A person swims the butterfly down the lane of a pool. Spectators watch in the background. Participant-Centred Decision Making. Spark Solutions.

Participant-Centred Decision Making

Today we’re discussing participant-centred decision making as the basis of making decisions within sport organizations.

But First, A Story

One time, I was asked to join a meeting of a sport club to facilitate a tense discussion. Four new people had been elected to an eight-person board. The new board members had run for the board because they were not happy with the direction of the club. They wanted to change the programming from programming that invited everyone to play, to programming that offered higher-skilled training. In turn, participants would improve their abilities and hopefully become more competitive (and ultimately win more games). The original four board members were concerned about the shift in the club’s direction and were fighting hard to try to stop these changes from taking place. 

During the conversation, someone asked, what happens if all the athletes want to move into the higher-skilled training, and it kills our original program? I responded and said, what does it matter, if that’s what they all want? You should offer programming that participants want to be a part of. If they’re leaving a program en masse, perhaps it’s because it doesn’t meet their needs. 

So, the question should be, does this choice put the participant first? In this case, changing the program might be the best answer. Or, there may be other factors at play. Maybe some participants want a purely recreational program simply to have fun. Others may want a more competitively-based program. It might be possible to have both. It might also be possible to offer the first program, and make the second program available as a supplementary option for those who are interested. What’s important, is that we understand the needs and wants of participants, in order to best respond to them.

Participant-Centred Decision Making

Participant-centred decision making is like it sounds. It is considering the needs and interests of participants first over other factors like winning, reputation, or results. Participant-centred decision making is derived from athlete-centred coaching. It began in the 1990s and gained traction during the 2000s. Now it is a common approach to coaching, particularly for high-performance athletes. There is a wealth of resources available in books, webpages, and academic articles.

Athlete-centred coaching is the philosophy that athletes are humans first. It is where coaches enable athletes to be effective decision makers through focusing on their own motivation to participate to the best of their ability. Coaches share power with their athletes, and athletes take ownership of their learning, which helps to build strong decision making, technical and tactical knowledge, and ownership in enhancing team culture.

What Might This Look Like?

These principles can be extracted and used by the larger sport club as a whole. It is possible to shift how we make decisions to be focused on participants first. What might this look like?

Changing Values

This might mean a change in your values to add ‘participant-centred’ as a core value of the organization. This sends a clear message to your board and membership that this is a fundamental part of the way you run.

Participant Engagement

Participant Engagement. This might mean you ask your participants about their experiences with your organization, on a regular basis, through a variety of ways. It would also mean you are humble and open to hearing their answers, especially if those answers indicate that changes are necessary to the way you operate. This might also mean you seek feedback from those who leave your club. Some people might leave for reasons that have nothing to do with the way you run. However, some reasons might be in your control and could be worth taking a look at.

Evolving Programming

You may have to change how you offer programming. These changes may come out of the responses you get from your participant engagement. For instance, if you hear that your participants enjoy playing several different sports, then you would work hard to ensure that your programming does not occur at the same times as other sports. Or, you might change your programming from a four times/week program to a two times/week program so that your participants have the time available to join other programs too.

Changing Decision Making

The biggest change you make might be around how you make decisions. To do this, the question, “does this choice put the participant first?” should be asked when making a decision. It will shift the choices made. As an example, instead of placing athletes on teams due to age, development, size, gender balance, or other factors, athletes are placed on teams due to their goals, skills, abilities, and social dynamics, such as where they’re friends play. Or, you choose to make teams based on a balance of skills and abilities, and not place ‘the best’ athletes on one team so that you can try to win more games. 

Thinking back to the story shared at the beginning, if we are using participant-centred decision making, we are making decisions based off of the needs and interests of participants, in order to do what’s best for them. Is this where your organization is headed? Let me help with your stakeholder engagement, developing new programs, and with changing your values and decision making.

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