If you, like me, are involved in trying to increase or stem the decline of participation in sporting social and community activity, then this article and the book it relates to are must reads:
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Sports Program Direction – the essential elements of developing, growing, animating and maintaining a professional recreational sports program.
Sports Programme Direction – How to set up and animate a professional Sports Programme.
The key elements for the development and animation of a vibrant Sports Programme are as follows:
1. Meet ,Greet and Discover.
2. Organize and communicate
3. Drive and Follow up.
4. Get Feedback
5. Adapt and Apply.
1. Meet, Greet and Discover.
The essence of all Sports Programmes is a population of participants. As a Sports Programme Director (SPD), your first responsibility is to get people involved
The simplest and most effective way is face to face. If you are trying to develop a programme you must physically stand in an obvious location (beside the club/facility reception is ideal) and individually introduce yourself to every single person who enters the facility.
Not just the people who participate in your sport – everyone.
Never let a person enter your facility without a) introducing yourself, b) finding something out about them personally ( family, work, interests) and c) what they are interested/excited about in the facility or club.
Whether you have just started the programme or you are trying to improve it -set aside time to do this important work. Don’t worry about not being paid directly for this. You will reap plenty of financial rewards later for doing this. if you don’t do it – you will almost certainly not build a programme.
Keep a record of names, family members, contact details and areas of interest ( see appendix 1 for a sample Contact sheet to print out).
Don’t talk to people about specifics to begin with. Your job is simply to find out what they think they are interested in. ( Don’t forget – they may not know much about what your sport has to offer – you can educate them on that later ).
Remember you are not trying to get people to take lessons or sign up for anything at this point. You just want to try and increase participation. And the best way to do that is to have them find out that you are 1) there, 2) genuinely interested in helping them to get what they think they want and 3) that you are reliable. Nothing more at this stage. If they ask about your Sports Programme – of course you should enthusiastically explain what the programme has to offer:
Friendly competition, leagues, socials, networking for players and whatever coaching there might be on offer. But remember – you are the Sports Programme Director – while you are also a coach or you have coaches on staff, your first responsibility is to help participants to play – not to try and sign them up for coaching.
If you run a good programme, participants will naturally seek to improve and you will see a strong subset of participants who will want coaching. Only about 10 per cent of any participant group want coaching at any given time. Increase participation and you will see the coaching business prosper. Pester every participant about coaching – or worse still – only work with those who show interest in coaching and your programme will die.
Next you must allocate time outside of the facility to bring those who don’t yet visit into your arena of activity.
Research local schools and groups that might be interested in your Sports Programme – if only they knew about it. Then go and introduce yourself, find out about them and their needs and interests. Make sure you really listen and understand what they are saying.
This means that you have got to get out of the facility and go and introduce yourself at institutions that are likely sources for your participants.
Most of these places have a reception and a receptionist who, although in place to filter and protect, will also be a fount of useful information as to who the decision makers at the institution are and therefore who you should make your approach to.
You can waste an awful lot of time on the phone or via email trying to get to the right person – whereas walking in the front door and asking will usually get you the right name and may even pay you the bonus of a pleasant introduction there and then – both to the receptionist ( guardian) and even possibly the decision maker.
So out you go on Shank’s Pony and try these and any others that you may think of that you feel are relevant:
Trades Unions Centres
Police and Fire Stations ( they need to keep fit and have fun).
Local Education offices
Special Needs communities
Pubs and Social Clubs
(Don’t forget that people recovering from stroke or heart attack, children with behavioural issues, people with disabilities often need healthy programmed Sports opportunities and they are often groups that will use the facilities in off-peak times.)
Then go through the Meet, Greet and Discover process just like you did with the people at your facility
So this is stage 1 of the Sports Programme Direction (SPD) manual: Meet, Greet and Discover.
Mentee Marker 1: Timetable Meet, Greet and Discover times at both your home facility and with at least 5 institutions outside the facility. Complete Contact sheets for both individuals and institutions that your complete the Meet Greet and Discover stage with. Discuss with your mentor.
2. Organize and Communicate.
Having started regular Stage 1 ( Meet, Greet and Discover- from here on MG&D) activities you should now have a variety of names, contact details and interests listed. Additionally you should find that people are beginning to recognize and look forward to seeing you around the facililty. Make sure you are part of the furniture. If you are only around at off-peak times or if you are trying to run programmes at more than one facility, you won’t become the reliable individual that people look forward to seeing. And that will set your programme back. Participants need reassurance that the programme is going to last – not fluctuate.
