Retaining Athletes from School Sport.

Some thoughts by Brian Minikin


Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) Secretary General, ‘Dato Sieh Kok Chi has asked for opinion on a number of matters that he raised following the observation of the Selangor Volleyball Association Under 14 and Under 16 Championships.

He observed that:

  1. Of the 20 teams participating in the competition, all were essentially school teams.
  2. It was noted that in the current sport structures, realistically only schools could organise teams in these age groups.
  1. State teams selected 20 players into a training squad of which 12 will go on to participate in the national championships.
  2. Players not selected to play in the national championships would not get the opportunity to play again until the following year.
  3. Under this system young players get to play volleyball for only 8 weeks of the year and once the leave school the majority leave the sport and stop playing completely.

‘Dato Sieh Kok Chi then posed the following questions:

  1. Why is the state association organising competition for the schools and not the state schools sports councils?
  2. Why doesn’t the State Association organise adult championship or leagues?
  3. How do we go about retaining people in sport after they leave school?

He suggests that the answer could be that there are no clubs and facilities for school leavers to play many sports in Malaysia, after work. Those who enter universities and colleges can still play, but many would give up sport, to focus on their studies.  One of the reasons is that they might have played too much sport at school level and have become stale and since they are not improving, they simply stop playing.

The purpose of this brief paper is to examine how to encourage the school leavers to continue to play sport? In answering this question an attempt will be made to examine the responsibilities for running sport competition and the type of competition framework that might encourage more people to continue to play sport on into adulthood.


The context in which this question is posed has a well-defined sports structure in which the following stakeholders have been identified:

  • Schools
  • Clubs
  • State School Sports Councils
  • State Sport Councils
  • State Sport Associations
  • National Sport Associations
  • National School Sport Association
  • National Sports Council
  • National Olympic Committee

The question asks who should be responsible for organising competitions and activities for the various potential client groups and what are the main factors that retain people to participate in regular organised sporting activity? Client Groups might include:

  • School Children
  • School leavers
  • University Students
  • Young Adults
  • Older Adults
  • People with disabilities or other special needs.
  • Others.

The core business of a sports organisation that is responsible for a particular sport code is to organise regular and frequent competitions or activities for its members, who have been attracted to the organisation because of their kindred interest in a specific type of activity or sport.

The reasons why people play sport are many and varied. Many reasons are given from getting fit, to releasing their tensions or aggressions in a controlled environment. Some like to compete to win, while others enjoy the physical activity itself and the acquisition of skills. Others again join for the social aspects, because their peer group plays a particular sport or it is seen as ‘cool’ to play or take part in a particular sport. Others may just want to meet people and choose a sporting activity that attracts people with similar interests as themselves.

Research shows that it is quite difficult for an individual who has no social connections to a sport club to be able to join in and adapt easily to the competitive sport environment. Also with many people having busy lives, it is getting increasingly difficult to find people who can commit time regularly to a team for training and competition.

To understand how this might work in the Malaysian context it may help to look at the fundamental aspects of sport organisations and sport competitions how they are structured and why, before applying the discussion to the specific question raised above.

The Nature of Competition

A sports competition is considered to be a competitive activity that aims to determine a winning outcome

Consequently, the nature of competitive sport essentially discourages participation. Competition formats ultimately result in a single winner, whether this is achieved via a fleet race system as in athletics, swimming, rowing and sailing, a round robin system where teams or individuals all pay each other with the best performed teams playing off in a grand final, or a knockout competition system commonly seen in racquet sports, combat sports and characterised by a winner goes to the next round while the loser drops out format.

The shedding of participants also applies to the processes used to select teams as described above in referencing the example of the Selangor Volleyball championships. From 20 teams, one team is selected to go onto the next stage of competition, which means that in this example, 5% of the participants will continue to play while the rest return to nothing.

Sports organisations compensate for this by simply offering more competitions so that people can ‘try again’ or by establishing graded competition that allows ‘more people or teams to win’.

In Volleyball, the conduct a similar model of competition that has been described for Malaysia, that is, State or district based competitions that select teams to prepare for National competition that select teams to represent the nation internationally has been accepted as the normal practice for this sport.

Regardless of the competition framework chosen, participation in competitive sport is designed to determine an outcome that essentially recognises an overall winner or champion. Additional incentives to perform are provided by awarding medals for place getters down to third place or implementing a points system that rewards participation and weights points depending on the overall finishing position.

For sports such as athletics, a ‘fleet’ racing format is generally employed where competitors race in heats with the top finishers going on to semi finals and finals. Regardless of the number of competitors there will only be a defined number of finalists, usually 8 and of these, 3 will win medals.

For example, of all the people in the world who race over 100m, around 100 will get the opportunity to race at the Olympic Games and of these only 8 will participate in the final. If the Olympic Games 100m final was the only significant race held over this distance and this only occurs every four years, then it is going to be difficult to retain people in this particular sporting event.

In a major tennis tournament, exactly 50% of the participants are eliminated on the first round of competition. For a professional tennis player this simply means packing their bags and moving on to the next tournament. However if such tournament were only held 1 a year, it may well be difficult to retain players beyond the top half a dozen or so who will win the prize money.

For sports organisations to retain participation then, they need to be able to offer more competitions and preferably have them graded to allow more people the opportunity to win something. As such a small percentage of people ‘win’ in sport, winning alone cannot be the primary motivation for participation.

To answer the questions posed, consideration has been given to the definition of a sports organisation and the nature of a sports organisation as discussed at Attachment 1.

In order to get people to participate in sporting activity on an ongoing basis, it needs to be available on an ongoing basis.

In Malaysia, which operates under a Federal/State sports structure not unlike that of Australia, teams may play at club level in district competition and either competes as a club at a State Championship or as part of District Team. The problem of breaking up a club however to take out the best players to form a district team is that you immediately break the social structure of the team and interfere with one of the main driving forces for participation in sport. i.e. ‘playing with your mates’. To compensate for this, some volleyball associations in different parts of the world also organise State and National Club Championships with some continental bodies, like Asia also offering Regional Club Championships and tournaments so that people who do like to play together can stay together and compete at the highest level possible depending on whether they win or not.

The alternative is to have a District Championship to select a team to play in the State Championships from which a squad is picked to compete in the National Championships. This might result in stronger teams however as previously mentioned it can cause a rupture in the social structure of the sport and result in people dropping out as their mates move on.

The next challenge is to cater for the ones who go no further.

Graded competition that allows people to find success at their particular level is the most common way to tackle this. Alternatively a season of competition that is available on an ongoing basis. While the ‘winners’ go on to the next level of events, the ‘losers’ need to find alternate competitions that give them another opportunity to compete and therefore an incentive to keep training and playing the sport.

