Risk Management Revisited ... or, Values Matter

We started writing this column 15 years ago. Our inaugural column was titled ‘personal risk management’. Written in 1994, we compared the then-new Coaching Code of Ethics to a survival guide which, if properly understood and acted upon, could form a part of every coach’s personal risk management program. We closed the article with a look at what we hoped to cover in the column: actual legal cases of relevance to coaches and the practical lessons that they provided, as well as coverage of legal topics such as employment contracts, insurance, harassment, discrimination, violence, breaches of the Criminal Code, doping and discipline.

Fifty-five columns later, we have covered all these topics and many more. We may also have come full circle. If the subject of ethics introduced our first 15 years, then the subject of values can close that chapter and start a new one. Put simply, VALUES MATTER. They are the basis from which we extract guiding principles, such as those in the Coaching Code of Ethics.  Increasingly, it has become evident that organizational values play a pivotal role in the delivery of quality sport experiences. They are an expression of what matters most and in our view, should be reflected in all the work that we do in sport, whether as volunteer leaders, administrators or as coaches.

The Centre for Sport and Law has been in the risk management consulting business for nearly twenty years, working closely with coaches. Over that time, there has been an evolution in risk management approaches: the 1980s were characterized by a traditional approach focusing on safety and injury prevention, while the 1990s were characterized by a modern approach that focused on legal issues more generally. In this latter period, we were just as likely to help coaches steer clear of disputes and misunderstandings with athletes and sport organizations, as we were to help them institute safety policies and waiver agreements.

Today, our risk management services have evolved such that we view risk management as an organizational tool to improve performance through better governance, efficient planning, and relevant programming. In other words, risk management is not only about preventing bad things; it is also about promoting good things. This is an exciting notion and my position now is that values lie at the heart of managing risks within organizations. Most of sport’s risk management problems arise because there is poor alignment of values: either there is a gap between the values that an organization espouses and the actions that it condones, or there are disconnects between organizational values and individual values. At times even, there are no organizational values and in that vacuum people are left to muddle through by applying their personal values. I would go so far as to suggest that ‘values management’ might supplant ‘risk management’ as the best available management tool to address a sport organization’s risks and liabilities.

By way of background, ‘management by values’ is a promising new management framework created by international business experts that shows great promise for application in the sport context.  It can be contrasted with ‘management by instruction’ of the mid-1900s, and ‘management by objectives’ of the late 1900s. For example, under the management by instruction model, when asked why something was done, an employee was likely to answer, ‘because the boss said so’. Under the management by objectives model (coincidentally, the prevailing model in sport today), an employee asked why something was done might answer ‘because we planned to do it’. Under the management by values model, an employee asked why something was done is apt to answer, ‘because it reflects what we believe in’.

Management by values has the potential to assist sport administrators to increase accountability by: emphasizing what matters most to people; increasing support from members and stakeholders on shared values, thus creating a collective commitment towards the organization’s vision and mission; creating a more positive culture within an organization; facilitating planning and priority setting; and minimizing the conflict inherent in poor decision-making. Overall, management by values can reduce the risks that might interfere with the achievement of the organization’s objectives – thus enhancing organizational performance.

So here is an exciting complementary notion – coaching by values. By this I mean more than coaching in accordance with the Coaching Code of Ethics. While this Code contains excellent guiding principles, it stands apart from the values framework of the sport organization for whom the coach volunteers or is employed. Given that managing by values is a framework to change how we interact with people, the importance of the coach in a management by values model cannot be understated. There is probably no single role in sport that involves more interaction than the role of the coach: they are constantly at the intersection of volunteers, administrators, athletes, parents and officials.  Our insights about management by values within organizations may help to understand how coaching by values can improve the coach’s interactions with others. I might even go so far as to suggest that the coach who is committed to organizational values, and who seeks to ensure that his or her actions and decisions are at all times a reflection of those values, will come to no legal harm. Values management might replace ethics management as the coach’s best personal risk management program!

Here is an example of how this idea of coaching by organizational values might be applied. The following are values for an actual national sport organization, selected at random for this column: be athlete-centred, encourage initiative, respect others, be accountable, be inclusive, keep learning. What are ways that a coach can embed these values into his or her daily activities, and reflect them back to athletes, parents, others? These are some practical examples:

Be athlete-centred: the coach can commit to the philosophy of LTAD, can strive to communicate transparently with athletes and their families, and can ensure that athletes are focused on developing skills in safe environments.

Encourage initiative: the coach can instill an independent work ethic in athletes, can embrace innovation in his or her coaching practices, and can take a lead role in introducing ethics and values considerations in discussions with their sport organizations.

Respect others: the coach can instill in athletes respectful attitudes towards each other, opponents, other coaches and officials, and can work to convey consistent messages to athletes about acceptance and diversity.

Be accountable: the coach can know the parameters of his or her authority and responsibility, can admit mistakes and use them as teachable moments, and can assume responsibility for conveying a positive outlook that athletes can model.

Be inclusive: the coach can welcome all-comers to the team, can focus efforts on skill development and fun, and can work through problems as a team to show that differences between people often contribute to a stronger, more cohesive group.

Keep learning: the coach can pursue professional development and self-directed learning: this can include reading widely, interacting with mentors and peers, and supporting the development and education of younger coaches.

In closing, these are exploratory ideas. This column is not meant to diminish in any way the importance of a Code of Ethics for coaches. What it is meant to do is ‘connect the dots’ – coaching does not occur in a vacuum but rather occurs in an organizational context. The coach can play an important role in converting an organization’s stated values into plans, decisions, actions, outcomes and positive experiences. I encourage all coaches to reflect upon the values of their organization and to consider ways that these values can be their guide as well. At the end of the day, the coach’s contribution to the health and well-being of their organizations will be without measure.

Originally published: Coaches Report (2008) Vol. 15(3)

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