evidence is very clear. It’s been shouting at us for some time, so it’s actually listening to that evidence and start to take some pretty significant steps and leading change.

And, as you alluded to that happens at multiple levels. So, part of having this principle of bold and courageous change is actually knowing that it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be smooth sailing and being prepared for the pushback when it comes, because these bold and courageous decisions aren’t going to be met with bouquets of flowers and people going, this is great. It’s change and it’s going to be hard. So, in terms of making that commitment and being bold, that’s, what’s really needed. It’s too easy to keep doing the same thing.

Often change starts with decision makers or leaders at governance levels. Whether that’s national, regional or local. We talk a lot about, top-down leadership and those bold and courageous messages being understood and being communicated from leaders. And we’re seeing significant progress. There’s lots of case studies on the Balance is Better website when it comes to what New Zealand rugby have done in terms of being quite direct around under-16 being the first step in terms of representative rugby, where it’s important for them. You’ve seen similar steps taken from Hockey NZ and Netball NZ. They’ve really started to challenge traditional competition structures, because we know better today than what we knew 20 years ago.

So, we can’t keep doing the same things. That’s really what we mean by being bold and courageous. It’s knowing that it’s right and doing more than just listening to it, actually acting on it and being ready to deal with the pushback.

HR: Thanks Alex. So, to me, what resonates… there is a taking action piece, within this principle, and one of the things we often talk about is the importance of context. And obviously those contexts change in different settings. So, when it comes to bold and courageous leadership, what this could look like could obviously change at a national or regional or local setting because the people who lead in those spaces have access to differently levers. I’d be interested to understand if you could provide any examples for leaders in local settings, such as in sport clubs, around what bold and courageous leadership could look like.

AC: Yeah. So, I think the tricky thing for me answering this is, I don’t know the context for the different local or regional levels around the country. And we have a saying in our team, that context is king. Like the people close to the ground, know their people, know the connections, know the sort of currency to help influence things.

So you have to come from a place of understanding first, you’ve got to do your homework. Actually, there’s a piece of understanding why. So first, why is this change needed? If you’ve going to be bold and courageous, you need to understand why it’s important.

So, you have to have done your homework. You know, that’s about understanding the evidence, understanding what young people want, having some of the research behind you. And then it’s about how you speak up, where you speak out, your approach to influencing people and how you do those things. And that’s quite a nuanced sort of skill where sometimes, if you take the wrong approach, it can be inflammatory and make a situation worse.

So, you know, at a national level, they can provide that direction. They can say that these things are important. They can mandate change or say, “Hey, these are competition structures are changing that are in our control.” They can change some of their events. They can communicate the importance of this change to the membership, but quite often, those changes hit the ground in regional and local levels. So, what this looks like in a regional context, will be very different.

Some of the things we’re seeing already in terms of, season length changing, delaying the start of season, reducing the season length, it could be offering new events to meet the needs of different markets. It could be opening entry to different sorts of participant groups. It could be changing representative programs to be more developmental in nature. It could be working with others, Territorial Authorities, and other sports to come to new sort of opportunities. So, what this looks like locally or regionally or within a school or a club setting is going to be different. And I think, again, if we’re talking about being bold and courageous, its actually, taking time out to work with other sports, and committing to these changes.

We talk about words versus actions. Well we can keep talking about this, but action speaks so much louder than words. And again, it’s going to be met with resistance. People aren’t going to like it. So, you’ve got to stay the course. That’s what part of this being bold and courageous is, to get these changes over the line that are going to benefit our young people.

HR: Thanks Alex. That’s probably a great segue into my last question around staying the course. So, when we talk about bold and courageous leadership, there’s a change element. There’s a piece around driving, supporting, facilitating, overseeing, sustaining change. And, one thing we know is obviously change can be met, particularly in a lot of these communities, with resistance. Can you talk to any advice or perhaps point to any resources for people who are geared up and ready to take action around some of the things they might want to consider on that journey?

AC: Yeah, sure. Some of the learnings we’ve had over the last few years, both from a Sport New Zealand perspective and working close to the ground through pilots, but also, supporting sports and sharing the learnings they’ve had. This is the crux – you can have all the evidence and the information we want that speaks to the need for change, but unless we can equip the people in leadership positions and close to the ground with the tools around how to successfully implement change, it doesn’t matter. So, this is important, one of the most critical pieces.

