All clubs are not created equally. Like living creatures, a soccer club is a product of a wide range of influences, including the people who work there, the membership and the surrounding environment. Yours might be the only soccer option for hundreds of miles, or one of ten clubs fighting for customers within a twenty minute drive. Similarly, the goals of the organization will dictate the day to day running and priorities put in place by staff or board members.
There are many clubs out there without clearly defined objectives. Often they started with a single team and over time grew to become relatively large organizations run by volunteers or staff but at no point did anyone step back and ask whether there were any shared goals or sense of what the club is for. To make matters worse, when these issues are raised there is often a belief that the current approach is working just fine, so why should we change anything?
Within the program there will be coaches acting on their own little islands: building a super team of players who will take on all comers and recruit from far and wide. There might be others who are doing it purely for the money, running the same tired sessions and slowly hemorrhaging players to other clubs or sports. If the club has an office or staff they too will have different goals and motivations. The unanswered question out there remains – yes the club is functioning at the moment, but what potential could it have if we were all swimming in the same direction?
Where to Begin
With such a large and critical project ahead, it can be daunting for an individual to work out where to start. The first step though is to bring in other people, to provide data, share the work and legitimize the results. By forming a committee you will immediately increase the quality of the initial research, by getting information from all areas of the club. Bring together a group from all corners of the club – board members, staff, key parents, coaches, referees and other relevant groups.
Set a date and a location to have an initial meeting and use your time until then to come up with a plan for how the day will be used. Provide lunch and make sure that someone capable is chairing the meeting, to keep in on track. Be realistic about what you can achieve but challenge yourself to leave the event with enough progress to build momentum for the tasks ahead.
Before you can come to any decision about where you are going, it is important to understand where you are. There are several different methods to assess your current position. Many clubs bring in outside experts to provide an assessment, others find a parent in the club with a suitable business background, and some people read books and websites…! Standards have become a hot topic with state and national coaching organizations and you might find that there is grant funding available to you to bring in an expert to get the process started.
A popular assessment step is to ask yourself what your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are (SWOT). Drawing up a table with each of these areas and asking a group of club officials to brainstorm and put as many ideas as they can in each box might help you to then link together similar themes and start to get a better picture of the club.
In your meeting you can get sticky notes for everyone and large posters with each of the SWOT words around the room, then ask people to write and stick as many as they can.
Once the group begins to see common themes with where the club is, they can begin to think about where it should be going. In a similar process to the previous, you can ask members of your committee to come up with priorities that they see for the club to address. These can be loosely categorized onto large posters around the room (structural, facilities, players, administration, financial, coaching, etc.). Over time you can begin to group similar stickers together and develop themes that are most important to the group. Through discussion and voting you can create a list of strategic initiatives that are deemed to be most important to the group.
Keep in mind that you can’t solve every problem at once though, so through further discussion you can rank your initiative list by perceived importance and ease of implementation (to get to the “lowest hanging fruit”). Finally, with the problems and opportunities identified, you can plan for how to tackle each initiative – who will lead each charge? How will they do it? When will they do it by?
From your group data analysis it might start to become clear what kind of club you have and where people think it should be going. An important step here is to look far into the future to find a clear and inspirational long-term desired change that the work of the club will bring about. This should be one sentence, ideally a few words that explain from a high level what the club will do.
If you are struggling for ideas, there are plenty of websites out there that list the vision statements of businesses from around the world. As you can see they range from 3-4 words up to 2-3 lines of text. As a general rule, try to think long term and to find the balance between being too specific (not “we want to double in size in five years”) and being too generic (“we want to do really well”).
One problem with getting a group to write one is that it gets watered down and becomes a wishy washy compromise that no one is happy with. Challenge the group to all spend 20 minutes thinking of what they think it should be then present them all and see if there is something everyone likes.
Where the vision looks to the future, the mission statement defines the business’s purpose and primary objectives. The statement has three components: –
- Who is the customer?
- What do you provide to the customer?
- What makes your service unique or better?
Too many mission statements are vague and the same from one business to the next – “have the best product and customer service and lead the industry etc.” but that doesn’t really mean much or inspire people or members. Mission statements should inspire people but they also need to be plausible and realistic: if you are in a rural town with a low population is it likely that you will win more national competitions than any other club? Find a theme that you do well and build around that.
Next let’s keep it simple. A mission statement should be one or two sentences and the best ones could almost be your company slogan. Like this paragraph. Which wouldn’t be a good company slogan.
Finally, decide on the timescale. If your objectives or themes are short term you will need to rewrite your mission statement frequently. If they are long term are you being dynamic and responsive enough? Any statement needs to be revisited often and tested for everything we mentioned above – realism, inspiration, clarity and simplicity.
Philosophy or Values
Below the high altitude vision and mission statement you are going to need to expand upon exactly how and why you do what you do. A popular way do this is to create a business philosophy. Here you can list the most important tenets of your club – ranging from what you focus on producing to how you behave on the field. While there is no one correct number of values to have, it seems that a lot of businesses and clubs have close to ten. In your group again you could ask people to write down a list of key values, bring them all together, merge ones that are similar, remove ones that people don’t like and see how many you are left with.
If you are struggling for inspiration, why not look at some of the philosophies of successful clubs and businesses out there. For example Google or another soccer club in your region. As with every other part of the definition process, make sure this is posted on your website and that your club is actively living by the philosophy they created.
For many clubs the goal is to create a culture that they are known for and that others aspire towards being part of. Maybe this is part of your local community or the reputation of your people, maybe it is about the style of your game or the goals you have for your teams. Whatever it is it should resonate with your core membership and you shouldn’t be afraid to revisit it if things change.