Don’t stop your Stage 1 MG&D activities. Allocate times that you engage everyone who comes in the facility on a regular schedule. Obviously if you know most people you won’t collect as much data – but things do change as well as new people coming in. Perhaps one of the regular clients has a new relative or neighbour and wants your opinion in that regard.
With the data that you do have you can start to organize your programme. Who has some experience and wants to play? Set up a league in-house.
In-house leagues or box leagues are the lifeblood of any Sports Programme. By developing competition, enthusiasm and participation are increased. Players are fulfilled, frustrated, driven, animated, determined etcetera etcetera. If they get a lot out of the league they will look to encourage others to join in, they will want to improve, they will ask for coaching and extra competition. They will practice and increase the usage of the facility.
Who is going to coordinate the league? Self scheduling? Absolutely not. Self scheduling leagues are a recipe for disaster. Participation is a business. If you wish a business to be successful who do you have run it? Your clients? Of course not. If you want a successful business you offer your clients a first class service. That is what you must do. Find a system whereby every conceivable league match is played. You might use a software programme, or good old fashioned phone calls. Whatever you do -make sure that you set up every match. Participants will be grateful and will appreciate the added value and service.
Of course you should receive some sort of remuneration for your organizational work. If your facility charges a facility usage fee then you should have an incentive scheme in place so that if your hard work increases participation then you receive a benefit also. If there is no facility usage fee, then there should be a league participation fee ( not prohibitive) that both encourages participation and completion of the league and recompenses you for your efforts.
League play leads to membership retention and increase – so you should receive a commission there also. Discuss this with the facility managers/owners. If you are increasing revenues they should be delighted to incentivize you toward that end.
What about those people or institutions that have little or no experience. What can you do for them? Making personal introductions is an important part of your Stage 2 Organization and Communication ( O&C) role. In the same way as we said in Stage 1 that you should: ‘Never let a person enter your facility without a) introducing yourself, b) finding something out about them personally ( family, work, interests) and c) what they are interested/excited about in the facility or club.’ – then equally in Stage 2 O & C you should : ‘Never let two or more people leave a room in your facility without introducing them and explaining their respective interests and involvement to each other.’
This is an essential principle of building a successful Sports Programme. The more connections you proliferate, the faster your rate of participation will increase. Once people know each other, they share competition, equipment interest, sports specific knowledge and discussions etcetera etcetera.
Find people for your participants to play with. Offer some free introductory sessions. This is your PR and Marketing arm. If you were running a business you would happily pay for some good advertising or marketing – wouldn’t you. Running free sessions doesn’t cost you cash – just labour – and it will go a long way toward making your clients feel welcome and more inclined to become long term participants.
Other ideas include:
Talking to Equipment manufacturers about supplying you with entry level equipment at low cost and offering a free starter programme which includes free equipment. In this way the new participant is more likely to continue after the induction programme.
Run a free introductory session once a month – make sure you keep accurate records of who attends and what their aspirations are.
Track the attendance of participants who have expressed interest and give them regular courtesy calls to check if they are happy or if their interest level has evolved.
Offer a series of one-day tournaments – Grand Prix – for a low cost. Make sure you budget accordingly. Try and work with the Food and Beverage manager or person responsible and create an event that has a soul. Fun, competition – make sure that everyone gets at least three matches or outings in the day, food, some little trophies for the winner(s) and make sure you are present to act as the MC and keep everything moving along and that everyone gets to know each other. Most important it should be fun and win or lose, participants should finish the day feeling that they were part of something special.
Talk to participants from the other facilities, other sports at your facility or in your area and try to arrange fun activities that include your group with other groups. Work out a programme with Food and Beverage and your opposite number at the other facility and/or other sport so that you mutually are compensated fairly for the work you do, but most importantly so that more participants have a good time.
Talk to the owners, managers and/or membership sales personnel about ways of helping your participants and their non member friends to get involved. Work out a commission structure that works for everyone and most importantly increases participation.
By animating activities in the programme through : Personal interaction, setting up friendly games, organizing leagues, organizing competitions, working with other departments in the facility such as the food and beverage department or membership sales or personal trainers or health spa staff, or with people from other facilities or organizations; your participants will feel the added value and this will solidify their enthusiasm and cement their long term participation in your programme.
This is the O part of Stage 2’s O and C.
The C part or Communication, you have already begun but you must be relentless with.
In this modern era of Social Media, it is important to keep up with the latest trends in communication and certainly Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Google + and all of these systems are important.
Find out if your Sport has local and national on-line forums and contribute to them regularly.
Develop a visible website that newcomers to the area can quickly find.
And of course utilize the traditional free advertising such as the local phone book whenever possible.
