Hits: 112

How sports and exercise bodies can rejuvenate themselves to be ready for the ‘new normal’ world

What traditional providers can learn from the entrepreneurs and innovators across the sector

Over the last few months, the community sport and exercise sector has seen unprecedented challenges and opportunities which some have embraced and many others have ignored or avoided. There is little doubt that those who kept engaging with their members and their community will be in a much stronger position as we slowly enter the ‘new normal’ world.

We have previously highlighted great community sports enterprises such as:

Valleys Gymnastics Academy from Wales
Burgess Sports from London
and from Denmark
Beder-Malling Idrætsforening
and BK Skjold

In different ways these providers, all based in diverse communities adapted to the conditions imposed by lockdown extremely quickly and competently, despite being in unchartered waters.  Also, they did not wait for instructions from ‘above’ but built on their already brilliant relationship with their local communities and then developed new competencies, like running training sessions via Zoom or used their kitchen to cook meals for people who were shielding. 

That ‘can do’ attitude has been an invaluable asset
But, it has to be said, this approach has been rare.
Some sports and leisure bodies suffer from a lack of engagement with the communities they are supposed to be serving and a bureaucratic, risk-averse culture and processes.

So, here is an example of the traditional organisation structure of the governing body of sport which is fairly identical to most similar bodies across the world.

Most traditional sports bodies have a function-based organisation chart, where everyone knows their role and no one ‘rocks the boat’, but the challenge that this type of organisation simply can’t handle rapid change and certainly not all the many changes that are happening around us now.

These types of organisations can’t avoid mistakes if they fail to see them coming and they can’t benefit from opportunities if they are blind to them.
So they must work on their professional development, or they’ll lose out. But even if you give a leader the exact answers they need, if they lack professional development…they’ll ignore it. If you lack professional development and enterprise, real improvement always sounds scary:

To them it looks like this: Improvement = change = risk = fear
So, they end up being overtaken and out-manoeuvred by start-ups who are closer to the markers, act quicker and see Instagram and other social media as their home ground.

The ‘organisational chart’ of these start-ups could look like something like this below. They may not have a five-year strategy and an eight-page procurement policy, but they tend to be closer to their markets and are willing to learn and adapt.  And, often they start because they experienced an unfulfilled need in their daily life and decided to solve that problem, themselves.

So, what lessons be learned from all this?

How can ‘traditional’ sports bodies develop a more enterprise and responsive culture and business?

Let’s look at the organisational structures, the culture and the roles and personalities of the leaders:

Remember that The old system simply can’t handle rapid change, neither can it handle many aspects changing at the same time. Hierarchies and standard managerial process, even when minimally bureaucratic, are inherently risk-averse and resistant to change. Part of the problem is political: Managers are loath to changes to chances without permission from superiors. Part of the problem is cultural: People cling to their habits and fear loss of power and stature.


Born Barikor spreads the word about innovation, enterprise and social media in physical activity to the traditional sports bodies

Award-winning sports social entrepreneur Born, who in 2013 founded the incredibly successful Our Parks / and has helped 100,000 people, many from marginalised groups become active and who has been using social media at an unprecedented level within the physical activity sector.  Born Barikor: Sports Industry Entrepreneur, Battle Rapper, Radio Producer/ DJ, Grime MC, Sportsman, Pharmaceutical Science Graduate former Community Development Officer. Born is now a Trustee for Active Surrey, British Olympic Association and the Lawn Tennis Association, so some traditional bodies are listening to the change-makers – well done.

So the change requires two things

  • Setting up an Enterprise Network alongside your current hierarchy
  • Developing more Entrepreneurs and Producers within your organisation
The Enterprise Network
 Alongside the existing hierarchy invite volunteers from across the organisation to set up specific networks/project groups.  The groups should focus on specific issues that can help your organisation become more change-ready, including topics such as “engaging with our markets using Instagram or TikTok”, “reviewing our community partner network’ or “developing a corporate purpose”.

What is key here is that you try and involve as many people as possible – you will be amazed by the talents and skills that are hidden across your organisation.
It is also key that you try to encourage a want-to and get-to mindset and emphasise that people have the power to become change agents and feel that they have permission to do so.

Engage with people’s heads and hearts. If you only appeal to logic and numbers you will simply not develop a genuine desire to contribute to positive change and give people a feeling of ownership.

Celebrate the quick successes and see your Enterprise Networks grow

Developing more Entrepreneurs and Producers

In parallel with setting up the Enterprising Networks and ensuring that the people involved are involved and engaged, you also need to develop some new skills and cultures. 

The challenge with mature, traditional organisations is that they end up being risk-averse and put more emphasis on policies and on how things are being done, than on producing results.
You need to develop/hire those Entrepreneurs who are the visionaries of the organisation, seeing things on a global scale, rather than looking inwards towards the current state of the organisation and leading towards what it can be. 
These individuals are crucial to the overall development of organisational strategy, allowing them to stay ahead of competitors and exploit new and unique niches in the market. These individuals have a greater vision of new opportunities and threats to the organisation and are therefore important in the process of preparing for and handling any unexpected or planned changes. 

You will also need Producers who feel responsible for the finished product, and who are generally tasked with meeting all the smaller goals and objectives of the organisation, ensuring that each individual achieves what is required of them. 

The five steps for transforming your sports and leisure body

Remember, external crises, such as the one we are facing can be a real opportunity for able and agile community sports and physical activity bodies.
So, get moving now, at pace and full power. 

Remember what Rahm Emmanuel, Chief of Staff for Barack Obama said:

PS. If you want to talk about booking SMN to run specific online support for your colleagues, clubs, providers and others, then please get in touch with me

Svend Elkjaer svend@smnuk.com 01423 326 660