Board Members Work Hard To Build A Club, But What Are The Real Secrets To Making It Even Better?
Ruth Nicholson is an internationally certified facilitator, author, and instructor who has worked in soccer governance and administration for over 25 years. Nicholson offers a portfolio in soccer operations which includes strategic planning, volunteer programs, board operations, club administration, and tournament, camp, and stadium management. Nicholson offers her advice on what makes a youth soccer club successful.
The three secrets to a successful club are a balance and partnership between high-quality coaching and coaching support, effective governance and leadership that provides direction and not micro-management of club programs, and efficient operations that make the best use of volunteers to support players and coaches on the field. Here is how you can successfully implement those secrets:
Quality Coaching and Coaching Support
It is no secret that without good coaches, players will have a very difficult time developing and improving their skills in the game. The real secret is that there are two key components of the quality of coaching in a club.
Behind the scenes, there is the coaching support system. This is comprised of the club’s coaching recruitment and retention system, coaching leadership – often a director of coaching, professional development and coaching education opportunities, and administrative support for coaches at both the club and team levels.
The club’s player development philosophy and training curriculum are also a part of this system. The coaching skills and knowledge on the field with players tend to receive more attention and scrutiny. One of the most important criteria a player family uses for selecting a club is the quality of the coach for which its child will play. Whether volunteers or paid staff, coaches spend a significant amount of time off the field preparing for training sessions and games, as well as their own self-improvement. Much of this effort is invisible to players and their families even though it contributes significantly to the quality of the player experience.
Governance and Leadership
A great many clubs are non-profit organizations lead by boards of directors made up of parent volunteers. This means that the leadership of clubs is made up of people who deeply care for the success of the organization. It also provides the challenge for parents to separate their natural advocacy for their individual children from their legal responsibilities to the organization as officers and leaders of the organization.
The most efficient organization must have clear roles and areas of responsibility for board members that enable them to focus on organization, budgeting and funding, policy development, setting program priorities and direction, and delegating activities and program implementation to others. Clubs may have a mix of professionally paid staff and volunteers to deliver the club’s programs, but it is important for board members to resist the temptation to micro-manage club activities. Engaging a broader spectrum of staff and volunteers not only spreads out the work, it also invites more people to become invested and supportive of the club.
Engaging a broad spectrum of people is also a critical component of attracting club members, engaging sponsors, acquiring grants, and implementing fundraising programs. The leadership of board members is key to making these activities successful. Without adequate funding, the operations of the club are compromised.
Operations and Administration
Individuals, sponsors, and organizations who give out grants will not join or give money to clubs who do not have their organizational acts together. Although the day-to-day operations of a club can seem quite mundane, without player registrations, fee collection, field reservations, registration for leagues and tournaments, uniform and equipment procurement and distribution, and other activities, no club can put a team on the field to play.
Club administrative activities should support coaches and players on the field in a way that aligns and implements the club mission and strategic plan. The operations and administrative activities of a club are often overlooked because people are too busy to build or maintain efficient business processes. This can be complicated by high turnover and burnout rates in volunteers, the concentration of institutional knowledge in only a few people who may leave when their child leaves the club, the lack of understanding of the complexity of some of the jobs needed to run a club, and an assumption that coaches will pick up the slack even when their skills, knowledge, and interests lie with training players on the field, not pushing paper.
The development and maintenance of a good volunteer management program is one of the keys to a successful club. In our experience, well-designed and implemented volunteer programs can have participation rates of 85-100% and return rates of over 95%.
Ruth Nicholson, is the Principal of Nicholson Facilitation & Associates, a woman-owned consultancy offering services in organizational development, facilitation, conflict resolution, training, and professional assessment. The firm’s Youth Sports Services provide training and custom consulting to strengthen club operations and enhance coaching effectiveness. Nicholson is an internationally certified facilitator and instructor who has worked in soccer governance and administration for over 25 years. She offers a portfolio in soccer operations that includes strategic planning, volunteer programs, board operations, club administration, and tournament, camp, and stadium management. Nicholson has also worked as a coach, referee, and referee assigner.
Nicholson is a contributing specialist in the Changing the Game Project’s Coaching Mastery course, as well as an invited speaker at the US Youth Soccer Leadership Development Symposium, National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention, and US Youth Soccer Workshop.