10 participants, one coach, ‘get in train, get out’… and don’t touch the cones! Oh wait, is it 20 participants this week?... PARTICIPATION may be the opportunity you are missing while you navigate your sport challenges over the next little while. The logistics of how to manage your sport reboot through COVID-19 can be mind boggling, but even for volunteers, there is more to consider, and it will strengthen your clubs, leagues, your sport and the local community. Are you working just to survive or will you thrive through COVID-19.
Let’s look at some practical aspects of participation and how that can contribute to rebooting your sport to thrive through COVID-19.
It is understandable that there is much focus on how many players, how many coaches, how do you record attendance and clean equipment etc, as these issues vary by state and change frequently. One key strategy is to ensure you have someone dedicated within your club, league or association to maintain current information on these issues end ensure they have the full support of the Committee or Board. Follow the guidance by key documents – refer to ‘Reboot Sport for Success’ for priorities here – and be sure to have your COVID-19 plans in place as you reconnect your membership.
Having tuned into many sport focused webinars/zooms etc over the past couple of months, it is clear many sport leaders, either paid or volunteers, are overwhelmed. They feel the burden of the risks, loss of cashflow, uncertainty and all that comes with an ever-changing environment. But these are just the logistical challenges the have rocked the normal rhythm of regular sport events and competition that has long been the norm.
The more overwhelming aspects come through knowing the broader issues being experienced in our communities, and many within our sport. Unemployment, business collapse, home schooling and other disruptions, producing vastly different outcomes. Some individuals, businesses and organisations are thriving, while others are in despair. This situation has produced an uneven playing field.
So, as a leader and/or administrator or in sport, whether as a volunteer, employee or employer, you have two choices… aim to survive or aim to thrive.
Survivors will spend a large amount of time contemplating, worrying and putting the bare minimum in place to get people training and, for Winter sports – maybe even competing before the end of the season. Surviving is more about returning to the way things were as best you can, and for some, given all that is going on around you, that may just be the best outcome you can achieve right now. But the reality is, if you can only exist like you were before, you are at extreme risk of not surviving through 2021. If you aim just to survive it is not likely to be sustainable.
Thriving… now that is where we want to be! To thrive, you need to get the fundamentals in place, but accept that the world, your community and your sport have changed. Ideally, at a national policy level, there will be an increased focus on community participation and inclusion. Policy makers may realise that this is the time for the system to change.
But if you are working at a state or community level, what can you practically do to thrive? Focus on participation! Here are 6 steps to consider in your work.
You need to plan now for 2021. Your committee or board should be actively discussing this now. If you don’t have the resources, find support you can draw on. Depending on what state/territory you are in, there may be resources at Council, or through Sport and Recreation that can assist. Reboot Sport can also provide strategic input on a one-off consulting basis. To thrive through 2021, your strategy will include a focus on participation and inclusion. It is worth noting here, that to produce a well-rounded strategy, you need to have diverse voices at the table.
Research shows a tendency to revert to social norms during and after crises. So, in sport that would play out as prioritising the traditional aspects, rather than emerging or diverse components. Don’t expect that to be a sound strategy post COVID-19. To ensure your Committee or Board are developing a ‘thrive’ strategy, ensure you have diverse voices at the table.
The local community is a key resource for your club, league or association. Not only do you need your community – your community needs you. Reach out to your local health and community service organisations. While they may have also had to make some significant adaptions during this time, community organisations can help stretch your actions beyond purely sport. While sport is at the heart of what we do, strong community sport interacts well with its local community. The benefits are that you will find individuals and support greater than your sport working in isolation.
The community itself – individuals and as a collective – have also experienced various levels of trauma during this massive COVID-19 situation. Your sport actually offers a key value for community regeneration. If people in your local community see your sport as a part of their own social value, then they will be more inclined to participate and contribute. The insight here is in the way you approach it.
If you go cap in hand to your community, then you are just like everyone else, however, work out what it is you have to offer. Why would people want to be involved with you? It is an opportunity to create a win win scenario.
Can you reach out to people or groups in your community that you haven’t previously reached? Can you develop a funding strategy with a local health organisation that has a focus on participation and community engagement in a COVID-19 recovery? While strengthening your sport in the short term, the medium-term benefit will be the inclusion of more people and participants in your sport – this is likely to produce more members, volunteers and ultimately strengthen your position. In doing so, your sport will also become a more valued part of the community.
Take advantage of the really easy short term emergency funding available. VIC and QLD grants are currently open and close soon. Reboot Sports recent news story identifies current funding opportunities and links here and is regularly updated. The funding news also identifies community based grants that are available now. As noted above, if you think outside of sport into the broader role you play in the community, then there are further options available with local partners. Consider other sports as partners too.
Write to your local Member of Parliament. Ensure they know if your club is struggling financially. Include some aspects of how important your club and sport are to the local community. They may be able to access local funding sources. They may also be able to influence broader support for community sport through State or Commonwealth Government policies.
We are hearing many reports on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and other aspects of community health. In particular, a mental health policy would be a key asset for your sport. Ideally supported by one or more Committee or Board members taking a role in leading its implementation. A sample mental health policy will be posted on this website next week.
Look at all your policies and confirm if they are suited to a COVID-19 environment. Do you need to implement some short term changes? How will you manage members who, through changed financial situation, cannot afford membership? What principles will you work by to demonstrate a true community focus during this time? Your ability to be community focused will again be a factor that will set you apart.
Inclusion connects back to your strategy and community, then ultimately to your funding base. If you truly adopt an inclusive strategy in the next 12 months, then this is where your opportunity to build participation will step you above the rest. The decisions at Committee or Board level need to come from diverse perspectives. If you don’t have that at the moment, then how will you obtain it? What is the ratio of men and women… age diversity… cultural diversity… LGBTIQ… people who represent parts of your community that may not even be traditional participants in your sport?
The way to achieve an inclusive mindset in your decisions in actions, is to bring a diverse voice to the table of decisions. The richness of opportunity will come through challenging the normal thinking. Most clubs and sports will take traditional thinking path through the crisis. To give yourself the opportunity of sustainability, challenge yourself to think beyond that. Diverse opinions, if truly accepted, will allow you to adapt and may even mean something that seemed unthinkable, becomes a realistic strategy.
As funding becomes limited, it can be easy to explore dropping many aspects of what makes your sport strong. Take women’s football codes as an example – the growth in sport is primarily occurring here and continuing this strategy is important for sustainability. We know that COVID-19 is having a greater impact on women generally – employment, schooling, childcare, family violence all come to mind. So how can your sport consider these community issues in how it provides opportunity and support?
At a time when loss of members and volunteers is likely, inclusive strategies will either help you find new participants, or at least give those who have been impacted a greater sense of re-connection when they are ready and able. Have you been able to reach out to your membership at an individual level – not asking for anything, but just to see how they are?
Your sport can provide a sanctuary for people in difficult times. While the temptation is to close and narrow your focus just to survive, explore ways you can be there for your community. The effects of COVID-19 won’t disappear quickly – people want routines, people who they can share their challenges and experiences with and ways to escape the harsh reality. Your sport can provide that.
If you are a Winter sport – how will you return? Can you focus on opportunities to get as many people as possible engaged, training and active in your sport? Are there new groups you can provide access to? Will you waive fees and ensure you have people around you? Or will you return to pre-COVID-19 thinking?
It seems so simple, but often hard to do well. We will explore where it is working well and what effect that has. Ultimately, the way that you communicate any of your first 5 priorities is going to be critical.