This raises another problem though. If sport is organised that lock people into a competition and a team for too long a period, their busy lives may make it too hard for them to commit and hence they are likely to drop out of the sport. To cater for these people, there appears to be a rise in the number of casual leagues that allow people to turn up and join any team without having to commit for a whole season.

Who is Responsible?

The ‘owner’ of Volleyball in Malaysia is the Malaysian Volleyball Federation.

In theory, any volleyball activity that takes place within the national boundaries of Malaysia should be sanctioned or licensed by the National Body. In the ideal world then, any volleyball activity that is held in Malaysia should have a clear link to the NSA. Many confuse this however and suggest that the NSA should be the one to organise the events. However it might be better to look at it another way.


Sport is organised on a continuum from community and club level all the way to international and world championships. In essence, by virtue of affiliation with the NSA concerned and ultimately by the affiliation of the NSA to the IF, any organisation can arrange to conduct a specific sport competition. Traditionally this is done so that one leads to another either as part of a circuit of events or by virtue of competition to attain success and qualify for the next level of competition. More recently this line have become blurred as sport organisation strive to deliver sport for leisure and recreation rather than competitive success.

At any point in the continuum from grass roots to international competition, commercial or government driven organisations can freely operate. Ideally however they do so in collaboration with the NSA as the agent for the International Governing Body for the sport concerned.

So the simple answer to the questions posed are that Clubs and States should organise competitions for adults and for juniors as they see fit. However if possible they should be assisting schools to conduct their activities as well and encourage them to be members of the SSA or NSA as appropriate.

Apart from help to form a smooth pathway for young athletes out of schools into other avenues of activity it also encourage people to stay together. One of the problems facing many sports organisations, particularly competitive ones is that they place barriers to new members due to their parochial or ‘tribal’ nature. So in addition to their being competitive reasons for people being excluded for playing sport there are also strong social and socio economic reasons as well and many sports organisations fail to recognize these factors and turn away many more potential participants than they can retain. This does not even factor in the obvious elements of access to facilities and equipment as well as people with appropriate skills and so on.

To overcome all of these elements then the following model is proposed based on the simple premise that competition in some form or another for any particular sport must be available on an ongoing basis and a level required to cater for the people who aspire to play the sport.

To solve the problems observed and that have been observed world wide, it is necessary to look at the role of the NSA as a licensing agent as well as an event organizer. Within each of the levels there then needs to be more competitions organised to cater for the participants who are eliminated from a current competition or who do not make the natural progression from one level to the next.

Furthermore their needs to be a natural progression from one type of competition to another, i.e. from community to club/school, school to club, District to State and so on. The opportunity to progress is the essence of sport and this needs to continue. The challenge is to ensure the other opportunities follow on a frequent and regular basis and that the barriers to participation are recognised and dealt with on an ongoing basis.

It is my view that the NSA is central to this process and should be the primary facilitating agent in any country to ensure the sport is connected properly from the casual community base to the structured elite level and that this occurs as seamlessly as possible.

Finally then to answer the posed questions:

  1. Why is the state association organising competition for the schools and not the state schools sports councils?

In my view it is ideal if the SSA and the State School Association either amalgamate or collaborate to help reduce the barriers of transferring from school to club or mainstream sport. In my experience, having to leave your school and find a club program that will accept you, unless you come with a good reputation is both intimidating and difficult. Most people opt to stop here. Furthermore, many people do become busy with life and prefer not to commit to the discipline of regular training and competition. This is particularly true of people who have no real ambition for a sport or who are not overly talented. Clubs/States need to be able to conduct casual or ‘pick-up’ activities to cater for these people and use these programs to attract people into more formal or structured leagues as they gain confidence or skills.

At the very least they remain an important source of income for the Club. Also by working together with schools, a ‘win-win’ situation can be created as the school and club/association work together to create opportunities for the people they are associated with. The schools may provide facilities and people, while the latter provide the competition and training equipment and expertise. The most successful club programs that I have worked in were either school or University based that worked in harmony with a club or State Association.

  1. Why doesn’t the State Volleyball Association organise adult championship or leagues?

They certainly should be doing this and on an ongoing basis, all year round with combinations of casual leagues, formal leagues, tournaments and special or even novelty events that draw on community support and family involvement.

The challenge for all competitive sport organisations is to become more welcoming and make the effort to cater for everyone, particularly the majority (the ones who lose).

  1. How do we go about retaining people in sport after they leave school?

If the above 2 questions are dealt with and all stakeholders work together in support of each other’s activities, this becomes a far more likely outcome.

It is also important however to allow people to find their ‘comfort zone’ and cater for it while at the same time ensure that there is a fair and seamless pathway from one level of competitiveness to the next. In-built into this is the need to ensure that they can be challenged to move on if they wish to.

Sport organisations need to at some point realise that they are a provider of a service and need to establish a reward and incentive system that encourages people to stay in the sport and remain with the organisation. This is a fundamental principle of business but one, which is often forgotten by sport administrators.

It has to be about more than just the sport. Camaraderie, success, opportunity to progress, opportunity to improve or try again, social contact, developing skills, providing a sense of belonging are just some of the many factors that need to be considered in making a competitive sport club viable and able to retain members.

It is not always about reward either. Many young successful athletes quit sport because they have been a state or national rep when they were 14 and no longer feel that there is anything else to strive for? So it should never be assumed that success alone would keep people in sport.


At the end of the day if people find a sport they enjoy, a group of people that they enjoy and opportunity to pursue their interest with as few barriers as possible. Competitive sport by its very nature discourages participation and encourages exclusivity. As sports administrators, our job is to manage that process and ensure that other avenues open up for those who reach the dead ends.



Who is more important? – Leaders or Managers?

Friday, 6 July 2017


When general audience are talking about leaders and managers often they use that words synonymously (Ratcliffe, 2013). After analysing the skills of those two roles from different sources, I can finally highlight the diversity between leadership and management and give a clear answer that who is more important in the sport organizations.

Manager vs Leaders

By definition, managers is a trustworthy in working with the assets of the organization. They are dedicated to the organizational success and they emphasizes rationality and control. They are analytical and recognize patterns. Their management style is transactional, they have subordinates and their power is a formal authority. Managers are subordinate too. They are problem solver and risk-averse and they will try to avoid conflict where possible. (Zotos, 2008) (, 2002) (Zaleznik 2004).

Billy Beane ( Beane (

A great manager is Billy Beane portrayed by Brad Pitt in the movie Moneyball. He decided to minimize the expenditure and save money to the organization. He was using a scientific approach to evaluate potential and capabilities of the players with the support of statistical analysis; small teams can compete with the big clubs by buying assets that are undervalued by other teams and selling ones that are overvalued by other organizations. Those are merely managerial decisions.

