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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 evaluating THE ORGANIZATIONAL CAPACITY OF FIVE SPORT SYSTEMS IN ATHLETICS (Belgium: Flanders and Wallonia; Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands).

An Analysis of Countries’ Organizational Resources, Capacities, and Resource Configurations in Athletics. Truyens J, De Bosscher V & Sotririadou P. (2016). Journal of Sport Management, 30(5), 566-585.

SIRC Highlights from the research

In the past, sport policy research has focused on how policy itself affects competitive success. And while it is true that policy often drives management of organizational resources, it is less clear what the organizational capacity to allocate resources in specific sports is. This study expands on previous research looking into the links between organizational resources and capacity to perform, as well as links between organizational resources that lead to competitive advantage. This study further expands the knowledge base around sport-specific applications of these concepts by investigating this in the context of the sport of athletics. The purpose of this study was “to examine the role of organizational resources and capabilities in developing a competitive advantage in elite sport”. While there are many studies that look into organizational resources, there are equally few that clarify how sport policies and resources are combined and organized within a single sport.

The ORFOC Framework

In an earlier study, Truyens et al. (2014) expanded upon the “elite sport policies leading to international success” (SPLSS) model to put forward the organizational resources and first-order capabilities (ORFOC) framework. The SPLISS model established the policy factors or strategic characteristics of elite sport policies in nine pillars. High performance programs are designed based upon different combinations of resources available to the organization. Organizational capacity is established by how successfully an organization is able to combine and organize these resources. First-order capabilities are the combinations of those resources, while high order capabilities are bundles of first-order capabilities. Truyens (2014) identified resource configurations as the combinations and interrelations of organizational resources and capabilities. They proposed that a country can enhance the likelihood of international success by having a strong organizational capacity to structure and configure resources for high performance development. This requires strong strategic management. The ORFOC framework identifies the organizational resources and practices for each policy pillar within athletics. The present study uses this framework to compare the resources across four countries – Belgium (divided into Flanders and Willonia), Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands – from two directions i) composite indicators to measure and score resources, and ii) a resource configuration analysis to evaluate and compare the configurations of resources. With this in place countries will be able to “evaluate their strategic investment, support and development programs in elite athletics and to assess their strategies against other countries”.

Data was collected through structured interviews with high performance directors, policy representatives, and national experts in athletics; as well as through secondary resources such as strategic plans and policy documents. Within this study, resources and capabilities were grouped into 10 dimensions: (1) financial support for athletics, (2) governance and organization of athletics policies, (3) youth participation (4) talent id and development, (5) athletic career support, (6) athletics training and competition facilities, (7) coaching provision and development, (8) international competition, (9) scientific research, and (10) the elite sport environment. Composite scores were compared between the five sport systems.

Highlights of the Results

While the results of the study were broken down into detailed comparisons of composite scores, resource configurations and resource dependencies some generalizations were reported.

  • Results showed variability between the five sport systems in terms of the development of organizational resources with Finland scoring the highest in most of the dimensions followed by Canada and the Netherlands.
  • Organization of resources also proved to be different between countries resulting in varying resource configurations.
  • Differences in system structures were represented by differing priorities in high performance development as well as differences in ways to allocate resources. Specifically, this study showed that the five systems differed in the level of centralization of training programs, emphasis on different levels of athlete development, and prioritization of specific disciplines within athletics. For example:
    • Canada and the Netherlands provide centralized training programs for elite athletes; Finland, Flanders and Wallonia support individual athletes.
    • Canada and the Netherlands focus on the top levels of talent development.
    • Canada and the Netherlands are the only countries that focus on specific priority disciplines allocating resources where more promise is seen.
    • Flanders and Finland provide more resources for sport participation and talent id and development programs.
  • Canada and the Netherlands were scored as being the most successful athletics nations due to their abilities to build stronger resource configurations and strategic action.
  • Canada and the Netherlands were also “most efficient in deploying resources by constructing organizational systems that may enhance sporting success and improve performance levels for a longer term”.

Theoretical Implications:

  • Advances the ORFOC framework as a tool that measures and evaluates sport and country-specific organizational resources, capacities, and resource configurations. This allows countries to evaluate their organizational capacity to allocate resources effectively.
  • Further, it provides a framework for comparison between countries in terms of resources and configurations which allows countries to “examine the organization and alignment of resources and policies … and explore how their resources and their configurations affect each other to produce results”.

Practical Implications:

  • Comparison between countries clarifies that possessing resources does not equate to a competitive advantage (Finland). While having strategic resources shows potential value, it is the ability to structure and configure key resources that increases high performance development (Canada and the Netherlands).
  • In terms of strategic direction and resource allocation, “high performance managers and elite sport policy makers should take into account the ways resources are configured and the potential long-term implications of these configurations may present to athlete success”.

Future Research:

  • Further study is needed into the relation between resource configurations and the development of a competitive advantage in elite sport.
  • Social, cultural, and macrolevel factors were not included in this study, which also impact a country’s sport success.
  • Dimension 10 (elite sport environment) was not analysed within the current study and warrants further investigation in terms of its value to organizational capacity.
  • An analysis of “the competitive balance or rivalry” with specific sports would also provide insight into a country’s strategic effectiveness in international success.

While the data here confirmed the usefulness of the ORFOC framework in this context, comparisons between countries in regards to resources and capabilities, their structure, configuration, and alignment, must be fluid to match the changing nature of a country’s people, policy, programs and resources over time. The measurement and analysis should be performed on a regular basis to maintain relevancy of results. According to the authors, the scheduling should match a country’s strategic high performance planning cycle to maintain a competitive advantage.

Related Articles:

Truyens, J., De Bosscher, V., Sotiriadou, P., Heyndels, B., & Westerbeek, H. (2016). A method to evaluate countries’ organisational capacity: A four country comparison in athletics. Sport Management Review (Elsevier Science), 19(3), 279-292.

Truyens, J., De Bosscher, V., Heyndels, B., & Westerbeek, H. (2014). A resource-based perspective on countries’ competitive advantage in elite athletics. International Journal of Sport Policy, 6(3), 459-489.

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.