“No man is an island, entirely of itself…
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”
John Donne (1572 – 1631)
At a time when there is an increased focus on how we can create a more coherent society, there seems to be considerable scope for sport to play a pivotal role in our communities. At the same time many of our clubs and other providers could benefit greatly from the added benefits of engaging with new audiences in terms of new users, volunteers, sponsors and community partners.
The challenge is that too many sports clubs suffer from ‘sporting myopia’ where the main success criteria are being associated with sport only: number of users or members, the performance of the first team or the elite athletes and everything else has to support that. So what happens out there in the community and the ‘real world’ is often regarded as a bit of an irrelevance, even a nuisance, sometimes.
This narrow view then creates a disconnect between sport and society and both lose out. If your values are just ‘to coach sport’ or ‘provide enjoyment for your members’ then you’ll probably find that people within the community surrounding you care little for you and your activities unless they are directly involved with your club. If you only have a narrow focus on ‘your club’ then your scope will be very limited. How can you grow membership and sponsorship if you are only interested in yourself?
However, one can then often see the same clubs ‘playing the community card’ when it comes to applying for various grants!
Sport does compete for the resources of the community. Community groups, faith, arts, etc. are also vying for volunteers, goodwill and money – if they are better engaged and involved than you and your club they will be more successful in attracting support and resources.
At the same time many of our non-traditional, successful community sport/activity providers from outside the traditional sports world regard the success of their community engagement as just as important as the outcomes of their sporting activities. Often, because their roots are in the community they design and deliver the programmes to suit people’s real needs, not what the club coach wants to do.
Gaelic sports share value with their communities
The Gaelic Athletic Association is Ireland’s largest sporting organisation which promotes Gaelic games such as Hurling, Football and Rounders.
Their clubs have always been embedded within their communities and the whole ethos is that this is much more than just sport. Just look at the mission statement of the GAA:
The GAA is a community based volunteer organisation promoting Gaelic Games, culture and lifelong participation.
• Community is at the heart of our Association. Everything we do helps to enrich the communities we serve.
• We foster a clear sense of identity and place.
Could other Governing Bodies of sport across the British Isles learn from the GAA?