By definition leaders demonstrate integrity and exercise self-denial for the good of the organization. They are dedicated to the well-being of all stakeholders and completely service oriented. They have a transformational style, they develop new approaches to problems and create issues to new opportunity. Leaders even if they are working for the organizations they never belong to them. Their sense of who they are does not depend on position in the work place as indicator of their identity. Leaders have the ability to engage and attract followers with their charismatic style and it does not require a loud personality. They are good with people but in order to keep the leadership, they often retain a degree of separation and aloofness. Their quiet styles that giving credit to others are very effective at creating the loyalty that great leaders engender. (Zotos, 2008) (Haslam and Reicher, 2016) (Zaleznik 2004) (, 2002).

Carlo Ancelotti (Getty Photo)

Carlo Ancelotti one of the most successful football manager is an expert practitioner in leading talented players and he is the best person to explain the quiet approach to leadership. It is might sound soft and weak but Mr. Ancelotti is highlighting that the quiet leadership is a strength. There is authority being calm and measured, in building trust and making decision in a composed manner, in using influence and encouragement and in being professional in the approach. The power should be implicit, their authority must result from respect and trust than fear. (Ancelotti, Brady, Forde, 2016). Leaders are risk-seeking when they pursuing their vision, they are comfortable with problems and will see ways that others avoid as potential opportunities. (, 2002).

Ranieri in the light put Mourinho in the shade (Skysport 2016)

The antagonism between Jose Mourinho vs Claudio Ranieri can explain better what leadership means. Mr. Mourinho is the ‘Special One’, Mr. Ranieri is ‘the One who makes Leicester City Special’. Mourinho’s failure follow a path from ‘WE’ to ‘I’. It is a route that lost the support from his followers both players, supporters and the owner. In total contrast Ranieri follow the course from ‘I’ to ‘We’. Claudio by the time arrived at the Foxes had learned the hard way to become a leader from his previous managerial failures. His redemption born when he understand that no longer was his coaching a subject matter of imposing his personal views on the team; rather it was a matter of helping the team discover their collective will (Haslam and Reicher, 2016): ‘When I spoke with the players I realized that they were afraid of the Italian tactics… So I told the players that I trusted them and would speak very little of tactics… They need to be relaxed and not harassed…’ (Percy, 2016). That is one of the reasons that have driven his players to success. It underlies their joint talent to make history (Haslam and Reicher, 2016).

The framework below highlight and give the awareness of differences between being a leader and being a manager.

Subject Leader Manager
Essence Change Stability
Focus Leading people Managing work
Have Followers Subordinates
Horizon Long-term Short-term
Seeks Vision Objectives
Approach Sets direction  Plans detail
Decision Facilitates Makes
Power Personal charisma Formal authority
Appeal to Heart Head
Energy Passion Control
Culture Shapes Enacts
Dynamic Proactive Reactive
Persuasion Sell Tell
Style Transformational Transactional
Exchange Excitement for work Money for work
Likes Striving Action
Wants Achievement Results
Risk Takes Minimizes
Rules Breaks Makes
Conflict Uses Avoids
Direction New roads Existing roads
Truth Seeks Establishes
Concern What is right Being right
Credit Gives Takes
Blame Takes Blames

Keep in mind that a single person can be a leader and simultaneously a manager too. In many sport organization leaders do have subordinates but only because they are also managers. Also managers can be leaders and tend to have followers too (, 2002). All three football managers I mentioned above they have both roles in their club with some differences. Some is more leader than other but all of them are winners.


We can’t say one role is more important than other. Sport organizations need both managers and leaders to succeed and reach their own goals. They both are playing an integral role in the operation of the sport business (Zeleznik, 2004). If a sport institution is running effectively, managers and leaders will work in tandem (Ratcliffe, 2013). Leadership and management need to be collaborative between them and with the organizations. Sport businesses must have a balance between management and leadership depends on the environment in which they operates. If the situation is not changing and the club is stable, the management is essential but at the time of crisis and organizational transformation, leaders has never be more essential. (Ratcliffe, 2013).

In conclusion we can summarize all above descriptions and informations with the follow religious symbol ‘Yin and Yang’. This image describe perfectly how two different roles as Manager and Leader, can actually be compatible and interdependent in the sport business and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.


(Paul Recchia Photo)
Any sport organization to be a successful must have managers with some leadership skills and leaders with some management skills.


Ratcliffe, R. (Monday 29 July 2013) What’s the difference between leadership and management? The Guardian. Available:[Accessed: October 3, 2016].

Zotos C. (No Date) Are You A “Manager” or A “Leader”? Sports Management Resources. Available:[Accessed October 3, 2016].

Zaleznik, A. (2004) Managers and leaders: Are they different? Harvard Business Review82 (1), pp. 74-81.

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How can the Scottish Football Association create a competitive advantage?

America Saves Scottish Football

Can an American pastime be beneficial to the Scottish Football Association and can create a competitive advantage?  Don’t worry… Donald Trump has nothing to do with this.

The SFA website literally states: “The Scottish FA exists to promote, foster, and develop the game at all levels in this country” (Scottish Football Association, 2016).  They are currently focused on creating a competitive advantage by ‘fostering’ youth ‘development’ by heavily investing resources into the future of Scottish football (PA Sport, 2016).  That leaves one thing the SFA is not currently doing… ‘promoting’.  Hands down the most successfully marketed league in the world is the NFL.  So, what can Scottish football copy from this league and take back home to create a competitive advantage?

An introduction to tailgating…

(SHOWTIME Sports, 2011)

Competitive advantage currently operates on the idea of universality.  While there are many negatives surrounding that idea (especially in the Olympic movement) it is a great concept that the SFA should be looking to make better.  It is beautifully integrated into the culture of tailgating.  Everybody should be able to participate regardless of whether you have tickets to the game.

(Bauer, 2011)

Generally, there are activities set up that allow fan interaction and participation.  Football stadiums have large field goal posts set up for people to practice kicking a ball through, sometimes there are simple combine tests such as the 40-yard dash or vertical jump set up to test people’s athleticism.  Here are some of the basic rules for a successful tailgate party!

“A competitive advantage is an advantage over competitors gained by offering consumers greater value” (Riley, 2016).

(Riley, 2016)

By using a Differentiation Strategy, the SFA will be able to create a competitive advantage and offer customers a unique experience.  Tailgating is something that no other league in Europe currently offers and it has proven successful in other countries around the world.  For further proof the SFA can study the well received tailgating experience outside the NFL in London series.

(Miketinac, 2014)

An NFL goer spends $196 USD per game on tailgating food, drinks, and other supplies (Wolff-Mann, 2015).  There is a huge opportunity to provide these services to fans at the stadium and see them spend money at the game instead of at the pub where it is already expensive.  The value added from a unique experience like tailgating allows for premium prices to be charged (Michail, 2011).  Additional long term benefits for clubs include increased tickets sales and alumni support (Drenten, Peters, Leigh & Hollenbeck, 2009).

