Overview of Steve Brewer’s HPL Community Case Study
Grassroots football is typically a term used to describe amateur football. Junior clubs that support children of all abilities tend to be described as grassroots football clubs, rather than professional football clubs. In order to compete in affiliated leagues clubs need to be affiliated to the Football Association or FA through their local county FA.
Many clubs are run primarily by overstretched coaches who are doing all the admin roles as well. Communication is typically poor leaving a less than optimal experience for many of the stakeholders. These stakeholders include the coaches, parents and not least the young players, the very people we are hoping to inspire.
A key reason for doing my HPL project was to make a difference and improve on the status quo. My project was to take a club that was effectively failing and transform it into a one that regained it FA Standard Charter Status.
Situation Analysis…the Status Quo
The club was losing money. If it had continued in this manner it would have gone bust within 12 months. All the admin roles had effectively been performed by one individual who was determined to keep the club afloat…but the water was flowing in faster than he could bale it out of the boat.
Many of the age group coaches didn’t see the club as a club just a collection of teams rather than being something more worthwhile. There was a significant risk of churn every year as players left more to join other clubs. Nobody knew how to do anything on the admin side with the exception of the guy who was doing it all and he was leaving the club as his team had reached the maximum age. The child welfare officer was only staying on until a replacement was found.
Selling the Dream… but what was the Vision
Arguably the club just surviving was a stretch goal and the complexity of not just transforming the club but to the Nationally recognised standard of the FA Standard Charter Status was an easy sell to my Toastmasters Guidance Committee and it was almost like pushing against an open door when I mentioned to the football club committee that I would take the lead in regards to regaining the FA Charter Standard …but would they follow me.
The important thing was to have a vision that reflected what it that we wanted to achieve. Achieving the FA Charter Standard in itself wasn’t enough we needed a reason to care and for people to get behind the ideals of the club. My vision for the club was and still is to provide sporting opportunity and inclusion for all regardless of ability. The ambition was for young players to enjoy their sport and feel encouraged to participate fully in games and training. I also saw the club as part of the community that would attract players through a reputation for sporting fair play, providing quality coaching and members’ friendliness.
The club would be efficiently run, in order that players’ subscriptions are kept down, enabling the club to be accessible to as many families as possible. I saw the club with plenty of training equipment and a football for every player.
I saw all coaches trained to at least FA level 1, with its training drills and session plans increasing the enjoyment and development of both the coaches and the players …rather than just relying on well intentioned Dads who may well run out of ideas.
So crafting this into a mission statement
Our mission was to provide sporting opportunity and inclusion for all regardless of ability. This will attract players and provide them with the grounding to make the right healthy choices throughout the whole of their lives, not just when they are with the club as young players.
We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which club members are empowered to develop communication, sporting and leadership skills, resulting in greater self confidence and personal growth.
While we are a youth sports provider the mission statement equally applies to all the volunteers who support the club not least the coaches who often find coaching an enriching experience.
The coaching staff fully supported the mission statement that we had crafted, as this showed elite ideals rather than elitism for its own sake. I was able to recruit a couple of people onto my committee as they could see the immediate benefits to the club.
Setting the direction
Arguably setting a direction may have been difficult if our mission statement was at odds with the achievement of the FA Charter Standard but we as a group were confident that they were two sides of the same coin…the what and the why if you like…working both together we could achieve more than if we tried to do the tasks in isolation.
The first thing we did as a group was identify the requirements of the FA Charter Standard and what we as a club were doing and then looked at the gap analysis. Three things that stood out clearly were the single point of failure in running the club finances, and a team culture the rather than club culture was prevalent.
It was also clear that if we didn’t change the club wouldn’t exist in a year’s time so something had to be done now. At the next managers meeting this stark choice was put to them …DO OR DIE.
It was recommended that we take control of the club with a small number of people initially to triage our problems. The core team now consisted of the Chairman, Club Secretary, Treasurer, Kit and Equipment manager, and a new Club Welfare Officer who was being trained to take over from the existing CWO whose team had already left the club.