However these media lack the personal contact of plain old face to face communication or the telephone ( don’t forget the wonderful Skype and things like Net Meeting) and the ever powerful ‘word of mouth.’
There is a certain amount of electronic ‘Word of mouth’ that can be effective, but in my experience nothing works better than live personal, ‘one on one’ interaction.
Remember: finding people that you can help and care about to participate in your programme is your goal.
Selling your personality by communicating your love of people and your skill and enthusiasm in helping them to experience and grow in your Sport is your method.
And nothing works better than regular face to face communication.
Mentee Marker 2: Develop an O and C system for your program including 1) A detailed contact list of both external and internal contacts and participants, 2) An annotated contact sheet detailing dates and outcomes of contacts 3) A league or competition calendar and corresponding marketing material and 3) A small website or blog about your programme.
Review the materials with your mentor.
3) Drive and Follow Up ( D and F)
Once you have recruited participants you must ensure that they actually participate.
In the modern world, despite good intentions, participants do very little to develop their own participation. This is not because they lack interest. It is usually because the minutiae of day to day life simply overtakes them and unless an action is necessary to their survival, it will often get dropped.
Unfortunately for most people, staying fit and having fun is a luxury not a necessity and so, if it is left to your participants to orchestrate their own participation, you won’t have a programme.
On the other hand, if activities are organized for them and the organizer seems genuinely interested in them as a person, participants are usually all too ready to join in.
So you must DRIVE participation.
Bring participants together in Ice-breaker, Introductory and Continuation programmes. Short term programmes of 4 to 6 weeks are long enough to let participants get and stay interested – both in the sport and in each other. By the end of the programme, if you have done a good job, they will form a ready-made sub community and will be ready – with a little gentle guidance from you – to play entry or intermediate level games among themselves. Make sure you structure these games and monitor the dates -even help with booking facilities -and then follow up on the outcomes.
One of the best systems is to organize supervised competitions at various levels. Tell the participants when to be there and make sure you either have them officiate or have someone available to officiate. There is an enormous difference in attitude when a game is officiated. It has the effect of focusing individuals in a way that un-officiated competition doesn’t. Make sure they are ready for that stage before you do it – some people have never competed officially and you don’t want to frighten them away.
If you run a supervised competition you are perfectly entitled to charge for your time. Just don’t price yourself out of the market. Participants are usually happy to pay for a service that benefits them – providing they can afford it and that they can see the work you have put into getting the programme into place.
By DRIVING participation, you ensure that activity occurs and you get the ‘buy-in’ of your participants. How they feel about their performance and about the competition will determine how much their participation in your programme develops. Dissatisfaction with their own performance can be a positive – if you follow up with them effectively. Excitement about how well a participant did can also be a springboard to new and increased activity – if you follow up effectively.
Dissatisfaction with the organization of the event isn’t a complete disaster as participants often will offer suggestions as to how you could run things more effectively and consequently ‘buy-in’ to the next event – if you follow up effectively. And of course if a participant was delighted with the event, you ought to be able to get them to increase their participation and market your programme to others – if you follow up effectively.
FOLLOW UP communication is essential and shows your interest in their new interest. It also provides an opportunity to organize the next participation.
As soon as you feel comfortable doing so, introduce your participants to the next horizon on their competitive journey. Remember that although most people want to be challenged – some like the comfort of staying where they are for long periods or even permanently, so be careful how and when you push them.
Introduce them to people who have previously gone through the stage that they are now at and share experiences.
If you have participants that are students of yours, have the student explain what a difference coaching has made – both in terms of success and enjoyment. Remember some students enjoy the ‘entertainment’ value of being coached as much as they want to get better. And that is certainly legitimate. Is it better that they spend the same sum eating rich food at a restaurant or being exhorted to greater physical achievements under a coach’s tutelage?
Generally increased participation leads to increased desire to improve. This leads to increased coaching, competition entry, equipment purchase and longevity of membership or investment of time in a facility.
Being an SPD is like being a Circus Plate Juggler – you have many plates spinning simultaneously and you must keep them spinning.
Drive and Follow Up are the SPDs strongest tools for ‘keeping those plates spinning.’
SPDs often suffer from what seems like a genetic disorder – We honestly believe that we can; ‘keep all of the people happy all of the time.’ Obviously we can’t – but in our DRIVE and FOLLOW UP (D and F)- we make a very strong attempt.
Mentee Marker 3) Organize an event and keep a detailed account of it . Describe your D and F activities with both the group and individuals and then discuss with your mentor.