(De Bosscher, De Knop, Van Bottenburg & Shibli, 2006 )

We can look at the SPLISS model for direction on how successful sports organizations and countries create a competitive advantage.  The SFA should be focusing its resources and shaping its structure to achieve competitive advantage based on the pillars outlined.

As stated before, Scotland wants to invest heavily in youth player development.  I believe the SFA are to some extent following this model.  Their focus is on youth development which requires better training facilities, coaching development, talent development, talent identification, etc.  The first pillar in De Bosscher et al (2006) graph is ‘Financial Support’.  What tailgating will do is allow Scotland to create a stronger bottom pillar from which the SFA can balance on.  How can you climb a ladder without the bottom rung?  Increased revenue and fan involvement will allow them to have a larger pool of resources of which to work with.

Can tailgating be considered a useful resource for the SFA in creating a competitive advantage?

Resources are the key to an organisation creating a sustainable competitive advantage (Anderson, Birrer 2011).  The VRIO framework helps to distinguish the difference between temporary and sustainable.

Valuable An experience not seen before in this country which generates further interest in the sport as well as more opportunities for the SFA to profit.

Rare American style tailgating has not been done before in football across the United Kingdom and Scotland would be the first to market; was done with success for the recent NFL games in London.

Imitability It is… if you want to fly 5000 miles to America.  You could argue that a substitute is the current tradition of pub culture in the UK but the concept of tailgating is a very different experience so I would argue it is not.

Organisationally Appropriate Tailgating is accessible for everybody that can come down to the stadium.  You don’t need a ticket to the match to participate, the limit literally comes down to the size of the car park.

What does the SFA currently have to work with?

Scottish football has an incredibly loyal fan base who spend a lot of money on supporting their team.  Supporters are far more likely to attend home matches than they are to travel for away games with 52% of respondents attending 11+ home matches a year (Scottish Football Association, 2013).  64% of those people travel to the stadium by car and 51% attend the match with a group of their male friends (Scottish Football Association, 2013).  Just under a quarter of respondents (23%) go to the games with family or their spouse or children (Scottish Football Association, 2013).  Tailgating will help to change these statistics and bring more families to the game.

Their current spending habits are outlined below:

(Scottish Football Association, 2013)

These are all areas where the NFL tailgating experience takes advantage.  The money goes straight into the team’s pockets and increases their resources with which that can use to improve their team by building better facilities, hiring better coaches, and paying for better players.  A successful tailgate experience directly creates a successful on field product.

Further interest in the report can be found here.

Steps the SFA needs to undertake to implement this:

(Adams, 2012)

To start the SFA should look to implement this concept at national team matches only; control and monitor how well this phenomenon translates to Scotland.  First with the women’s team as traditionally their environment is tamer and easer to see how fans react before rolling it out for the men’s side.

Start by charging food truck vendors to use the space to sell to customers outside the stadium fan zone (Belson, 2013).  It would not be hard to construct a few tents with additional food and drink options.  Set up a beer garden for additional sales before the match starts and intrigue some of the people out of neighbouring bars.  Have a general store that sells a few essential items that tailgaters might need (i.e. weather ponchos, ice for coolers) (Kaplan, 2015).  Finally, maximize on merchandising opportunities by bringing kit and scarf sales outside to official team store kiosks on the car park plaza (Belson, 2013).  Steph made a great comment to me, tailgating isn’t something that requires a lot of time to implement.  This can be tested by the SFA as early as next year.

Why it might not work:

The first thing that pops into everyone’s mind is the weather.  It rains too much in the UK for people to stand out in the cold car park for hours socializing.  Although that doesn’t stop fans in the United States when winter gets to be -25 Celsius and the snow mounds are ten feet tall…

There is history of rival fans being violent.  This separation is already happening in pubs where fans of one team will go to their bar and fans of the other go to a different one.  Some obvious major differences between pubs and car parks but the general concept isn’t too far off.  In America the crowds at NFL games can get rowdy but not to the same level that they do here in the UK.  A more in depth look at whether or not Scottish football fans can support this idea without violence is required.

(Koken, 2012)

Are the car parks large enough to host people outside the stadium (Chula, 2010)?  I haven’t been to very many stadiums across the UK but I feel like Hampden park has a large enough area to trial run some national team games.


(McCarthy, 2016)

The SFA can toy with wearing highlighter pink jerseys all it wants but these small attempts at differentiation have not been effective. It is time for Scottish football to use Porter’s Differential Strategy and go a different direction in trying to fund their projects.  Tailgating can create a unique experience and generate increased fan support as well as provide additional revenue boosts which in turn will create a larger resource pool for the SFA to execute its master plan of exceptional youth development.  These funds are used to create better training facilities and coaching development, boosting the Scottish national program for the long term.  That is how the SFA is going to create a successful, sustainable competitive advantage.  Maybe they can also pay for a different jersey while they’re at it… there must have been a discount on these in the store.


Adams, S. 2012, Dilbert – Monday October 29, 2012. Available:

Anderson, K. & Birrer, G.E. 2011, “Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage: A Resource Based Analysis of the Gonzaga University Men’s Basketball Program”, Journal of Sports Administration & Supervision, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. November 18, 2016. Available:–creating-a-sustainable-competitive-advantage-a-resource?rgn=main;view=fulltext.

Bauer, J. 2011, The Demise Of The Buffalo Bills Tailgate [Football Nation], Available:

BBC 2014, Why have tailgate parties not spread to the UK?. Available:

Belson, K. 2013, The Tailgate Experience, British Style [The New York Times], Available:

Blend, D. 2014, The 21 Cruicial Rules of Tailgating Etiquette [Thrillist], Available:

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De Bosscher, V., De Knop, P., Van Bottenburg, M. & Shibli, S. 2006, “A Conceptual Framework for Analysing Sports Policy Factors Leading to International Sporting Success”, European Sport Management Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 185.

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How can the Scottish Football Association create a competitive advantage?

With the men’s national squad sitting at 67th in the FIFA world rankings, and having failed to reach a major tournament since 1998, gaining a competitive advantage is perhaps more important than ever before for the SFA. But short of cloning everyone’s favourite Scotsman, Steven Naismith, ten times to form a world-class team, what can really be done to drag our beloved Football Association out of these dark times?


Steven Naismith faces up to Ireland’s James McClean in last year’s Euro 2016 qualifier (Daily Record, 2015)

So, what exactly is competitive advantage?

According to Robinson and Minikin (2012), competitive advantage is “the strategic advantage that one organisation has over others that operate within its competitive industry”. My immediate reaction would be that Scotland has absolutely no chance. How can a nation of around 5,000,000 people even begin to compete with Germany, Brazil or even (dare I say it) the Auld Enemy?

