Improving Your Selection Policies

Selection issues are important any time of the year and in any year. In the past six months we were very occupied with selection disputes relating to the Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Games. Sport bodies are also involved in developing selection criteria for Quest For Gold, Canada Summer Games and the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Paralympics. We thought we would share some thoughts on what have been learning about writing selection policies and criteria, starting from the general rules of good policy writing and moving to more specific nuances of athlete and team selection.

Five Essential Rules of Selection Policy Writing

Be clear – write the policy in plain language so that it is understandable to everyone.  Make it a practice to have an outsider review a draft of your selection policy, to see if they understand it.  If someone from outside the organization and unfamiliar with a sport can understand the document, then likely most of the organization’s members will also.

Be concise – selection policies and criteria are often vague, incomplete, contradictory or even silent on certain important points.  For example, criteria are not weighted relative to each other and the selector must make an informed guess; tie-breakers do not actually work in breaking the tie; appeal procedures do not exist; and eligibility criteria are confused with selection criteria.

Be consistent – terms and phrases must be used consistently throughout a selection policy document.  For example, if the policy refers to “tournaments” in one section, do not use a different term such as “championships” in another.  If a selection scheme is considering ‘performance’ then don’t confuse this term with ‘results’ or ‘ranking’ – they do not mean the same thing. A policy must be consistent in its use of terms, as a lack of consistency will often lead to disputes.

Be complete – the selection policy must anticipate every circumstance and must cover every aspect of an issue.  There cannot be gaps, holes or loose ends.  The selection policy must cover procedural steps from beginning to the end.  For example, a selection policy should address what happens in the event of injury or bad weather conditions canceling a qualifying event. It should also address what an athlete, once selected, must do to remain selected.

Be friendly to the reader – clarity, conciseness and consistency will make a selection policy easier to understand, but the format and layout will make it easier to read.  Use titles, headings, subheadings, and bullet point lists wherever possible.

A Selection Policy Template

The following is a useful ten-point policy template to get you started:

  • Purpose of the policy – this is a brief statement of the reason for the policy.  Although the purpose or objective of a policy may be quite evident to those writing it, it may not be clear to your members.
  • A statement of the purpose of the selection – that is, whether it is for a pool of athletes from which subsequent selection will be made, or if it is for a team for a specific event or events. This statement should conform with your overall strategic direction for high performance.
  • Goals for the team or program – this is especially important if the goal is not necessarily to select the strongest team but to rebuild or develop a team or give experience to younger players. Not every team selected is an Olympic team – many other selections serve a development purpose.
  • Your scheme for selection – are you going with a one-off, all or nothing trial, or with a series of events at which athletes will be evaluated? Perhaps your selection scheme involves naming a squad or pool of athletes, from which a team will then be chosen. Or perhaps your athletes are given a window of time during which they pursue a performance standard or standards. What is your timeline? Many different approaches are possible.
  • Eligibility – this is a clear statement of who is eligible to be considered for selection. There may be age, citizenship, membership or residency restrictions. Candidates may be required to have met a minimum performance standard in order to be considered. The athlete perhaps must be a member in good standing of a provincial body or a club. This section of the policy should clearly outline the conditions to be met before the athlete even gets through the door of the selection process.
  • Authority for selection – state clearly who has approved the process and criteria and who will make the decisions.  Initially all decision-making powers of the organization are vested in the Board of Directors.  Through proper delegation, authority to make decisions is spread more efficiently through the organization.  Thus, the Board may pass a motion to delegate the authority to select athletes to a coach or committee. The policy should state clearly who has authority for team selection.
  • The criteria – these are central to your policy. Be sure not to confuse criteria to be considered for selection (see eligibility above) and criteria to be selected. Criteria to be selected should be as objective as possible, but where they are subjective the policy should include some guidelines for applying the criteria. If selecting a team, a number of other factors may need to be considered: team size, team chemistry, positional needs (specialist versus utility players); maximizing use of a restrictive team quota (i.e. selecting players capable of performance as singles, doubles or as members of a larger team).
  • Post-selection considerations - After selection, criteria or requirements to be met to remain selected: usually, these relate to levels of fitness and compulsory participation in certain events and team activities.
  • Exceptional Circumstances – or exceptions to the selection policy, if any (for example, injury or matters which lie outside the control of the organization of the athlete). What is the procedure for dealing with these, as some can be anticipated while others cannot. As well, be cautious in your use of terms: do the terms ‘exceptional circumstances’, ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and ‘unforeseen circumstances’ all mean the same thing? Likely not.
  • Appeals – the policy should make reference to avenues that may be pursued if an athlete wishes to appeal a decision. Timelines should be noted. It is useful to allow a buffer of time between finalizing selections and announcing selection results, so that any legitimate appeals may be accommodated.

Summary

In closing, developing sound selection policies is not easy – we recommend that each year, you review your scheme, check it against successes and challenges, and strive to continually improve your process. Ask your colleagues in other sports what their experiences have been, and look at their policies. As well, stay in tune with developing jurisprudence on selection disputes: these can provide very helpful insight. Many cases are documented on the web site of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, or SDRCC.

Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law Newsletter (2008) Vol. 4(2)

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