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Youth at a sailing regatta

In the winter of 2020, the Rocky Point Sailing Association (RPSA) in Port Moody, BC was preparing for the upcoming season. RPSA is primarily run by volunteers and employs ten seasonal full-time staff who deliver long-term athlete development (LTAD) programming to more than 600 participants annually. When the COVID-19 pandemic was announced, summer programs were nearly sold-out and dozens of school field trips were booked for the spring.

RPSA’s Executive Committee immediately established a taskforce to help understand the pandemic restrictions and their implications. Initially, we were optimistic. We thought perhaps by summer the pandemic would pass. When it became clear COVID-19 was here to stay, anxiety set in about RPSA’s future. Ultimately, RPSA’s volunteers and staff developed return to sport policies, safely ran physically distanced programs, and effectively managed finances to ensure the organization’s long-term financial health. For our Executive Committee, it was a humbling experience, albeit a bit of a paradox – although COVID-19 kept our community physically apart, it also brought our community closer together through a shared passion and hope in a mutual future. This blog shares some of our learnings and actions.

Engaging the community

In March we reached out to our membership and asked for help. A volunteer taskforce was created and met weekly virtually. The taskforce engaged the broader sport community and beyond (e.g., BC Sailing, viaSport, other sport organizations, and the City of Port Moody) to learn more about what was going on and what to do.Sign that reads "We need YOU!" Being a part of a broader sport community and having access to COVID-19-related resources was invaluable. The taskforce engaged coaches and parents to ensure they had a voice in RPSA’s COVID-19 planning. Coaches were keen to be involved and parents overwhelmingly wanted summer programs to run, physically distanced of course. Many parents wrote letters of support which contributed to a successful BC Community Gaming grant application. We also engaged RPSA’s founding members, who are now in their 70s and 80s. In the 1990s, these leaders started RPSA from scratch thanks to a small municipal grant, equipment donations, and a lot of volunteer support. We believed it was important that we check in and learn from their experiences.

Developing health & safety policies

Developing and operationalizing COVID-19 health and safety policies seemed like a daunting task. viaSport and BC Sailing’s return to sport guidelines provided a comprehensive and helpful framework. RPSA was fortunate to have some members who are workplace health and safety professionals. They guided us in operationalizing polices. We assigned a Health and Safety Officer to ensure policy compliance and to whom members, participants/parents, and coaches could report any issues or concerns. In addition to adhering to the standard COVID-19 precautions, participants were assigned equipment for the duration of a program, equipment and high-touch points were cleaned after each use, and masks were required on land. The coaches were creative in adapting programs. They fundamentally shifted the way LTAD programs were taught at RPSA while maintaining a safe and quality experience for participants. Games still happened (although socially distanced), and smiles were still had. Lessons that were usually taught on double-handed dinghies (e.g., sailboats for two people) were taught on single-handed boats.

Understanding the financial situation

RPSA has been fortunate to have a series of dedicated Treasurers who diligently managed the finances. Nonetheless, COVID-19 introduced a layer of complexity that no volunteer should bear alone. We had to cancel all regular scheduled programming and issue mass refunds, rethink budgets, apply for emergency funding, and reopen registration for limited capacity adapted programs. The taskforce supported the Treasurer by gaining a collective understanding of COVID-19’s impact on RPSA’s finances. For example, programs were to run at 10% of usual capacity which represented a 79% reduction in revenue. By quantifying and understanding both the short-term and potential long-term impacts, the taskforce was able to make informed decisions on spending and plan for scenarios in 2021.

Succession and legacy planning

Empty chairs in a board room setting

Needless to say, mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 was a lot of work. We were conscious of volunteers’ personal and professional lives and the general stress caused by the pandemic. We performed a SWOT analysis and identified succession planning as a “weakness”. As such, we actively recruited new members with diverse backgrounds and experiences who were keen to help RPSA navigate the “new normal” in 2021. We also engaged a coach to survey members and participants/parents from the past two years. We learned what members and participants/parents valued, where RPSA could improve, and what participants/parents would like to see for future programming. The insights were shared in a report which made a series of recommendations and set a planning framework. The report was helpful in engaging volunteers in contributing towards a vision for 2021. More so, COVID-19 accelerated the “digitization” of RPSA. We had record attendance at monthly virtual general meetings, scheduled automatic payments for fixed costs, and all planning documents and funding applications were stored and organized in Microsoft SharePoint. A file sharing platform was essential in facilitating and preserving organizational knowledge.

Final thoughts

Volunteers are vital to the Canadian sport system. RPSA would not have been able to navigate COVID-19 without the help of dedicated volunteers and staff, support from the broader community, and access to sport-related COVID-19 resources from various regional sport organizations. Having a clear understanding of RPSA’s mission, vision, and impact on the community helped to guide the taskforce’s decisions and recruit new members. RPSA’s success this summer has been a morale booster and strengthened our community. Moreover, the pandemic accelerated change and forced RPSA to innovate and ultimately enhance its operations. The incredible amount of work was powered by our belief that community sport is an important part of our social fabric. It gives youth the opportunity to learn a new skill, make new friends, build confidence and develop a passion that will hopefully stay with them as adults. I hope our experiences contribute to the growing body of knowledge of sport in the era of COVID-19.

About the Author(s)

James Anderson is the volunteer Commodore of the Rocky Point Sailing Association and serves as a board member with Whistler Adaptive Sports. James works as a Research and Data Analyst at the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and was previously the Sport Operations Manager at Freestyle Canada and a Canadian Delegate at the International Olympic Academy.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.