The same could be asked about Portugal, a relatively small nation who achieved success at this year’s European Championships in France, despite the disappointment of Ronaldo’s early exit from the final. We could also look at Iceland, who surpassed all expectations at Euro 2016 to knock England out in the last 16. The key point in the definition above is that competitive advantage is a result of strategic planning. To gain this advantage, an organisation must know its strengths, and its weaknesses, and play to these. This is obviously an area in which both Portugal and Iceland are ahead of Scotland’s game…

How can the SFA gain competitive advantage?

Leigh’s lecture slides note that in order to gain a competitive advantage, an organisation must have strategies which:

  • Focus resources on priorities
  • Create alliances with other sports/nations
  • Focus on other events

I hope that by looking at these in turn, a conclusion can be reached on the steps I feel would be appropriate for the SFA to take on this journey.

Focus Resources on Priorities

The obvious priority for the SFA is the men’s first team – the pinnacle of sport in Scotland (albeit not a very high one). I agree with this, but I do feel that to gain this elusive competitive advantage, the organisation needs to look to the future. Writing off a generation, and looking to the future, is possibly the most effective move here. Karamoko Dembele, the 13-year old ‘wonder-kid’ currently playing at Celtic, is eligible for Scotland, England or the Ivory Coast. Having represented Scotland at under 16 level in the Victory Shield, it is widely rumoured that Dembele wants to be a Scotland player, having grown up in the country. If he, and others of his age, meet their potential, is it maybe best for the SFA to pin their hopes on Euro 2024?

If this is the case, the SFA must put as much as it can into youth football. In steps Oriam, Scotland’s new performance sport facility at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Now hosting Youth Internationals and training camps on a regular basis, facilities like this one could become invaluable to the SFA, providing the organisation with access to world-class pitches and sports science technologies.

Create Alliances With Other Nations

It’s no secret that the SPFL is far from world-class in terms of the quality of football being played. The most recent Scotland squad contained just 8 players plying their trade in the domestic leagues, with all but one of the remaining players featuring for English clubs. This may not be an official partnership or alliance, but I would argue that this pattern should continue if we want success on an international level. To gain an advantage, Scottish players must be pitting themselves against the world’s best on a regular basis, and unfortunately this just isn’t going to happen if they’re playing against Partick Thistle four times a year. Having Scottish players competing in the EPL or English Championship (or even further afield in Europe’s other top leagues) will improve the quality of the squad.

Focus on Other Events

I’ve already said that the SFA’s current priority is the men’s first team. But what if they moved away from that? The Women’s National Team, in stark contrast to their male counterparts, sit at a respectable 21st in the FIFA Rankings, and have just qualified for their first major tournament – next year’s European Championships in the Netherlands.

Across the world, footballing nations tend to (with the exception, perhaps, of countries such as Canada and the USA) put the focus on their men’s representative squads. It could be the case that, if the SFA wants to create something with allows them to differentiate themselves and gain a competitive advantage, they should focus on Women’s football, where they are already performing above the level which may be expected of such a small nation.

In women’s football, Scotland again has the issue that the league is not providing a competitive environment for our top players. The SWPL is dominated by Glasgow City, who have won the league for the past 10 seasons. Their only realistic competition comes from Hibs, who this season managed to take both domestic cups back to Edinburgh. This, however, is something which can still be changed. In comparison to the longstanding dominance of the Old Firm in the men’s game, this pattern is relatively new. Professional players are starting to pop up at women’s clubs across the country, which will improve the quality of the league and can hopefully reverse the trend of young girls leaving Scotland to ply their trade in the English WSL or on the Continent.


It’s important to remember that gaining a competitive advantage doesn’t necessarily mean you become the best in the world (which is lucky for the SFA, as that’s just not going to happen). It’s about playing to your strengths, and doing something different so that you can reach your strategic goals. After considering the options above, I would argue that the SFA should look to the future. Whilst it may upset the Tartan Army, it is important that the nation focuses on the promising youth players we have coming through. All too often, young stars fail to live up to their potential and are lost, only to reappear years later in the lower leagues.

Women’s football should also become a priority – this is an area in which Scotland can really excel by being an ‘early adopter’. The SFA should focus on marketing and promoting the team – and encouraging the Tartan Army to follow them in their journey to the Euros next summer. Success breeds success – and it just might be that having a successful and well-supported women’s squad can only serve to help improve the quality and performance of our men’s team too!


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FIFA. (2016). Women’s Ranking. Available: Last accessed 27th November 2016.

Oriam. (2016). Oriam Facilities. Available: Last accessed 27th November 2016.

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YouTube –  GC 23. (2016). UEFA Euro 2016 Final : Cristiano Ronaldo exits with knee injury. Available: Last accessed 15th November 2016.

YouTube – Scout Nation. (2016). KARAMOKO DEMBELE | Goals, Skills, Assists | Celtic | 2016. Available: Last accessed 15th November 2016.

Women in Coaching – Why so Few? by Michael Leatt

What is the Story?

In November 2017, Stacey Frances of Sports Coach UK reported to Skythat “Only 10 per cent of UK coaches are women, which is a problem,”. If she is right, that is a stark statistic. A coach tracking study undertaken by Sports Coach UK in 2012 identified 30% of the coaching population to be made up of women. So, which is accurate? Probably both; the first statistic may be to be referring to the ratio within the British Olympic Team, whilst the latter encompasses all categories including volunteers. That same report also identified that women make up only 18% of the qualified coaching workforce. None of these figures reflects the UK society gender ratio of 51% of women.

As part of a continuing social trend, various movements have been established with the aim of increasing women’s involvement in previously male dominated environments, of which sports coaching is no exception. The Women’s Sport Foundation, started by Billie Jean King to advance the lives of girls through sport and physical activity, produced a hard hitting statement  to address several ‘myths’ around the premise that women prefer male coaches. In a similar vein to Stacey France’s comment, it appears to take a relatively extreme view by focussing strongly on the problem rather than seeking to address the solution. This use of a Critical Theory approach (Coakley, 2009) may have the desired effect of raising profile but does not necessarily win support. On the other hand, some sports still retain values firmly based in the interests of men with power. Where such sports are global, and ownership sits within countries whose cultures have moved very little with the times, even a hardcore Feminist Theory approach would have little impact.

