Leadership and Management at grassroots football clubs


Like it or not, your club has NOT got a God-given right to exist and in today’s environment, you have to earn support and involvement. Far too often I hear the Chair of a sports club complaining about the lack of support from the local community, the governing body, the Government etc., and when you investigate further it frequently emerges that the club is not engaging with anybody outside its own ranks.

Lack of skills

The ‘we are a sports club, so don’t expect too much from us’ attitude can kill a club and is completely outdated. Far too often we involve people with the club because they are former players/friends/sons/daughters of the Chair etc. WRONG! If you want to get the best Treasurer why not ask one of your accountancy firm sponsors to provide one of their young apprentices. They get the experience, you get the skills. If you want somebody to write your programme notes, go to your local college or university and ask some of the media/journalism students. The ambitious/good students will relish the experience.

Change vs. heritage

If any of these statements can be heard in your club, you should be really worried: Do we really want these (noisy kids, old folks, chatty women) here?

‘That won’t work here...’

‘But it won’t sell any more advertising boards’ ‘This IS an extension of my living room’ ‘What is the internet anyway?’

A can do club or can’t do club...

Regardless of the level, your club is playing at, ambition and professionalism on and off the pitch is a pre-requisite. Yes, professionalism is not about money, it is about attitude. A club with a can-do attitude as opposed to one with a can’t do attitude will grow and prosper. Can do clubs have a buzz about them. People are happy and busy. They know what success is and why it’s important. They’re also clear that they have to deliver – that the buck stops with them. Can do clubs have a confidence about them that inspires people to try new initiatives, safe in the knowledge that their club is the sort of club that can do things.

A friend of mine is in charge of 250 tenanted pubs for a brewery. He tells me that with the same location and the same beers a different landlord can mean up to 50% difference in pub turnover. In the end, it is all down to people and their understanding of and empathy with people.

How often have we heard comments from the old guard within the club when someone puts forward a new idea along the lines of: ‘we tried that 17 years ago’, ‘it may have worked at other clubs or in other sports’, ‘it would never work here’, ‘this is not the way to do things at a sports club’. Within Can do Clubs there is mutual respect between the people with the insight and the people with the ideas and they move forward together.

Your club's culture

Culture is the everyday reality of club life. The culture is not the mission statement, the vision, your bank balance or the club handbook, though all those contribute to creating it. The culture is what we say and do, the way we behave, the way treat each other, our coaches, our community and ourselves.

In essence, it's the 'personality' of the company,

While speeches and grand plans have some influence on the culture, they are just as likely to have a negative as a positive influence. Ultimately, it's what leaders do much more than what we say that makes the culture what it is.

Creating a culture

There are only main ways to build an organisational culture; either with consideration and conscious intent; or, by contrast, to let the culture come together as it does, giving it little thought in the process.

If you want to build or re-build a certain culture be prepared that it is a lengthy, and sometimes, very difficult process, but the journey starts with the first step

Teach it

The more - and more effectively - we teach people that we are looking for in our culture, the more like it will become reality. At club gatherings and meetings always talk about what culture you want to see in your club. Describe the way you'd like things to be working.

Talk about the informal ways you envision people working together, the way you want people to be treated as valued customers, etc.

One of the best ways to teach culture is to tell stories. There's something solid that resonates when people hear nice tales of how things were handled in a difficult situation or how the club has successfully developed to where it is. And because culture is what's happening, not just what we say should be going on, the stories resonate in ways that just 'having a strategy' cannot.

Define it

You may not currently have complete agreement across your club as to what kind of culture you would like to have at your club, It that is the case, get together leaders and stakeholders of your club together to discuss and agree on what your desired culture is and then write it down. You could do this at the same time as you are discussing and deciding on your vision and strategy.

Putting it in writing and communicating your vision for your club's culture is an essential element in making it successful.

Leadership and management of your football club 5

Live it

Culture is primarily about what we do and less about what we say. It we don't live it's never going to play out as we want. The culture within clubs is built slowly over time, not with a quick decision.

Leaders within clubs have to understand that people within, and often also outside, the club see and hear everything you do and say. The more you talk to newcomers, the more you are sending out messages that yours is a welcoming club.

How you handle difficult situations is one of the biggest contributors to the creation of your club's culture. It's easier to build a culture when everything is going well. But strong cultures are partially built by what we do during hard times. When money is tight, how do we act? When we make a mistake, how do we own up and learn from it?

Too many clubs have a culture where they never admit they can make mistakes and if they do their 'blame-culture' ensures that they convince themselves that it's everybody else's fault and therefore there is nothing they can do about it. Those clubs will never learn and never improve!

There we can only suggest that you openly accept that you have erred, acknowledge what's happened to apologise for it and then move forward together. Then everything works more effectively.

Everyone in the club - not just the committee members - must take responsibility for the culture you have and make it the culture you want.

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