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What Is Your Sport’s Field Force Craving?

Posted By Mark Simpson  
17:08 PM

A key weapon for any sport is its frontline human resources dedicated to growing the game. Referred to here as its ‘Field Force’, this off-field team executes development initiatives, supports volunteers, and is often the ‘face’ of the sport and the conduit between head office and key community stakeholders. In this time of challenge and uncertainty for community sport, now is a good time to ask what these critical staff need in order to excel.

Few would argue that a sport’s frontline Field Force, comprising Development Officers, Development Managers, Participation Officers (or whatever you happen to call them) is a critical asset for any sport. Those well-funded sports that have a strong Field Force are the envy of those of lesser means. However, that’s not to say that a Field Force is always properly deployed, focused and supported.

All too often, Field Force staff are left to their own devices, without appropriate guidance, leadership, resources and tools. In fact in my experience, great Field Force staff are sometimes great in spite of their environment, rather than because of it.

It is vital that sports support their Field Force in a way that sets them up to succeed. As a state or national sporting organisation manager thinking about how you might do that, it doesn’t hurt to start with the question, what does your Field Force want from you?

Three Things Your Field Force Craves

Before I share three things that your Field Force is crying out for, you should note that, despite some experience in a casual capacity many years ago, I have never held a full-time Field Force role. Therefore, the following insights are based less on first-hand experience and more on hundreds of conversations over several years with Field Force personnel, those who manage them and their customers (volunteers, administrators, participants, etc.). By way of a ‘mea culpa’, I’m sure there were times in my former life working in the ‘ivory tower’ of an NSO that I was accused of not delivering on some of these needs nearly as well as I should have. But we live and learn, and hopefully by sharing them others can avoid getting similar grazes on their knees (and I can be forgiven for any past wrongdoings)!

  1. Tell them exactly what you want from them

Much as its hard for an athlete to score if they don’t know where the goals are, it’s equally hard for staff to perform if they don’t know exactly what you want of them.

There are few roles in sport for which this point is more salient. Why? Because your Field Force sits at the juncture of a multitude of stakeholders including the state body, national body, local governance groups (e.g. Regional Committees), local associations, clubs, coaches, players, parents and local governments all of whom have different (and often conflicting) expectations and objectives.

It’s vital that those in the field are given absolute clarity of what outcomes they’re expected to achieve (and what they’re not). More than that, they also need the top-level cover from their senior leaders to help them communicate that role to their stakeholders and, if necessary, push back on expectations and requests not in the job description.

  1. Give them what they need to do their job

How would you feel going out to open the batting in a cricket match without a bat, gloves or helmet? Exposed? Unprepared? Unsafe? Petrified?!

That’s exactly how Field Force staff can feel when they’re sent out to work without the resources, knowledge, skills and tools they need to do their job. This applies to their job as a whole, but also to individual portfolios. For example, if the Field Force feels prepared, knowledgeable and skilled in matters to do with coaching but ill-prepared, naïve and unqualified in school engagement, where do you think they will invest their time and effort? Investing in intricate performance schemes or management structures to re-focus this effort won’t help – your Field Force (being human, as they are) will always gravitate to the things that they most enjoy (Talent, anyone?), and / or where they feel safe, prepared and equipped.

  1. Listen to (and act upon) what they have to say

If you want to know what it’s like to compete in the Olympics, ask an athlete who has done so. They’ve been in the thick of it, felt the pressure, experienced the atmosphere and dealt with the nerves step by step, stroke by stroke.

Similarly, if you want to understand what’s happening at your sport’s grassroots, ask your Field Force. These people are out there every day, having hundreds of interactions with the people that you (as the governing body) are there to serve. Your Field Force staff are walking, talking Survey Monkeys!

It’s no wonder then that they get frustrated when yet another edict is pushed out from head office without seeking their input. Not only could they have told you what was or wasn’t going to work before you wasted your time, but they’re also the ones that have to cop the bullets from disgruntled stakeholders when it all goes pear shaped. On the other side, if you don’t communicate meaningfully with your Field Force you might be overlooking issues absolutely critical to your sport’s participants.

What the Field Force wants is meaningful, genuine and responsive two-way engagement not only in the development, but also in the rollout, of key initiatives. Trust me, they want to help-you-help-them to make your initiatives relevant and effective. But beware: if they communicate honestly and frankly you might not always like what you hear! Don’t shoot the messenger – work with them to get it right!


It’s a sure bet that the wish list of your Field Force contains many more items than I can write about here. Help dealing with many and varied stakeholders, the feeling of having many masters, the ever-increasing breadth and depth of the roles, managing peak seasonal workloads, and trying to find just one free evening to sit on the couch and watch The Bachelor rather than attending club meetings, participation programs or presentation nights all spring to mind. But these three, big ticket and actionable items are not a bad place to start.

If you’ve spent time in the field, what else do you crave from ‘head office’? Have you experienced great initiatives that have addressed these issues? Are you a manager that has other ways of getting the best out of your Field Force? Tell me about them on LinkedIn, or get in touch directly via (Who We Are) or