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Volunteers are essential to the delivery of sport in Canada. They are also more likely to be happy people. Compared to people who do not volunteer in sport, research shows that sport volunteers have higher levels of mental wellbeing, including increased happiness and life satisfaction.

Surveying volunteers is a great way to elicit their input, understand their roles, and assess their needs. Feedback gathered through surveys can be used to improve volunteer experiences, which may in turn promote volunteer retention. Sport England’s guide to conducting volunteer surveys is a valuable resource to help you get started. 

The sport sector considers evaluation an essential organizational practice. Through evaluation, sport organizations can gain insights and solicit feedback about their programs. Evaluation can also inform decision-making, guide program improvements, and build stakeholders’ value and advocacy for programming (Holt et al., 2016; Shaikh et al., 2020).

Despite its value, evaluation also challenges many sport decision-makers, funders, partners, managers and coaches. The challenges such stakeholders face when engaging in evaluation stem from a lack of evaluation-focused training, human or financial resources, and time (Arnold et al., 2016; Mitchell & Berlan, 2016). The result is an increased demand for strategies that can help sport organizations enhance evaluation in cost-efficient and non-burdensome ways.

This blog summarizes the current state of evaluation practices within the sport sector. It also outlines 3 recommendations for sport organizations to consider when engaging in evaluation.

Navigating new waves

School kid with mask and soccer ball in a physical education lesson.The COVID‑19 pandemic has presented sport organizations with an opportunity to ask and answer important questions, including how to adapt sport programming to meet stakeholders’ needs while adhering to public health regulations (Own the Podium, 2020; Patton, 2020). Given the pandemic, a research team at Brock University and the University of Ottawa sought the perspectives of 28 Canadian sport-sector stakeholders from the grassroots level to national sport organizations (NSOs). Their conversations revealed a priority shift in 1 of 2 ways about evaluation practices:

Many stakeholders highlighted the benefit of embracing evaluation practices. For those who paused their programs, it allowed them to step back from the hustle of regular programming and dedicate time and energy to ask and answer relevant evaluation questions. In contrast, those who changed their programming spoke of the increased value of evaluation, including refining evaluation questions given the shift in program goals and/or delivery.

Regardless of how evaluation was prioritized, all stakeholders shared important reflections on evaluation-focused, capacity-building strategies to move sport organizations and the entire sector forward. These conversations led to the development of 3 recommendations that stakeholders can use to advance the field of evaluation. The recommendations can be applied both during and after the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Recommendation #1: Involve multiple stakeholders, it’s a team effort

Coach Giving Team Talk To Elementary School Basketball TeamSpecific individuals within an organization are sometimes tasked with evaluation. However, applying a team approach that includes diverse stakeholders throughout the process can help to formalize evaluation, monitor activities, and ensure evaluation is aligned with organizational goals. An evaluation team should involve sport stakeholders at different levels, including individuals involved in on-the-ground program delivery, in managerial roles, and external to the organization.

On-the-ground stakeholders are those closest to the sport experience, such as coaches and athletes, who can offer lived perspectives of their experiences. Managerial stakeholders include program managers or administrators who can offer support by prioritizing evaluation within the organization and providing resources for evaluation. External stakeholders can include anyone invested in the future of the sport organization, such as community partners, funders, board members and industry experts. Intentionally seeking stakeholder diversity is important as it offers a variety of perspectives for informing evaluation foci and activities.

Recommendation #2: Evoke evaluative thinking

Simply knowing how to do evaluations is only 1 piece of the puzzle. The ability to think critically about a program can also be key for conducting high-quality evaluations. Evaluative thinking refers to consistently reflecting on how and why you engage in evaluation going forward (Buckley et al., 2015).

Portrait of a young businessman in a diverse team of creative millennial coworkers in a startup brainstorming strategiesWithout evaluative thinking, an evaluation may end up being superficial and without intention. Thus, by using evaluative thinking, the evaluation team members can keep themselves accountable for the questions they ask, the activities they engage in, and the way they interpret and communicate findings. In this way, evaluation becomes well-planned, activities are maintained, and the results support program improvement and continuity.