Evidence of Change

Nevertheless, there is growing evidence from interviews, shifts in theemphasis of NGBs and research (Light, 2013) to suggest that the sporting landscape is changing and female coaches are gaining credibility. It is easier in some sports to make the transition towards a gender balance of coaches. In my sport of hockey, whilst I identify with the 30% figure quoted by Sports Coach UK in 2012, I see a  more equitable state of affairs. The Regional Performance Centre set up in Bristol, this year, has a female manager in  charge, a male lead coach and coaches in the ratio of 50:50, albeit 3:1 in favour of the sex being coached. In the Regional Women’s Premier League in which I coach, 40% of the head coaches are women, although there are no female coaches in the parallel men’s league. Additionally, hockey coaches in schools locally are predominantly female. However, as far as I can ascertain, the approach taken by England Hockey has been to recruit and develop the best coaches they can and it does not have an overt policy to recruit women. That said, this is a sport with a good gender balance and where, in the public eye, women have the spotlight.

In other, male dominated sports, changing the fabric will take longer. A more successful policy in such an environment may be to stay grounded in the continuing change of social order and shifting culture clearly expressed in the Coaching Plan for England (2016) , rather than force supporters of the status quo to dig in. This aligns with the Interactionist Social Theory and a bottom up approach that is slowly seeing women moving into positions that can help shape organizations into becoming more open and democratic. However, it does not address the economic power issues based on exploitation and wealth creation. This is a matter much wider that the topic we are discussing today!

Other Factors

Trying to address social issues in a pragmatic way, and working through institutions to change a social construct in a manner, consistent with Functionalist Social Theory, may have unintended consequences. The US Government attempted to adjust the system top down in 1972 with the introduction of Title IX legislation, which prohibited sexed based discrimination on any education or activity based programme receiving federal funding. By 2012, the numbers of college women’s teams coached by women dropped from 90% to 42.9% and men’s teams coached by women remained around 2%. With it has come further conflict.

There are also some practical issues around the type of work and associated demands that may not be as attractive to women as men. That has been highlighted recently by Leanne Norman (2016) where she has used the Keyes’ Model of well-being to examine women in coaching. Again she points to the need for system change to enable women coaches to flourish.

Accelerating Progress

How else can we accelerate the slow wind of change and start to influence the inclusion of more female coaches of male teams and in performance areas, in particular? An illuminating document produced by Sports Coach UK and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation  about the coaching of women, highlighted the different response in intellectual function, base reaction to stimulae, stress response, innate interests, survival strategies and methods of processing information of males and females. It could be argued that there is a similar difference in a female coach’s approach to these factors that is more in line with the requirements of the increasingly valued athlete-centred approach to coaching (Mageau and Vallarand, 2003). Two things might happen: if the emphasis of coach education follows this expressed wisdom of how to maximise athletes’ potential, then women may be more inclined to take qualifications and stay with coaching as a career and; employers may see that women possess a more appropriate skills-set to meet the challenges of the coaching environment. So men better watch out!


Coakley, J.J, and Pyke, E, (2009) Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies; pp26-46. McGraw Hill 

Light. A, (2013) How are student athletes perceiving female coaches, Lavery Library, St John Fisher College,  Digital Fisher Publications

Mageau, G. A, and Vallarand, R. J. (2003) The coach-athlete relationship and motivational model, Journal of Sports Sciences, 21, pp 383-904

Norman, L, and Rankin-Wright, A. (2016) Surviving rather than Thriving; Understanding the Experiences of Women Coaches using a theory of gendered social well-being, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 1-27

Adaptation and how it informs Sport Coaching. by Edward Conway

Adaptation is the “process whereby a population becomes better suited to its habitat”. I like this definition because it is concise, to the point and has a wide range of implications for coaching beyond purely the physiological response to training. The athletes we coach will be molded, adapted, by the habitat and environment that we create around them. When dealing with young athletes, this is quite the responsibility and the importance of the coach in their development is clear. I believe that consideration of adaptation is also important when dealing with change to the environment or routine. In this blog, I’ll consider the role of challenge in helping athletes develop and adapt to higher competition, how I have utilized adaptation in my coaching and, finally, how I personally have adapted as a coach.

“Periodised Challenge”

Nearly two years ago, I drove to the midlands to visit Denstone College and their then Director of Rugby, Jamie Taylor. It was an interesting learning experience for me, with three words that really stuck out – “challenge and support”. Jamie explained how it was critical to their vision for developing the young student sportsmen and sportswomen at the school. Within a year, the following tweet caught my eye:

Stu Armstrong Tweet

There was the word challenge again. Stuart’s tweet linked to this article, explaining how Manchester United set in place a plan whereby Rashford would occasionally train with the Under 21s to give him exposure to competition that was tougher than what he was used to at Under 18. However, rather than simply remove him from the U18s, it was his fluctuation between the two groups that they believed was crucial to his development. In this case, Rashford was adapting to the challenge of his U21 counterparts over time, thus making his U18 performances even more noticeable and “easier”. This shows that the process of adaptation isn’t just physiological – it can also be technical, tactical, psychological and sociological. Even Tom Brady, arguably the greatest Quarter Back of all time, references the importance of challenge in his own, ongoing, development.

The Importance of Individualisation

What worked for Marcus Rashford may not have worked for all young players. The adaptation process is more than just applying a programme and expecting it to work – individual athletes will respond differently when undertaking an identical session (Kiely, 2012). Maro Itoje is one of the most impressive young players in world rugby. His development continued at such a pace that Saracens had to ignore the plan that they had in place for him, unable to “hold him back any more”. This highlights the importance of knowing, and truly understanding, the athletes that you work with. Whilst Itoje was highly impressive on and off the pitch, that may not be the case for all individuals and the external pressures (education, work, family) can have a significant impact. I am soon to finish my third season as coach for a University rugby team, however I learnt quickly that my situation was slightly different to the norm – I coach the medics. Existing within a university, but as an entirely separate club, the medics posed interesting problems to me as a coach because of their intense work schedule. Our first season was troubled with constant injuries for which there may have been many reasons – training methods, conditioning, lifestyle, bad luck etc. But I soon realised it was important that the players were able to be honest about their work load, and therefore be allowed to miss training or matches accordingly. Research has found that the chance of injuries doubles during periods of high academic stress for college athletes (Mann, Bryant, Johnstone, Ivey and Sayers, 2016). I needed to be aware of these periods, either individually or across the squad, and manage training as a result.

My Coaching

One area that I have embraced the notion of adaptation within my coaching is when it comes to fatigue. Research has found that there is a significant detriment in performance under fatigue (Lyons, Al-Nakeeb and Nevill, 2006) caused by a deterioration of both cognitive and psychomotor skills (Kahal et al, 2008) and ability to perceive visual information (Hancock and McNaughton, 1986). When practicing a learned skill (i.e. not new information), we therefore try to combine it with our conditioning work. Not only does this make the conditioning more fun and rugby-specific, but it also tests their skills under fatigue. This should, hopefully, transfer to executing skills when tired during competition. Recently many journalists picked up on Eddie Jones’ use of ‘tactical periodisation’ as taken from football. I’d argue that this isn’t necessarily as new to rugby as the article asserts, however it is further proof of coaches finding ways to help their athletes adapt to, and beyond, the level demanded of them in competition.