4. Get Feedback.
In the D and F of Stage 3, you will have probably put your heart and soul into your efforts. You will have tried to ‘ please all of the people all of the time.’ And inevitably, someone won’t be happy. Of course many will, but what is absolutely essential is that you engage and get FEEDBACK (F) from every ‘client’ of your event. Who are the ‘clients’ of your event? Not just the participants – although their feedback is essential. Other ‘clients’ might include:
Officials ( Referees etc)
Relatives of participants
Staff at the facility ( are the reception staff happy with the event? Did you make sure the janitor was happy with the way the place was left? How did the duty manager feel things went? Do you have a cafe/restaurant/bar and were the staff there happy? Are there other sports and coaches at the facility and are they happy?)
Get Feedback from all of your event’s ‘clients’ and then collate the comments and see what you can learn.
If you come across vociferous Feedback – either positive or negative – see if you can recruit that person to help you with then next event in some way. Be subtle about it – remember your first job is to care, so make sure you really understand the person’s point of view before trying to recruit them.
You may not like all that you hear and you may feel hurt by some of it. But this is Sports. We’re here to compete. So listen and learn and focus on how to improve. Think about where you want to go. Think about where you have been – but don’t dwell on it. Move forwards.
Mentee Marker 4) Compile a list of ‘Clients’ of your event and then seek FEEDBACK from them. Collate the results and then write a SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats) analysis about your events of the future. Discuss with your Mentor.
5. Adapt and Apply.
Take the feedback from your previous event and seriously review your SWOT analysis. Remember not everything that all of the ‘clients’ gave you as FEEDBACK is necessarily accurate. Be honest when you do your analysis.Don’t ignore FEEDBACK, but filter it, remembering that your priorities are 1)Caring about your participants and 2) Increasing participation. This requires a careful balance. When you ADAPT and APPLY (A and A) you must make sure that the needs of the majority are fulfilled. However, if an individual has a unique requirement, see if you can ADAPT the programme for that individual’s needs without hurting the majority.
Once you have analysed the FEEDBACK plan how you can ADAPT and APPLY what you have learned for the next event.
Turn this into a Modus Operandi (MO) for all your programme activities.
Mentee Marker 5) Run a secondary event based on the SWOT analysis of the FEEDBACK that you gained from the previous event and using the advice of your mentor to ADAPT and APPLY your new MO. Repeat Mentee Marker 4 after the event and then discuss with your mentor. Continue to hone your programme in collaboration with your mentor.
Summary and Review.
Whether you are an SPD who is starting a career or an experienced SPD who is working with a mentor in order to develop your programme, by completing the key ANIMATION and DEVELOPMENT elements of this SPD Mentee programme –
1. Meet ,Greet and Discover
2. Organize and communicate
3. Drive and Follow up.
4. Get Feedback
5. Adapt and Apply
you will have gained great personal experience and in all likelihood developed a lasting relationship with your Mentor.
These are invaluable assets that will not only enrich your programme but will also qualify you to help other existing and would-be SPDs.
The business of Sports Programme Direction is a relatively new field that has developed out of necessity as the expansion of the recreational market has led to increased competition for participants and a decrease in the numbers of ordinary people who have either the skills or the time or interest to organize Sports.
Governing Bodies historically did just what the name says – Governed the existing need of participants. But the days of participant demand are gone and the SPD of the future must learn to create need by understanding how to go-out-and-get and then keep participants.
Historically Governing bodies have not needed to promote these skills and indeed that is not their role – they are after all the administrators of the sport. They are in being to supervise and coordinate the Sports and to make sure that the Sports are taught in accordance with the proscribed laws of the Sport.
The professional marketing of participation is the role of the SPD profession and we hope that by teaching and mentoring this highly skilled role that we can assist Governing Bodies in securing the long term health and security of individual club based Sports.
As an SPD you fill an essential role. You are the linchpin that will determine whether or not ordinary people get into your sport or not. Governing bodies are relying on you. Qualified
Coaches ( who have the skills to teach the game but not to create participation) are relying on you to supply them with clients. Facilities are relying upon you to feed them members/clientele.
You may already be a coach or you may decide to become a coach. You may already own or at some point in the future wish to own or run a facility. You may work for a governing body or wish to in the future.
Whether or not you are involved in any of these other roles, only an effective SPD can build a successful Sport.
We hope you enjoy your Menteeship and your relationship with your Mentor.
Good luck! Care about your people and build a strong and vibrant Sports Programme.
Copyright (C) Richard Millman
June 1st 2012.
Permission is granted to C.Vine Consultants to use this programme as Chris Vine feels appropriate. All others must apply to Richard Millman or Chris Vine of C.Vine Consultants for a licensing agreement.
NGBs and other organizations who would like me to act as a consultant to develop a specific Program
Direction program, please contact me at email@example.com