by Ahmet Guvener

What are Youth Soccer Clubs? A great majority of them are non-profit organizations or associations formed through 501 (C)(3). One can consider them as educational organizations since in essence they are supposed to develop their members – players – physically, mentally and character-wise, even though most clubs try just to develop them physically, undermining the other aspects. They are run by boards.

Public schools are also educational institutions. They are managed by a principal and through ISDs. In most public schools, there is a PTA. PTA is Parents and Teachers Association - a formal organization composed of parents, teachers and staff that is intended to facilitate parental participation in a school. They are technically charities. Parents who are members of the PTA are usually there for the duration of their children's education. Public schools have a history and a very strong connection to their alumni and their community. There is a very strong feeling of belonging among the alumni that does not erode with time. But can you imagine what would happen if the schools were run by PTAs!

Boards of most Youth Soccer Clubs are like PTAs. The Boards are composed of mostly parents whose children play for the Club. Usually once their children “graduate” from the Club, the parent’s tenure as a Board member ends. This makes these Boards mostly transitional. Since most Youth Soccer Clubs do neither have a long history nor have very strong ties to the community, there is not a strong feeling of belonging to the Club. In a recent article at Soccer America, I discussed this phenomenon of being transitional will lead to being transactional. In the article, I discussed the problems of governance of our Youth Soccer Clubs’ Board system. If there is a problem, then there should be a solution. In this article, we will discuss remedies to avoid the Boards being transitional and hence becoming transformational.

The first step is identifying the nature of the structure and dynamics of the Board and associated potential problems. As I discussed in the above-mentioned article, a Youth Soccer Club is actually a business, but it is not just any business. There are idiosyncrasies that are inherent in a Soccer Club or to be more general in a sports club. Board members should be aware of these idiosyncrasies. To cut a long story short, managing a Soccer Club neither can be approached like a hobby nor is an easy task. It needs meticulous planning and execution while understanding the dynamics and idiosyncrasies of running a soccer club.

For a club to be non-transitional, there are two main goals to be met. You need to maintain the institutional memory and have a sound succession plan. There are several key issues.

How do you handle board transitions and make sure there is a smooth handover of responsibilities and relationships?

The first step is to understand the needs of the Club and your resources. The needs can be spearheaded by the mission and vision statements of the Club. Your resources are not like the approach of assigning parent A, who knows about accounting; parent B, who knows about marketing etc. to the Board. That is too simplistic. You need to create a talent and competence pipeline and for this pipeline you should not restrict yourselves to the pool of parents. You can use existing Board members, staff, partners, sponsors, and external networks. Once the Board is selected or elected, you need to prepare them for onboarding and orientation. At this point, you need to arrange for knowledge transfer and relationship-building between the outgoing and ingoing Board members. This will facilitate the first transfer institutional memory. Then you can finetune your succession plan based on the feedback of the Board transitions.

How do you cope with Board turnover?

You need to find the appropriate Board members to ensure a low turnover. You need to understand the future and current needs of the Club. You need to plan for a clear and transparent process for finding and selecting new board members. Existing Board members need to internalize and socialize the mission, vision, and core values of your Club. For future Board members you need to use effective communication channels for your search. The key item is building trust among members and being transparent. By using periodic feedback from the Board and all the stakeholders (players, parents, coaches, staff, fans, sponsors) you can improve the performance of the Board.

How do you assess and address board performance and development needs?

We have the four Cs for this:

• Board Composition,
• Board Culture,
• Board Competencies and
• Board Commitment.

If you have a good Board Composition with correct Competencies in a Committed Board supported by a strong Club Culture, then Board performance will be optimal.

Even though this was a short summary of how to maintain the institutional memory and execute a successful succession plan, it clearly indicates that being non-transitional is not a piece of cake. Through maintaining institutional memory and succession planning, the Club will start to lay down the first stones of having a history, culture and having a belonging feeling among the old, current and future stakeholders. The gap between our youth soccer clubs and ones of the old world will be decreased as described in my earlier article.

Once the Clubs are not transitional then they can plan the future – not live daily – they can have a 30,000-foot approach – and not a myopic one – and be transformational – and not be transactional.