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The Sport Information Resource Centre

SIRC is pleased to be working together with Sport Canada to share current research on topics informing policy and promoting quality sport programming. This week we are sharing highlights of a recent article reviewing a research study examining the PROCESS OF CHANGE (ADOPTING LTPD STRUCTURES) IN TWO YOUTH SPORT ORGANIZATIONS.

Modifying Tradition: Examining Organizational Change in Youth Sport. Legg, J., Snelgrove, R., & Wood, L. (2016). Journal of Sport Management, 30(4), 369-381.

SIRC Highlights from the research

Sport organizations are under increasing pressure to provide youth sport programs that meet the needs of encouraging general participation as well as developing athletes to their full competitive potential. Meeting these two goals is requiring changes to existing structures and programming for many sport organizations not only at the delivery level but all the way up to the governing level (overall organizational values). Currently, limited research has been done in the area of organizational change at the youth sport level. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine “the process of change at the level of youth sport by identifying the impetus for change, responses to change by stakeholders, and factors that constrained or aided the change process”. Two youth soccer associations in Ontario undergoing long-term structural redesign – modifications to rules and structures for players under the age of 12 reflecting the adoption of the Long-Term Player Development (LTPD) strategy – mandated by the Ontario Soccer Association (OSA) were the subjects of the current study.

A qualitative case study approach was applied drawing upon the theoretical basis of the Cunningham (2002) integrated model of organizational change. The study’s participants were coaches, parents, or board members of two youth soccer clubs in Ontario, as well as staff members of the OSA. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with thematic coding of the transcripts occurring in relation to the theoretical framework. Participants identified key factors influencing the implementation and success of change.

Theoretical Implications:

Looking at the theoretical framework of change, the current study was identified as dealing with a radical change (as opposed to a convergent change) due to the need to change to a completely new approach to the design of a soccer league based upon principles of athlete development. The following aspects of organizational change within the theoretical model were found:

  1. Deinstitutionalization – In this case study the deinstitutionalization was described as the calculated decision to strategically enhance soccer in Ontario. The pressures identified as initiating change focused on the following:
    1. Political pressures – The integration of Canadian Sport for Life Long Term Athlete Development principles aiming to improve elite competition and athlete retention throughout Canadian sport. The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) adopted these principles to improve effectiveness of its programs, and the OSA followed suit designed guidelines to follow the pressure to improve elite athlete development and player retention. For clubs, outside political pressure was identified from CSA to OSA to clubs through membership benefits and the changes were mandated based upon their dependency on these organizations.
    2. Social pressures – The goal behind the pressure to improve player retention is based on the social value of increase physical activity for Canadians by being active for life. This reflected on the soccer clubs as not being socially acceptable to not offer programs that provided opportunities to participate across the age spectrum
  2. Creating a New Template – From Cunningham’s model of change a new organizational template was created by OSA using a population ecology perspective by scanning best practices from other countries to discover alternate successful designs, research within Ontario, and an advisory board of experts.
  3. Communication to Stakeholders – The authors recommend adding a communication stage to the Cunningham (2002) model based upon this study. This would emphasize the importance of stakeholder communication in the change process as research has suggested that change can be unsuccessful when communication strategies are ineffective. It is recommended that formal communication sources be used. In this case study volunteers communicated the changing guidelines at a number of different levels due to the limited resources available, meaning messages were being delivered outside of the OSA influence. Using informal avenues of dissemination can leave communications open to negative influences rather than positive messaging that the organization is trying to convey. Varying messages around the change process were being received by stakeholders meaning that there were multiple possible interpretations of the change guidelines that may have been implemented by clubs based upon differing perceptions. Coaches were largely responsible for informing their teams of the change.
  4. Acceptance or Rejection of the Template – Stakeholders had three responses to the change: acceptance, ambivalence or rejection. The most common response was ambivalence with some stakeholder supporting change in some instances and expressing rejection in others, while some stakeholders expressed their dislike of change while mentioning the positive implications of the change for youth participants. Positive aspects of the change included: age-appropriate sizing, skill development, and learning environment; while the value of competition was deemed lacking without scorekeeping. While the pressures and structures of the OSA made the change mandatory for many clubs, there were those that discussed rejection of the change. The authors suggest another change to the Cunningham model to incorporate this possibility of acceptance and rejection in the change process.
  5. Rate-moderating Factors – Based upon this study ambivalence has been added to the modified Cunningham model as a third “change rate-moderating factor” along with inertia and entropy. Factors such as Board resistance to the change slowed the rate of change compared to those that supported the new philosophy.
  6. Implementation Moderating Factors – The Cunningham model identifies four factors that influence implementation of change: capacity for action, resource dependence, power dependency, and available alternatives. In this case finding time to implement change was identified as being challenging for clubs especially depending on size of full-time versus volunteer staff. Other capacity issues identified included: club financial resources, volunteer values, and planning. Resource dependence influenced most clubs to implement the change, as most of them would be unable to take over formalized structures and procedures handled by OSA such as insurance, referee clinics, coaching resources, etc. While there were alternatives available outside of implementing change, most clubs recognized making the modifications was the most successful choice of template for them.
  7. A New Template – The Cunningham model allows for modifications to the change process along the process based upon influences and moderating factors discuss above. However, in order for the process to be complete, a shift to a new template must occur. Organizations in this study implemented a modified version of the mandated change completing the shift to a new template. “…pressures to change and individual efforts made by board members, coaches, and parents were noted as aiding the change process. Limited collaboration with stakeholders, poor communication misunderstandings of the change, and constrained organizational capacity negatively affected the change process”.

Practical Implications:

  1. When an organization is educating and communicating the justification for the change and the new procedures to be followed, they should be the dominant and strategic voice in controlling the information being disseminated.
  2. Decision-making around change is more effective when organizations show social learning and environmental adaptation that is influenced by strategic thinking not by pressure alone.
  3. Resistance to change can be reduced or avoided by engaging all levels of stakeholders within the decision-making process about the change.
  4. “A high degree of organizational capacity is needed in order for sport organizations to complete the implementation of a change – a fact that governing organizations should consider and strategically plan for when mandating radical change.”

Future Research:

  • Expand the focus to more than two local clubs perhaps to uncover additional insights or factors affecting the change process.
  • A more exhaustive list of factors that moderate the implementation of change should be identified.
  • Examine the level to which acceptance/rejection/ambivalence factors influence the rate of change.
  • Explore possible sector specific modifiers.
  • A larger-scale survey design might be able to capture perspectives of a larger number of individuals rather than the qualitative design of this study.


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.