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The Sport Information Resource Centre

The issues that face sport organizations are complex. A sport organization board needs to engage in dialogue, listen to its full spectrum of stakeholders, and be patient enough to transform its understanding of complicated issues. A steward-leader board is uniquely equipped to listen and lead to a desirable future.

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:

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