The Chairman ran the club meetings and was liable for the debts of the club. The Club Secretary managed correspondence with the affiliated leagues. The Treasurer managed the finances of the club. The Kit and Equipment Manager organised the Kit and Equipment in close contact with the Treasurer and the CWO looked after the welfare of the children and club members. I had taken on the role of Treasurer and it soon became clear to me why we were losing money. The subscriptions weren’t being paid in full and we weren’t doing any fund raising or social events within the club. The one social event we did do was the end of season fun day .This actually cost us money. Clearly this needed to change.
Persuading people to look at the finances was quite straight forward, we were running out of money and when we ran out of money everything stops. Getting an agenda spot with the chairman to discuss the situation at the next managers meeting was easy.
The managers were responsible for collecting the subs from their respective age groups. The previous regime had only stated the position as a club position and subs collection varied between 60% and 80% across the teams. Taking a leaf out of Rudi Guilliani’s book Leadership, I held each of them accountable for collection updates each month. The club as a whole moved to an average collection rate of greater than 95%.
This is broadly consistent with improvements in performance seen through the observer principle and once we had achieved this target the social proof expectation saw these behaviours maintained. Whilst the increase in subscription collection steadied the club, we were still only at a breakeven point. We needed to generate further funds to deliver on our ambitious mission statement. Perceptions that we were a collection of teams needed to change so that we had a club identity.
A clear option was to get everyone together for a fundraising night. A location was straightforward as the cricket club would give us the venue free in return for the bar revenues. The first fundraising night was to be a race night we then had each team sell a race and auction off the last race on the evening. The principle here being sell the races and you make your money back for holding the races and everyone in the club becomes involved many people will come hoping they would win. The first evening was a wash out but still raised £750. This gave the opportunity to hold it again when the weather was better and this raised over £1000.
It was of course noted that we couldn’t keep doing the same things as they would lose their popularity. We did a fish and chip supper quiz night which didn’t make much money but did get many parents together and allowed for information sharing about the club and allowed for camaraderie between teams to be increased. This created a greater feeling of togetherness that we were a club.
The Treasurer role gave an insight into what the club was spending its money on and gave a view on where money was needed in liaison with the club secretary, kit manager and the CWO officer a large proportion of the addressable spend was identified. Through the club secretary we were invited to by a number of external stakeholders including the local council and county FA. Traditionally these meetings had been thought of as an overhead but it soon became clear that they were actually looking to support organisations with ambitions such as ours and gave access routes to applications for funding.
As part of the club management meetings it was found that the club website was in need of a revamp and fortunately one of the parents was discovered to be a web designer and thought the task was fairly straightforward. The key information they required was… what was the key information that we wanted on the website? Reading what was on the website it was clear that a number of the documents on the website were still relevant and principles on which the club were founded were in essence what we were trying to achieve today. As we reframed and updated this branding information on the website it became apparent that this documentation could support applications for funding. Our brand was also becoming our story.
This was demonstrated when a funding application yielded a quick win for two man hours of effort we were able to receive two thousand pounds in funding for training that was identified by our CWO officer.
It also became clear that even though it was a requirement for the FA charter standard there was a need for a club development plan that covered the next five years.
Development of the club
Early successes of the reinvigorated securing of funds and the improvement of the website and the greater camaraderie around the club improved the morale and people were starting to want to be associated with the success.
This led to the successful filling of the standard charter coordinator role whose responsibility was the club development plan and the requirements of the club over the next five years. The plan clearly required input from stakeholders within the club and covered holistically the health and wellbeing of the club as a whole.
Reviewing of the plan also drove a number of other roles such as fund raising manager as well as an assistant Club Welfare Officer as we grew involvement of more people supporting the teams relieving pressure off the coaches who had traditionally been doing everything for the club.
