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Sport leaders can use strategic planning to help identify their organization’s current position, where it plans to go, and how it intends to get there (O’Brien et al., 2019). Strategic planning has been linked with improved organizational change processes as well as enhanced organizational effectiveness, resilience and performance (for example, Hu et al., 2014; Liao & Huang, 2016). And in the community sport setting, strategic planning can help reduce problems related to financial health, uncertainty around a club’s future, and recruitment and retention of volunteers (Wicker & Breuer, 2014).

Although leaders of community sport organizations increasingly recognize the importance of strategy, the planning process can be challenging. Even before the COVID‑19 pandemic, many community sport organizations were grappling with organizational issues such as difficulty recruiting and retaining volunteers, facility costs, and increased competition for funding. These challenges may reinforce a problem-solving style that’s reactive and pragmatic, rather than proactive and strategic.

Leaders of community sport organizations have the opportunity to reshape and reimagine club priorities that serve the needs of members and the broader community. It’s timely that the federal government recently announced it would invest $80 million to support increased participation in organized community sport, particularly among underrepresented groups including Black, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQQIA+ and new Canadians (Canadian Heritage, 2021). Careful planning is required to enhance these groups’ participation opportunities in community sport. Sport leaders can use strategic planning as an important tool for when sport clubs seek to attract new members.

This blog identifies 4 steps that can help guide club leaders as they begin the strategic planning process.

Step 1: Talk to stakeholders

Diverse team of sport leadership professionalsBefore engaging in strategic planning, sport leaders should first talk with their club’s stakeholders. Stakeholders include the board of directors, other key volunteers such as coaches and officials, staff such as executive directors and administrators, and of course club members. Engaging in a discussion about stakeholder values and priorities can help sport leaders understand what these stakeholders expect from the club moving forward. In learning about stakeholder expectations, sport leaders are better equipped to ensure stakeholder priorities and the strategic plan are well aligned. This alignment is critical for generating internal support for the plan, which affects whether the strategic plan can be successfully implemented.

Step 2: Evaluate club resources

Picture of a sport facilitiesThe second step is to consider the resources that can be dedicated to strategic planning. In light of resource constraints, this second step helps ensure the resulting plan can be scaled to a level that’s achievable and realistic. Resources include:

  • Human resources: Volunteers are critical for the day-to-day operations of many clubs. So, it’s important to consider who will lead the strategic planning process, and, perhaps more importantly, who will be responsible for implementing the strategic plan. While both these tasks may fall to the same person or same group (or groups) of people, they don’t always need to lead both tasks.
  • Financial resources: Sport leaders should also consider the financial resources that can be dedicated to strategic planning and identify from which revenue streams these resources will be drawn. This involves an assessment of resources needed to engage in planning (for example, a consultant) as well as longer-term financial resources needed for implementing the plan.
  • Facility partner constraints: The availability of suitable facilities may determine which priorities are achievable, particularly around membership growth. Renting sport facilities from municipalities means many community sport organizations have little control over when and how frequently they can access the facilities. The sport organization may be unable to modify facilities in ways that would make it easier to offer different programs (for example, sport-specific field lines). Thus, it’s critical for sport leaders to know their facility partners’ priorities and future opportunities those partners have identified.

Step 3: Consider the community profile

Before developing strategic priorities, sport leaders should spend more effort in understanding the community that their club operates within. This is particularly important because the demographics of a municipality will affect who accesses sport programming. For example, leaders of clubs operating in areas with rising home prices have reported that younger families with children are priced out of the housing market, and as a result, it’s hard to recruit young players to join their clubs. Although changes in a community profile can challenge sport leaders to re-think and modify the programs they’ve offered in the past, changes can also present new opportunities for growth, innovation and diversification. As club leaders uncover how their community profile looks, they may also find new groups that they can tap into, such as new Canadians and older adults.

Step 4: Examine the competition

Video conference in the business team meeting during Covid-19As sport leaders begin their strategic planning process, they can get a baseline by understanding the different options of sport-specific programs available in the local community through other clubs and organizations (for example, academies, municipal government, YMCA). Knowing the cost to participate in similar programs at other clubs, as well as the proximity to organizations that offer the same sport may prompt sport leaders to consider what seems to be working well for other clubs and whether their club needs to work to differentiate itself from other clubs offering similar programs. Community sport organizations that are operating in an environment with a high degree of competition among clubs may need to be more proactive with respect to developing new and innovative ways to attract and retain members.

Strategic planning for future growth

Overall, strategic planning can be a helpful tool in navigating changing and dynamic environments, particularly as community sport organizations begin the process of recovery post-COVID‑19. By considering the 4 listed steps, sport leaders will be better positioned to ensure that their strategic planning efforts are more effective in helping them meet their organizational goals and grow their membership.

For more information about this research, please contact Kristen Morrison at

About the Author(s)

Kristen A. Morrison, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the use of strategy by not-for-profit community sport organizations.

Katie E. Misener, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Waterloo. Her research focuses on the social impact and organizational capacity of community sport clubs.


Canadian Heritage. (2021, August 13). More sport opportunities for all Canadians following the impacts of Covid-19.

Hu, Q., Kapucu, N., & O’Byrne, L. (2014). Strategic planning for community-based small nonprofit organizations: Implementation, benefits, and challenges. Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, 19(1), 83.

Liao, K. H., & Huang, I. S. (2016). Impact of vision, strategy, and human resource on nonprofit organization service performance. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 224, 20-27.

O’Brien, D., Parent, M., Ferkins, L., & Gowthorp, L. (2019). Strategic Management in Sport. Routledge.

Rigby, D., & Bilodeau, B. (2013). Management tools & trends 2013. Bain & Company. services/strategy/fundamentals-of-growth.aspx

Wicker, P., & Breuer, C. (2014). Exploring the organizational capacity and organizational problems of disability sport clubs in Germany using matched pairs analysis. Sport Management Review, 17(1), 23-34.

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.