Boards and Sporting Organisations – The Ten Commandments of Being a Great Sporting Board Member

Boards and Sporting Organisations – The Ten Commandments of Being a Great Sporting Board Member


Boards can be the greatest asset to a Sporting Organisation….they can also be the biggest liability.

Lots of articles and books describe what a Board member is supposed to do from a statutory, legislative perspective but in general that’s not the problem.

The biggest problem in sporting Boards stems from Board members trying to influence the operational side of the Club.

Read this to learn why people often become Bored with Boards……….


Having worked with over 100 sporting organisations – professional, amateur, based in cities and in regional areas, in North America, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia – I can say with confidence, these are the Ten Commandments of being a great Sporting Board member:


  1. Thou shalt not stick thy nose in to the day to day operations of the Club; Without doubt the biggest problem in sporting organisations and their Boards is a lack of clarity in boundaries. Boards lead – the Executive team manages – the Staff, Coaches, Players – act to win games and premierships.The best sporting organisations have clear boundaries and accountabilities across all areas of the business.
  2. Thou shalt never use the terms “Well, the way we did it when I was playing was…” or “The way we do it here is…”. An unfortunate part of Boards is the “old guard” – former players and coaches who were with the team in the “good old days” and see the answer to all their current problems being to go back to the past and to the “real” culture of the Club. WRONG. Nothing in the world goes forwards by looking backwards. Boards lead – which means providing leadership, a strategic vision for the future and a path to progress.
  3. Thou shalt accept the full responsibility and accountability of the role of Board Director; Being a Board member is more than being able to tell people you are one! It comes with a set of responsibilities and accountabilities for the business, financial and competition performance of the Club which are as real and as measurable as any other part of the business.
  4. No matter how much money thou has, thou will never see the Club as a “hobby” to do with as you please; Some franchise teams start up because a group of business people had a lot of disposable income and a passion for the sport so they get together and form a franchise Board. Whilst these franchise Boards are generally well meaning, playing a few games of footy at school does not qualify you – no matter how much money you have got – as an expert in the professional game. Give the Club the benefit of your business skills and leadership but leave running the Club to professionals.
  5. If thou hast a high profile in the media, thou will act in an objective, dignified way and never embarrass the Club; Nothing annoys players more than signing off on a team media code and then seeing Board members say whatever they feel like in public. Board members with high media profiles should use the role to benefit the sport as a whole, to ensure the sustainable financial security of the Club and not feel obligated to comment on team form, team behaviour and team attitudes – why????? – because they are not part of the team!
  6. Thou shalt not use thy Board powers and influence to get special inside deals for thy friends and family; Another big No – no. Team Management and even Executive staff often get thrown into turmoil by unreasonable last minute demands from Board members showing off to their friends and family. The phone rings a few hours before a big game, “Hi John. This is the Chairman. I have some friends in town and I would like 20 tickets, an escorted tour of the change-rooms after the game and they would like to sit in the Coaches box eating chicken and imported Champagne during the second half”.
  7. Thou shalt hire the best professional staff and management possible and then leave them alone to do their jobs; Thankfully the old days of appointing Board members because they represented a State or Region or one self interest group are dead and buried. In most successful sports, Boards are being appointed due to their business skills and professional abilities, e.g. lawyers, accountants, marketing professionals, business management professionals etc. However a Board member with accounting experience is not the Club accountant. Their role is to provide Financial leadership and strategic economic direction to the organisation and not to tick off receipts, add up invoices and “do the books”. Hire good people – provide them with direction and leadership then……….leave them alone!
  8. Thou shalt put a professional process in place for all recruitment and not hire people because of their reputations or “they seem like great people”; Recruiting in sport is a specialist business. Particularly recruiting head coaches where so much of the Club’s performance, reputation and image are all tied up in the one person. The role of the Board in high level recruitment is to ensure there is a robust, honest, objective, professional process in place and to ensure the process is implemented fairly, rigoursly and honestly. The Board provides leadership by determining what the organisation needs to progress, then initiates a professional process to find the right person. As to influencing the outcome…….forget it.
  9. Thou shalt embrace the same standards and rules as embraced and lived by the players, coaches and staff; The issues of player behaviour, player standards, player alcohol management and player attitudes fill the newspapers in every major city around the world. Players are striving to improve in these areas. Coaches and Team Management are working hard to come up with education initiatives, codes of conduct and leadership programs to fix the problems. So…how does a Board member getting drunk and making a fool of himself at a game in the corporate box help the cause? One team – one vision – one set of rules: from the Chairman of the Board to the guy who marks the white lines on the training field!
  10. Thou shalt be committed to thy own personal and professional development and aim to improve all aspects of thy Board skills. Being a Board member doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Players have to commit to ongoing improvement. Staff and management must work on their professional development all the time. Board members are no different.


In the end Leaders (the Board) should lead: Managers (Executive and Management) should manage: and players, coaches and staff should get on and win games!

Clarity in roles: clarity in responsibilities: clarity in accountabilities: Clear?

Wayne Goldsmith

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