The Fund raising manager looked at the development of fund raising opportunities both within as well as externally to the club. Bag packing at the local supermarkets generated as much as the race nights and this didn’t come out of the same pool of parents who support the club. Raffles and auctions of prizes donated by local businesses also added to the prosperity of the club. Tombola’s with bottle prizes donated from the parents also added to funds…even reviewing the template model of the race nights with snails rather than horses which was surprisingly face paced and many enjoyed this night more than the horse racing.
The fundraising allowed for a number of activities to develop the club without the raising of subscriptions. The principle being the lower that we can keep the subscriptions the greater the number of young players who have access to sport it also allows the club to use its discretion for supporting those families who are genuinely in need and to keep open access to sport as an outlet.
Training courses for volunteers in groups relating to the club also helps the club develop as this is a further opportunity to interact with other teams within the club it also improves the quality of the coaching to our players and the exchange of ideas between the coaches increases. Also the observance of best practice in dealing with young players is actively encouraged.
It would be churlish to state that or give the impression that everything went smoothly or as well as I would have liked as part of this project. The development of the mission statement and the early successes did provide a catalyst for change and allowed people to see the benefits of what we were trying to do and we were able to take many parents and coaches with us on the journey.
There were exceptions to this some of the outliers who found everything too hard to do and didn’t respond to any form of ask be it asking selling or telling. As part of the program I probably on reflection spent too long trying to convince them of the right thing to do as a Leadership lesson I believe I should have reduced their power and influence as an obstacle earlier as I had the opportunity to duplicate their roles and hence reduce any negative impact on the program.
Passive aggressive behaviours I found to be the most frustrating part of this project.This is when someone said that they will do something and then doesn’t do it. I did find explaining how I felt by these actions directly to the person and then resetting the objective or through a negotiation of the expected outcomes to their needs generally met the agreed outcome without further disappointment in most cases.
Appreciation of others was a key part of the success in building the club culture that we wanted to achieve. Thanking people for their contributions and encouraging the development of their ideas where required helped them feel valued and in many cases led to more proactive engagement as the structures within the club became more mature. As the club became more stable financially we were able to continue with the presentation fun day and able to add Christmas and Halloween parties for the players.
We also held an adult training session highlighting the ideals of the club ,through the Give Us Back Our Game program. GUBOG looks to ensure that children learn by having fun and being allowed to work things for themselves, rather than adults marshalling and regimenting exactly how they should think and what they do on the pitch. The participating parents really appreciated what we were trying to do and we reciprocated by the funding the first round at the bar this allowed us to get feedback on what they thought the club was doing well and what could be done better.
We were also able to price match a match day package for the whole club at our local Premier League Club. The principle here was that for £7.50 the players had a two hour session with advanced level coaches and then we went to the match as a club. Over two hundred players and parents attended. This gave me a chance to speak to eighty five or so parents about the club and compare and contrast our club with one from a more affluent area who changed 3-4 times as much for their package. I told the parents that we had kept the price to them low as we wanted as many of them to come and support a really great experience for our young players and their families. I went on to tell them how much it costs to run the club and our ambition to keep the subscriptions as low so again we could keep access to sport as open to as many families as possible.
I also stated the gap between subscriptions and outgoings and stated that the gap would need to be supported by sponsorship and fundraising. I spoke for seven minutes and in the five minutes that followed I had received pledges for seven thousand pounds as a consequence of the things we were trying to achieve and manner in which we were going about it.
Personal Lessons learned from the HPL Community Case Study
There were a number of lessons that I learnt as part of this process.
One the key ones was the importance of a robust mission statement. This becomes a powerful WHY? This statement that anchors your purpose when others are doubting you.
Many people truly negotiate themselves out of better outcomes and settle for less…with little changes to their approach and asking for more …greater things can follow.
Achieving the FA Charter Standard …which we did …became just a KPI. The real success was moving closer to the mission goals and creating a worthwhile club culture.
Finally learning the truth of the old African proverb, if you want to go quickly, go on your own, if you want to go far, go with others.