Sport clubs are the lifeblood of national sport development

They need help from sport associations to do their job

Sport clubs are the heart and soul of any national sport effort so building a healthy and thriving club system is vital to performance in any sport. Recently Singapore announced a plan to improve swimming clubs in the state that included five parts that Malaysia may want to consider.

Participation - Building the base of athletes is the best way to improve a sports chances in international competition. No matter the size of the total population the more youngsters that a national governing body (NGB) can get into instructional and training programs the higher the chance that some of those athletes will move into the ranks of high performers. Instead of producing one or two elite level athletes an NGB can easily produce dozens if it makes increasing the number of athletes at the base of the development pyramid one of its priorities.

Creating athlete development pathways - One of the best aspects of a development framework like the LTAD is that there are options that youngsters can choose at various stages throughout their development. The underlying idea is that not everyone is going to be an elite athlete either because they don't have the physical attributes or they are just not interested in becoming one, and that's OK. Different pathways make it possible for those who want to purse active competition to do so but also offer those who simply want to participate that opportunity. No one has to be eliminated because someone decided that sport should only be offered one way.

Youngsters frequently change their outlook on sport activities as their skills or level of performance changes. Thus, experienced coaches try to keep youngsters involved in their sport for as long as possible regardless of a youngsters apparent ability. This accomplishes two goals: First it allows youngsters time to discover if they really have high performance potential in an activity, and second, it keeps young athletes involved in healthy activity over a longer period. The longer youngsters are involved in physical activity the more likely they are to become active and healthy adults.

Coaches or sport associations that are always on misguided 'talent hunts' are missing the boat with many young athletes, some who might become high performers, being passed over because they don't show early ability.

Coaching education - Many sport associations now offer frequent education that is usually run either by the NGB itself or by the international federation for a sport. Unfortunately these courses overemphasize the technical aspects of the sport to the detriment of the sociological aspects of the art of coaching.

Coaches need to understand the big picture of not only what the development pathways in sport are for their athletes but how the coach helps direct athletes onto the appropriate pathway at the appropriate time. Coaches at the youth sport level need to be transformational; they are actually changing people, not merely helping them achieve a goal. Too often though, through attitude or circumstance, they are merely transactional. Associations need to find ways to stop this. There is certainly a place for transactional coaching, it's just not at the developmental level.

Club development - The club itself as the financial, organizational, and sometimes social unit, that both builds sport within a country and holds it together through direct involvement with local athletes and coaches needs proper development strategies and more support from NGBs.

As unbelievable as it may sound, some NGBs act as if clubs were created to serve the national body when, in fact, the opposite should be true. A sport thrives on a solid club system and national bodies should do everything they can not only to support their clubs but to encourage creation of more clubs throughout the country.

In a recent article about the SPLISS pillars we suggested that a club system would strengthen sport by producing more athletes and coaches. We don't often think of coaching development but it's just as important as athlete development and follows many of the same pathways. A club system can support coach education and provide ways for coaches to gain experience.

Also, note that it's club development that we're talking about, not school sport development. There's nothing wrong with school sports but they are not the key to overall national sport development. Schools are not in the sports business and no matter how much we talk about how 'this is where the kids are' schools will never play the role in sport development that many hope.

Training - Malaysians love talking about KPIs and another development topic that would easily translate into KPIs for clubs and associations is training. Many young athletes spend too much not doing anything because training is disorganized and infrequent. Again good club structures can help fix this by offering consistent and frequent training opportunities for athletes of all ages. Make training matter. Start measuring it. What gets measured matters. A key performance indicator for clubs could be created that measured the quality, frequency, consistency, and length of the training sessions offered.

Or how about how many athletes are retained from one month to the next. The number of athletes in training is important but if these are always new athletes then clubs are always starting from scratch. Retention is vital if true transformation is to take place.

Right now the most consistent training offered in the country is for elite level performers and professional athletes. Young athletes need these opportunities also.

The Ministry and each sport association needs to take another look at their club development strategies for 2018. What can be done to strengthen and grow the system?