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Fast Forward 20 Years – What will be different for Community Sports Clubs

14 Jul 2017

Youth Sports Trust, an English charity “devoted to changing young people’s lives through sport” recently released their latest research (undertaken in partnership with the Future Foundation).

The research sought to determine “What role PE, Sport and physical activity play in the development of our future generations”. Cleverly they titled the resulting outcomes “Class of 2035”.

While the results of this research can be viewed on their very clever website it got me thinking what would sports clubs look like in 20 years from now and more importantly what roles would volunteers be asked to undertake simply for their clubs to survive.

Here are my thoughts on what the four biggest changes community sports clubs face over the next 20 years plus a current challenge I predict getting more cumbersome not less.

24 hour a day, seven days a week operations

For local sports clubs to remain relevant to the participants 20 years into the future they will need to offer activities and competitions in a format that participant’s want, at locations they want at times they want. Potentially “at times they want” is the most challenging concept clubs will have to deal with. Traditionally community sports clubs operate after people have finished work which was easy 20 years ago when everybody worked 9 to 5 but when do people finish work now? What will the concept of work look like 20 years from now? My guess is, as the world gets smaller through improved communication and travel technologies that it will be much more common for people to be finishing “after hours” but very much wanting to participate in sporting activities in non-traditional times.

Will community sports clubs evolve to meet this changing demand or will it continue to be taken up by private operators who are significantly more responsive to the needs and demands of consumers?

Virtual clubs rooms will be equally as important as physical club rooms

Traditionally community sporting clubs have a physical location or club house which becomes the central meeting and socialising place. It is also where honour boards, trophy cabinets and photographs are proudly displayed.

While some clubs will be fortunate enough to have a physical space, 20 years from now the majority of clubs may be forced to move their “club house” online and will have created a virtual club house on the internet (or its equivalent). This is consistent with the changing nature of sport which is now taking place at a variety of times and locations throughout the week. While this may limit people’s ability to physically meet, play and socialise it does not mean that they want to feel like they belong to the club less, in fact the opposite I believe. The more the fragmented the activities provided by the club, the more people will seek to create ways to enhance their sense of belonging and my prediction is that it will be through virtual communities within virtual club rooms.

Most sporting competitions will be “televised”

With the advent of faster and faster communication technology most if not all clubs, at all levels, will “live stream” their competitions. This will mean that clubs will be able to “televise” their competitions directly to audiences of people interested in their club and sport without the need for TV stations. Those clubs who recognise and take advantage of this technological innovation will build significant audiences which will then have a flow on effect for sponsorship, fundraising, recruitment and general club promotions.

Technology will create information overload

At the moment very few community clubs have access to the technological resources of professional sports but this will change as technology improves, internet speeds increase and technology providers learn how to create products for the mass club market.

The potential is unlimited. For example, you could have tennis racquets sending information back to community tennis coaches in real time about how hard a player is hitting a tennis ball and how much spin is being used etc. Sports clothing will start to capture and transmit information about athlete speeds, stamina and endurance and video recordings will instantly convert live action into statistic break downs and analysis.

If the old saying “knowledge is power” is true (which I believe it is) then grass roots clubs will have access to more information than they ever dreamed. It is what Clubs do with this information in the future that could be this biggest determinant of success.

And one thing will not change

Finally, one factor I do not believe will change is the slowing of legislative compliance that clubs will be compelled to undertake. It is highly likely that each of the changes I have predicted will come with a significant compliance burden. The world is changing so fast and with each change there seems to be new legislative compliance for clubs.

So, looking forward 20 years I believe the community sports clubs will be great places to be but a question rarely asked is how will volunteers continue to evolve in our ever changing world? In 20 years from now will our community sports clubs even be run by volunteers? I am not so sure.