To promote evaluative thinking in an organization, stakeholders should meet with their evaluation team members and review their current evaluation practices. Some questions to ask to initiate discussions include (Shaikh et al., 2020):

Recommendation #3: Capitalize on the power of storytelling

Once an organization has collected its data, storytelling can be used to communicate the findings as a narrative of the sport experience. Storytelling helps make sense of participants’ thoughts, experiences, and interactions with others, which helps participants to form their beliefs, identities and values (Wilson, 2018).

Older male athlete mentors younger male athlete in football techniqueStorytelling can be especially empowering when told through the voices of stakeholders. For instance, coaches may share stories about how they delivered specific program practices, like teaching athletes about the value of team building. Sharing such stories could positively affect the athletes. For example, encouraging them to take initiative by mentoring younger players. An athlete could also share how their role as a captain of a soccer team helped them learn the value of being a leader in their community. By weaving data and statistics into these stories, the narrative can be placed within a program’s greater context.

Engaging stakeholders in communicating your data can offer a relatable and culturally relevant lens to ensure findings are palatable to diverse audiences. Recently, storytelling has emerged as a popular promotional vehicle and is even being used by funders as a way to communicate evaluation findings.

In sum, sport organizations encounter various successes and challenges with evaluation. By considering the 3 listed recommendations, sport stakeholders are provided with an alternative viewpoint for enhancing their evaluation practices. These recommendations are applicable during and after the pandemic.


This blog post and associated research are possible due to support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Government of Canada and Brock University.

Sport organizations can benefit from including volunteers in program evaluation. For instance, volunteers are likely to have an intimate knowledge of how the organization functions. Given their diverse backgrounds and experiences, volunteers can also aid in bridging the gap between communities and universities for the benefit of the sport sector.

An essential part of improving sport service delivery is program evaluation. Program evaluation allows sport organizations to understand how their programs or initiatives work in different ways. However, many organizations receive insufficient training or lack the capacity (staff, funding or time) to engage in evaluative work (Carman & Fredericks, 2010). 

One way that sport organizations can boost capacity for evaluation is to involve students and volunteers. Indeed, there are many examples of graduate students partnering with sport organizations to evaluate programs as part of fulfilling their degree requirements. These include evaluations of the True Sport Foundation’s initiatives (Lawrason et al., 2021), Golf Canada’s youth programs (Kendellen et al., 2017), and the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun program for improving life skills (Bean et al., 2014). Research shows that volunteers can also play an important role in providing evaluation support (Rosso & McGrath, 2017).  

This blog presents examples of how students and volunteers have engaged in and built capacity for evaluations that support the Canadian sport and physical activity sector. This blog also shares lessons learned. 

The benefits of involving students and volunteers 

Including students and volunteers in program evaluations has several benefits for sport organizations. For instance, graduate students may have knowledge of frameworks and tools to guide evaluation practices and have the training to produce rigorous and evidence-based results for the sport organization. Additionally, students have access to research papers that are typically behind paywalls for the public, which may help to facilitate specific evaluation methods, such as the use of validated questionnaires. 

On the other hand, volunteers are likely to have an intimate knowledge of how the organization functions, including lived experience. Volunteers can also helps organizations to build capacity by increasing the likelihood that they will remain in the organization. Finally, by having volunteers conduct program evaluations, organizations are using their available human resources as effectively as possible. 

Lesson 1: Invite, involve and build capacity in students and volunteers 

Students are essential to community-research networks. They often lead projects and complete on-the-ground work like relationship-building, data collection and analysis, and writing reports. This provides students with opportunities to expand their skills and connections beyond academia. As a result, students play a key role in building capacity for knowledge translation with community partners. 

Volunteers, too, are well-positioned to undertake evaluations in community-research networks. More than one million Canadians volunteer in sport organizations (Doherty, 2005). Although most sport volunteers spend their time coaching (60%) or supervising activities and events (71%), there is significant room for volunteers to conduct research and evaluation activities, especially during the pandemic. Much of the evaluation work can be completed online, and virtual volunteering is becoming increasingly popular while social distancing is required.  

Example: The Canadian Disability Participation Projec

The Canadian Disability Participation Project (CDPP) is an alliance of university, public, private and government sector partners working together to enhance participation among Canadians with physical disabilities across employment, mobility, and sport and exercise sectors. The CDPP involves nearly 50 cross-sector partners that engage in community-based projects. This leads to resources and publications that partners can use and disseminate.  