The best intent in the world can fall over. If it hasn’t got the right plan and support around it, and it’s bloody hard. Because it’s change. So, change management, it’s been a significant educational area for us over the last three years on the Sport Development Leader Residential. We have been working with, national and regional leaders that oversee pathways and different competition structures within the sports or at regional levels.

There’s many, different tools you can use in terms of change. And you’ll be able to find many of them just by Googling. And again, it’s called change management for a reason, because if you don’t think through and plan these changes it turns into crisis management, then you’re on the back foot rather than being ahead of the process.

A model that we’ve been working with and has been helping us in some of the sports is Kotter’s change management tool, that has eight steps that all require, thought and consideration in terms of change, you could group them into sort of three phases.

One is creating the climate for change. So, how are you creating a sense of urgency? Why is change needed? Who are the key relationships that you need on board to create that climate for change?

Then move into sort of engaging in enabling change Which is more about actually communicating the vision, getting runs on the board. People talk about, picking low hanging fruit. So how do you get some momentum? And then you move into the next phase, which is about sort of implementing and sustaining change. Quite often change starts and then it falls back. Because it’s not properly implemented, or sustainability is not thought about.

Now there’s so much in there we could unpack, but just in terms of probably a few points that are important to reinforce one is internal alignment. So that could be, you know, CE, board, and staff. That could be national, regional clubs. And the importance of key leaders, understanding why the change is so important. If you don’t do your homework here again, and they don’t understand why you’re changing, then they’re probably not going to support you if you get pushed back.

The other piece is having a plan, which I alluded to. So, you know, Kotter’s is a framework. There’s thought that needs to go into each of those steps. You can anticipate a lot of pushbacks if you think through it in advance.

Part of the challenge for sport in New Zealand is it’s under resourced. We don’t have enough people, they’re so busy, it’s hard to find space and time to think through a change management plan. But that’s something that’s so important. It should be part of our jobs, not, you know, over and above.

Communication is critical, so is consistent communication through change processes.

Equipping the people. You’ve got to put key messages into the hands of the right people at the coalface. They are often the people that get the questions and the pushback. So, help them out. What a good colleague and a friend used to say, “you can’t take a knife to a gunfight”. So, you’ve got to give them the information they need to help deal with those curly questions.

And, you know, we touched on this, maintaining focus. We talk to ‘focusing on the compass, not the clock’. So, ‘why you are making the change?’, keeping that front and centre. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer than you’d like, because of the buy-in process.

And celebrating progress when you are driving change like this. It’s attitudinal change. It’s culture change. It’s foreign to people. You’re in the trenches, getting things fired at you a lot. You have to get quite sort of resistant. So, celebrate those wins when you get them. It’s really important, those milestones. And when you look back sometimes over a couple of years, it’s amazing the progress you make, but it doesn’t feel like you’re making progress when you’re driving some of this change that it takes a while for people to understand.

HR: There’s a lot there. Fantastic advice, Alex. We’ll make sure we put some links to those resources and other relevant resources in the notes below. I guess to sum up, Bold and Courageous Leadership as a principle for Balance is Better. So, to me, there’s a knowing what action to take, but then there’s taking that action. We’ve talked now to the why and provided a framework around how people can look at doing it. Have you got any last words of wisdom or advice, for people out there?

AC: Oh, I just think it’s quite liberating when you believe in something and when you’ve got the evidence.

It’s just about speaking up and having the courage to have those conversations. And when you have them just having, a few sort of tricks in your pocket, ‘hip pocket poetry’ we call it, you know, a little bit of evidence, some examples, a case study. Just being ready and speaking up at the right time and the right way.

So, you know with best intent sometimes speaking up, at a certain time might not help the end cause, so just thinking about the right way to approach things, will help this. And look, I face it every day and in my role, you know, and sport working for Sport New Zealand, but more so as a parent and a volunteer coach of my own kids, there’s some times where I won’t tackle it because it’s just not the right time. There are other times where I will dig my heels in, and I will make a point of reinforcing something. So, there’s just, choices to make at times.

Useful links

Replacing Year 7 & 8 representative programmes with skill development opportunities for more participants – lessons from the roll out of Netball New Zealand’s Player Development Programme 

Responding to falling participation numbers in under-12 boys rugby – lessons from New Zealand Rugby in changing under-11 boys rugby competition structures 

Breaking the machine 

The leader who listened 

The 8-step process for leading change 

Image Source: Unsplash

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