Personal Adaptation

During my coaching career, I have undergone a number of changes to my style, outlook, personality. Some are very small and subtle, others more obvious. However, I have made a purposeful effort to work in varying environments and meet lots of different people. At first, and to a degree still, this was majorly outside my comfort zone. Importantly, I noticed the improvements as a result and keep forcing myself to do it. Whether this is working with players who are much younger than I am used to, or working with adults, or coaching with both genders – all have provided learning experiences that allow me to adapt and evolve.

When we make those adaptations, we discover new facets of ourselves. This is an excellent blog post, highlighting the potential benefits of seeking new environments. On a personal level, I am undoubtedly an improved coach for working in various coaching domains. Furthermore, it has allowed me to be adaptable when there is a significant, but unexpected, change. Whether on a small scale with players missing from training limiting what I had planned, or to big events like new coaching roles. In considering the latter point, earlier in my career I was often focused on MY role within the new role and how it made ME feel and act. Nowadays I realise that, in taking a new role, the athletes themselves are undergoing a change too – new vocabulary, new methods, new priorities. I feel that the following video, on change management, is just as useful for coaches as it is for executives:


Adaptation, therefore, is more than just bicep size or VO2 max. It can effect both the coaches and the athletes in a number of ways. What works for one athlete may not work for all. It is crucial for coaches to be aware of this and to understand how to manage change personally and how to assist their athletes to do the same.


Hancock, S. & McNaughton, L. (1986). “Effects of fatigue on ability to process visual information by experienced orienteers”. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 62(2): 491-498.

Kahal, K., Leyba, M.J., Deka, M., Deka, V., Mayes, S., Smith, M., Ferrara, J.J. & Panchanathan, S. (2008). “Effect of fatigue on psychomotor and cognitive skills”. American Journal of Surgery, 195(2): 195-204.

Kiely, J. (2012). “Periodization paradigms in the 21st century: Evidence-led or tradition-driven?”. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 7: 242-250.

Lyons, M., Al-Nakeeb, Y. & Nevill, A.M. (2006). “The impact of moderate and high intensity total body fatigue on passing accuracy in expert and novice basketball players”. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5(2): 215-227.

Mann, J.B., Bryant, K.R., Johnstone, B., Ivey, P.A. & Sayers, S.P. (2016). “Effect of physical and academic stress on illness and injury in Division 1 college football players”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(1): 20-25.

A visit to the Singapore Institute of Sport

Posted by   Ee Goh  at Thursday, 19 January 2017 18:54:26 as part of the Sport Work Expereince Module held at the Singapore Institute of Management.

The visit to the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI) was to provide both a better understanding of sports and the types of sports related jobs in Singapore. With Vision 2030, Singapore identifies the importance of sport in progressing the national priorities of developing the people and bonding the communities. Sport can convey the skill sets necessary to achieve success and upward progression in life, as well as, help individuals lead happier, healthier lifestyles. The vision is about encouraging people to live better lives through sports. I feel that it is definitely a remarkable step for the country to plan and dedicate a commitment way ahead of the future as long term planning requires skillful forecasting and is absolutely difficult to implement.

Richard Gordan, Head of High Performance Sports of SSI, began his presentation with a brief introduction to his background and career in the sports industry and how it took unexpected turns. “Do something you are passionate about and you will find your way,” Gordan said to explain that as long as we work hard towards our passion, things will fall into place. He also mentioned that the fruits of his labour only came about 8 to 12 years later.

Gordan made me realise that it takes a whole lot of courage and believing in the process just to observe the outcome of your commitment and passion years later, as the saying goes, great things take time. I will certainly remind myself often that even when the outcome can yet to be seen, always focus on keeping your passion burning and take risks!

We were then brought on a tour around the SSI which showcased the well appointed facilities such as the gym, nutrition lab, altitude room and sports biomechanics laboratory to serve carded athletes for training and performance purposes.


Nutrition Lab

Altitude Room

Banners showing the usage of sports biomechanics for development and enhancement

There have been a distinct improvement in the facilities since I last visited SSI in 2014. I am pleasantly surprised at how SSI has changed over 3 years. Previously, some of the equipment were not set up yet and the altitude room was empty without any furniture displayed.

Other than improving the facilities, SSI also placed emphasis on improving athletes’ performance with the aid of these facilities. For example, it invested in an equipment used in sports rehabilitation as seen during the tour, an anti- gravity treadmill to push athletes’ physical therapy rehabilitation and allowing them to train further than ever before.

Currently, Singapore has the hardware (facilities) but facilities themselves do not make high performance sports even though they help assist. Our country needs more software (e.g. coaches) in years to come as there will be an increase in the number of sports clubs which leads to an increase in demand for coaches and coach education. There are also more young people out there making deliberate choices to be coaches. Through this visit, I am able to understand the significance of support offered by SSI for the carded athletes and the insights of practical working environment in the sports venue of the future. If given a chance in the future, I would love to work in SSI and make a difference and impact in the nation and athletes’ lives. I am now more motivated to do well and work towards my dream of being a physiotherapist!

Who Watches the Watchers? Sports Governance – A Very Hobbesian Problem

Posted by   Matt Pocock  at Friday, 14 October 2016 01:27:37

Matt is studying for a MSc in Sport Management at the University of Stirling.

In 1651, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes published his most famous political work, Leviathan. Leviathan laid out Hobbes’ vision on how society functioned, how a legitimate government is created and was one of the earliest influences on what is now known as ‘social contract theory’.

In Leviathan, Hobbes sees humans existing in a ‘state of nature’, ‘a war of all against all’ which he describes as a lawless society in which humans would compete with each other over the basic resources needed to survive. As a result of this constant battle for survival, life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. The only way to escape the state of nature is for humans to band together and agree to appoint a sole arbiter (the titular Leviathan) that will settle all disputes between individuals, allowing them to live freely under the Leviathan’s upholding of the law.

So what does this have to do with sport organisations and governance?

Well every sport is governed by its own set of rules. While there is nothing physically stopping me from picking up the soccer ball during a match and running with it, I would be breaking the rules of the game by doing so. These rules of every sport have been created by a group of individuals or clubs coming together and agreeing that these rules, whatever they may be, are the rules of the game. Now to enforce these rules the individuals or clubs must form a governing body which defines the rules and deals with disputes between individuals and clubs in the fairest manner over the interpretation of the rules, just like the role of the Leviathan that Hobbes wrote about over 350 years ago.