About 25% of the 239 individuals involved in the CDPP network are students. From 2014 to 2020, students accounted for 227 connections between 14 different researchers (and indirectly, community partners). This shows that students can play a significant role in how a network looks and functions and help to fill in the gaps where projects occur. 

To demonstrate, each icon in the diagrams below represents a person in the CDPP. The line indicates a relationship or someone a person has worked with in the CDPP. The first diagram represents the CDPP network with only researchers and community partners, and without students. The second diagram represents the CDPP network with researchers, community partners and students (red triangles).

Without Students

With Students

For example, one student in the CDPP network completed an evaluation of teaching resources to promote inclusive physical education (Tristani et al., 2019). Since then, a knowledge translation bulletin containing strategies for inclusive education was developed for teachers.

Under the mentorship of academic and community leaders, students can build their evaluation skills to support organizations as they achieve their academic requirements. Involving students allows them to be prepared for post-graduate job opportunities in both the academic and non-academic sectors. Likewise, by equipping volunteers with opportunities and training to conduct evaluations for sport organizations, volunteers can enhance their roles as vital components of sport systems, contributing to the organization, governance and administration, and delivery of sport in Canada (Harvey et al., 2005).

Lesson 2: Leverage the diverse experiences and knowledge of students and volunteers

Students and volunteers come from diverse backgrounds and bring new perspectives to solve tough problems. They are excited to learn new skills and apply their efforts directly in the field. Encouraging students and volunteers to be leaders, be forthright and confident with their ideas, and explore different lenses for analyses can help sport organizations grow.

Reflection: My experience as a student partnering with True Sport

True Sport is a series of programs and initiatives designed to leverage the benefits of sport through a platform of shared values and principles. In 2018, I was part of a research team that partnered with True Sport to conduct a pragmatic evaluation of the True Sport initiatives (Lawrason et al., 2021). The Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation and Maintenance (RE-AIM) Framework (Glasgow et al., 1999) informed the evaluation. The RE-AIM Framework provides a guide of what to evaluate in a program beyond effectiveness. Learn more about how the RE-AIM Framework has been applied in sport.

As a master’s student at Queen’s University, my role in the evaluation was to review literature about the RE-AIM Framework and how to conduct program evaluations with sport organizations. I was also responsible for collaborating with True Sport staff members to assess which questions were realistic to address and how to retrieve data. I then analyzed the data and delivered a report to True Sport regarding recommendations for the initiatives. We also wrote a manuscript and developed a template to help sport researchers and practitioners learn how to conduct evaluations.

One of the biggest challenges was adapting the RE-AIM framework for sport organizations. The RE-AIM framework was developed for evaluating planned, health interventions in research settings, not the dynamic world of sport. However, under the mentorship of my academic supervisors, I was able to shift my perspective and use the framework in non-traditional ways to support the evaluation with True Sport.

From this experience, I became passionate about conducting evaluations and working in partnership with communities to ensure research findings are impactful for end-users. True Sport was able to receive a list of recommendations for their initiatives and better understand how their organization works, such as its distribution of membership over time and resource allocations. Finally, True Sport also continued its partnership with Queen’s University to facilitate a knowledge translation conference to help bridge the gap between research and practice in the sport sector. I coordinated the conference and reported key findings with the goal of fostering community engagement in sport psychology research.

This example shows how student-led evaluations can lead to stronger partnerships, skill development and practical resources for sport organizations more broadly. Given their diverse backgrounds and experiences, volunteers can also aid in bridging the gap between communities and universities for the benefit of the sport sector.

Conclusion

While often overlooked or unused, students and volunteers can be great human resources for conducting evaluations in sport. To harness these resources, partnerships between sport organizations and researchers in university-based settings are a good place to start. Researchers can collaborate with sport organizations to invite, involve and build capacity with students and volunteers. Such collaborations also provide opportunities to leverage the diverse experiences and knowledge that students and volunteers can bring to the table, resulting in benefits for everyone involved.

Looking to give your resumé a boost? Research shows sport volunteering positively influences hiring managers’ perceptions of applicant qualifications. Sport volunteering may act as a signal of values and competencies, such as altruism and a willingness to work in a team environment.

This week (April 18-24) is National Volunteer Week, a time to celebrate and thank Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers. 

