Renewal … It’s Not Just the Sport Policy That Needs It!

Some of you may be aware that we are undergoing a renewal of the Canadian Sport Policy (CSP). Fondly spoken of as CSP 2.0, this renewal process has been unparalleled in terms of engaging Canadians in what they believe should be the focus of the renewed sport policy (you can read more about the national survey, the findings, and submissions from governments by visiting sirc.ca.) As a contributor to the working group established to steward the process, I can share with you my support for the collaborative approach that has been struck between governments and the Sport Matters Group to find innovative ways to reach into communities and connect with Canadians on issues that matter. This renewal process is helping to confirm what we have done very well over the past decade, what we need to do better, and what we need to start focusing on if we are to realize sport’s full potential.

We were quite deliberate about framing it as a renewal process and not the creation of a new policy. When designing the overall methodology, it became clear that this was more about reviewing what had been accomplished, connecting with sport leaders to seek their views, and findings creative ways to expand the policy so that it was constructed to become a policy for the people, and not merely a policy for governments. Hence, a renewed CSP, connecting us to the progress achieved through the first one, and giving room for enhancements to be made moving forward.

So what do we mean by ‘renewal’ anyways?

Renewal means the act of renewing or the state of being renewed. Not much help unless you dig deeper into its meaning. Renewal also means filling again by supplying what has been used up. It’s this latter meaning that I would like to explore.

Interestingly, and perhaps because I’m spending time thinking about ‘renewal’, I found myself paying attention to other aspects of sport that might need renewing as well.  Recently I’ve had the privilege of speaking with a number of sport leaders to learn more about the impact that the True Sport Risk Management Workshops have had on decision-making, their ability to manage risks more effectively, and their assessment of their organization’s performance. To date, 19 NSOs and countless other sport organizations at the provincial/ territorial levels have had the opportunity to experience this dynamic and integrated approach to managing risks. Overall, these workshops have proven to be very useful and sport leaders have offered up interesting ideas on how to continue to improve our approach, tools, and processes.

One of the risk areas I’d like to see us addressing more systematically is the fatigue experienced by sport leaders. More broadly spoken of as strengthening the management of sport, or ensuring that we are deploying our human resources as effectively as possible, or addressing the lack of capacity, this is one of the top level risks cited by sport leaders. In my discussions, and supported by the consultations from the CSP renewal process, it is obvious that more needs to be done to address the issue of recruiting and retaining the high quality talent we need to ensure that sport meets its performance objectives. My colleague Rachel and I have spoken about this during our workshops.

In order for volunteers and staff to get and stay involved, a strategy to properly recruit, retain, renew, recognize and retire is required. We know that over the next seven years, we will experience a mass exodus of baby boomers who will be looking for ways to contribute some of their talent and time to meaningful causes. Sport can be the beneficiary of this influx of new volunteers if we are deliberate about seeking it out. We also know that as the population gets older, sport too will need to think strategically about how it will manage the ‘brain drain’ … the knowledge that has been created through years of dedicated service by those seeking to retire. While this provides room for growth for new leaders, if we don’t plan to manage the transition, opportunities to decrease the risks associated with loss of corporate memory, lack of leadership experience, and a shortage of skilled employees and volunteers, will be limited.

And finally, too often I speak with sport leaders who are … tired. In a recent conversation with one respected sport administrator with 30 + years under her belt, we spoke about the fatigue she has experienced recently in the build-up to yet another Olympic Games.  From my perspective, we only have to look at the advancement we have made in sport science and the knowledge we have from other sectors to help us minimize and hopefully prevent this burn-out risk. Athletes need to time to recover and rejuvenate. We know that for athletes to have peak performance, they need to take time off, lead a balanced lifestyle, and rest. So too do the sport leaders whose experience and expertise are so vital to the growth and success of Canada’s sporting performance.

If renewal is about replenishing that which has been used up, we need to think very strategically about how we can renew sport leaders so that we minimize the risk of departure caused by burn-out and fatigue. Using the risk management strategies reflected in the True Sport risk management process, here are some ideas for us to consider.

Retain – we accept that this is risk that is inherent to our sector. In my opinion, accepting the status quo is not an option moving forward. Knowing what we know and what is at stake, retention of this risk is not a smart solution.

Reduce – this calls on us to examine the root causes that are creating this risk and look for ways to minimize the chance of it occurring. It also invites us to determine other possibilities and to learn what others have done to create workplace wellness. From my perspective, a strategy that pulls together what we know to be the most effective human resource practices from other sectors is a place to start. Consider sabbaticals that are granted to professors to help them renew and innovate. Consider income averaging/financed leave programs that provide employees with the opportunity to take extended absences to replenish and re-charge. Consider leadership development requirements that encourage continuous improvement as an underpinning of employment progression. I believe that our objective is to help reduce this risk in the short term with a long-term vision of preventing burn-out and fatigue through the identification of proactive measures and smart strategies.

Transfer–this provides us with the opportunity to accept the level of risk but look for ways to transfer this risk to others through contracts. From my perspective, measures to transfer risks related to human resources are already in place within sport organizations through the minimum standards employed through legal requirements. Can more be done? Absolutely and my colleagues LeeAnn, Hilary, and Steve will tell you that legal advancements made in other areas will become the norm over time in sport as well. Progressive organizations are taking leadership roles now by adopting what seems to be a ‘nice to have policy’ knowing that in a few short years, these policies will become standardized. What I encourage all of us in sport to think about moving forward is what more can be done to take ownership of this area and determine best possible tactics and strategies to invest in the people who make sport possible.

Avoid - simply doing nothing means that we continue down this pathway and we hope for the best. In my opinion, not a smart or sustainable response given what we know.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we might collectively address this high level risk proactively and systematically. Send me an email at dbl@sportlaw.ca.

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