Virtual volunteering is a novel way to engage volunteers during persisting COVID-19 restrictions, but it doesn’t need to stop post-pandemic. Online opportunities can help sport organizations build their pool of volunteers, attract volunteers with diverse skill sets, and become a more flexible and inclusive organization.  

Community sport clubs in Canada can be vulnerable to financial fraud, where someone uses their position for personal gain by deliberately misusing an organisation’s resources or assets. According to our research, recently featured in a CBC Sports investigation, the impact of fraud can be deep and last for years, regardless of the amount of money stolen. Sport organizations in Canada are speaking up and telling their stories to help others learn and reduce their risk.

Incidents of fraud not only impact a sport organization’s finances, they can also affect the organization’s reputation, the experiences of sport participants and volunteers, opportunities for participation, and can generate community mistrust (Kihl, Misener, Cuskelly, & Wicker, 2020). The purpose of this blog is to provide research-based evidence about how and why sport clubs may be vulnerable to fraud and outline ways that sport organizations can be pro-active and reduce their risk. It draws upon our research team’s examination of media stories from Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United States from the years 2008-2018.

Indicators of Fraud

Our research, building on the fraud diamond outlined by Wolfe and Hermanson (2004), shows that there are four common indicators and themes in cases of fraud in community sport:

  1. Pressure – individuals who commit fraud often have incentives such as personal financial stressors, health problems including addiction, or lavish lifestyles.
  2. Rationalization – those who have committed fraud may deny responsibility, claim good intentions, or may self-justify their actions.
  3. Capability – individuals who possess the characteristics and skills to conduct fraudulent activity may be educated in finance or have a learned advantage.
  4. Opportunity – a lack of oversight regarding account access to bank accounts, financial reporting mechanisms, or vacancies of board positions can increase the risk of fraud.

These indicators help us understand how and why fraud can occur in sport organizations.

How is money being stolen?

According to our research, the main form of fraud that occurs in community sport organizations is embezzlement of four types:

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (2018) reported that skimming schemes (cash being taken prior to it being entered into an accounting system) were more common globally in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industries than in other sectors (e.g., banking, manufacturing, health care or social services). 

How can sport organizations prevent fraud?

Business creative coworkers team Meeting Discussing showing the results chart and graph Work.

Sport organizations should use a three-tiered approach to fraud prevention including training/education for organizational leaders on financial management best practices to increase awareness of risk; enhancing internal club management processes to limit opportunities for fraud; and detecting instances of fraud quickly after they occur. Is also important that sport organizations develop and implement specific measures. For example:

  1. Ensure timely and accurate financial reporting systems, including mandatory monthly financial reporting and full disclosure to the board.
  2. Implement procedures to safeguard assets, such as requiring expense and account creation authorisation by two or more individuals.
  3. Implement practices that are compliant with laws and regulations, including regular procedures to detect any possibility of fraudulent activities (i.e., external auditing, independent reconciliation of bank statements).
  4. Evaluate routines for handling organisational resources, such as eliminating e-transfers through personal bank accounts and ensuring the organization has established policies for collecting cash through player registrations, concessions, and fees, and mandatory reporting of fraud to authorities.

Moving towards a more robust anti-fraud strategy is an ongoing process that will require education, planning, and time as systems are changed to both prevent and detect potentially fraudulent activities. While these controls may be accompanied by increased costs for the organization in terms of time, energy, and some additional financial expense, the benefits should outweigh the costs and associated risks of not implementing financial controls. Ultimately, preventing fraud in sport will ensure the long-term sustainability of your organization and the important sport programs and services you deliver to your community.


Our research team is continuing to examine risk management practices and the ways fraud can be prevented in community clubs and associations. Community sport leaders interested in being involved in the next phase of the research are invited to click here for more information and to connect with the survey.

For community sport organizations, understanding what members value, their suggestions for improvement, and desires for future programming, is essential for long-term success. For the Rocky Point Sailing Association, findings from a membership survey helped inform return to play strategies and engaged members in setting the organization’s vision for 2021.

Integrated physical activity programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities not only offer benefits for participants, they can also influence the attitudes and behaviours of others. Learn how the APEX program is impacting support workers, program volunteers, and other members of the University of Windsor community, in the SIRCuit.