In sport, every individual and club must agree with the decisions that the governing board makes, if they do not then the governing body can place sanctions upon them or expel them from the sport entirely. If enough individuals or clubs agree to break away as has happened in Darts with the PDC splitting away from the BDO in 1993 or the split between Rugby Union and Rugby League in 1895, then they can form their own game and rules. But even in these extreme circumstances such the rogue individuals/clubs still have to create a governing body in order to uphold the laws of the game and settle internal disputes. It might not be the Leviathan they have left, but it is still a Leviathan all the same.

And this is the root of a lot of the problems that occur within sports governance. For a governing body to be independent and fair to all its members, it must remain outside the influence of any one or more individuals or clubs, however this leaves the governing body unable to be truly accountable to its members and thus free to run the sport in whatever fashion it chooses. This creates an unsolvable conundrum of how do we govern the governing bodies of our sports without adding additional governing bodies or affecting their independence by limiting some of their power.

This in essence, is what agency theory is within sports organisations, the governing bodies for sports have agency over the sports they each manage. But with no-one to answer to then it is very easy for these organisations to become corrupt internally in some form as individuals become tempted to act in their own self-interest. The biggest and most-high profile example of this is FIFA, which was found over the last few years by the FBI to be suffering from millions of dollars-worth of financial corruption which influenced the decision-making process around the bidding process for tournaments.

FIFA are not alone in this, the IAAF is also under a lot of pressure currently about corruption as well, as is AIBA for match-fixing and even the IOC can’t escape the accusations of dodgy backroom dealings. When levels of corruption are so high that it becomes part of the culture of the organisation, the resistance to external governance and auditing grows even further.

Can this be stopped from occurring? In short, the answer is not completely, as the way international governing bodies currently operate prevent this. However as alluded to above, if the culture of the organisation can be moved away from self-interest and agency theory to one of responsibility and to act as stewards, managing the day to day governance of the sport, then it will at least limit the spread of that corruption within that governing body even if it can’t stop it at the very top levels.

This stewardship theory of governance is vital to keeping sports in contact with the membership and stakeholders that support them. In fact, it was both the BDO’s and the RFU’s mistake in not doing this that led to the splits within those respective sports.

But how do we change that culture? That is the tricky question, as it is not immediately obvious to those who are corrupt that they are behaving improperly.

Is travelling to a meeting by free business class train corrupt?

Probably not.

Is taking payments in exchange for voting a certain way on a decision corrupt?


But is staying in a 5-star hotel for a week all expenses paid when there are cheaper 3-Star hotel alternatives an abuse of privileges?

It’s difficult to call.

Where do we draw the line between improper behaviour and proper behaviour by our governing bodies? If we’re not watertight with our definition of corruption, then that just leaves loopholes that can be exploited by those who are corrupt and we’ll never break the cycle of bad governance.

In light of this rather downbeat and negative view of sports governance, perhaps we should go back to Thomas Hobbes for some words of comfort. As he wrote, and as Sepp Blatter found out to his cost, ‘no matter how big or powerful a despot is, even the greatest of tyrants must sleep sometime.’

References and Bibliography

BBC News

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Guardian Newspaper

VOA News

Hobbes, Thomas (1651), Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil

Hoye et al, (2005), Sports Management – Principles and Applications, Routledge

King, N. (2015), Sports Governance, Routledge

Moorhouse, Geoffrey (1995). A people’s game: the centenary history of rugby league football, 1895–1995. Hodder & Stoughton.


Dr Irene Reid – School of Sport, University of Stirling

As International Women’s Day 2016 approached, last week I was drawn once again to Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish, the book by journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch in which she examines contemporary Scotland through issues such as health inequality, land and property ownership, language and culture. A year ago I was intrigued by the chapter about women, particularly the section where Riddoch reflects on the production of The Scotsman newspaper on 8th March 1995. In 1995 Lesley Riddoch, then assistant editor of The Scotsman newspaper, was given the green light to develop an issue to mark International Women’s Day; the paper was renamed The Scotswoman for the day. One sentence in Blossom resonates loudly: ‘Sports coverage was another headache’ (Riddoch 2014: 253).

When I first read this statement and Riddoch’s explanation I was unnerved. Of course I knew I’m untypical of women in Scotland when it comes to participation in sport and being interested in connections between mediated sport and ideas of nationhood. I’ve been immersed in formal organised sport since my teens, and I’ve followed sport on radio and television and in newspapers throughout my life –this it seems is unusual. I read the paper from the back pages to the front, although I’m convinced that’s to do with my left-handedness therefore not so odd. As an undergraduate student, my research considered the relationship between sport and the media in Scotland. These themes have infused my subsequent research, influenced in no small part by newspaper essays by the late Ian Archer and the late William McIlvanney on the national resonance of sport in Scotland. Riddoch’s assessment was discomforting/

It’s helpful therefore to consider the significance of that edition of a national Scottish paper in 1995. The Scotswoman was a world first: a mainstream newspaper written, produced and edited by women it provided an alternative to the ‘unreflectively male-oriented’ perspective of mainstream media (Riddoch 2014: 250). The Scottish first of 1995 was followed by mainstream papers in other countries in subsequent years, but it was not repeated by The Scotsman. That edition on International Women’s Day 1995 was a first, and it was about more than just adjusting the title of the paper for the day, but, as Riddoch explained, this presented a challenge:

We wanted women as actors in the news not passive objects. But the truth was then and still is now, that women just don’t make the ‘news’ as it’s conventionally defined (Riddoch 2014: 253).

Sport wasn’t the only daily fare that provided a headache for The Scotswoman team in 1995. In the spheres of politics, foreign affairs, and the economy for example the images and voices were predominantly male; men were the actors. But in 1995 perhaps the realm of sport more than others really was a problem; in 1995 did sports news mean men’s sport … or more specifically fitba with a wee bit of rugby union thrown in?

In 1995 I was working in England. I didn’t buy a Scottish daily paper back then and I didn’t see The Scotswoman on newsstands and digital versions of Scotland’s newspapers weren’t on the radar. I’ve therefore no first-hand recollection of how the editorial team resolved the conundrum of sports coverage on International Women’s Day 1995. Scotland in 2016 is in some respects different to the nation it was, and the social, cultural and political resonance of sport in Scottish society remains fertile research terrain. Where does women’s sport sit in 2016? Gut instinct tells me women’s sport and women’s contribution to sport in Scotland is still a marginal concern for the mainstream media. Set against this backdrop, with another International Women’s Day imminent, last week I returned to Riddoch’s discussion around The Scotswoman and asked myself if a Scottish newspaper repeated that 1995 initiative: Would sports coverage still be a headache?

Having spent a few days pondering the headache sports coverage presented for Lesley Riddoch and her production team I noted today with interest the news that The Scotswoman will be on our newsstands once again. Twenty-one years after its first appearance, The Scotswoman will return on International Women’s Day 2016 (‘Scotsman symbolically re-branded for Interantional Women’s Day’,, March 7 2016). I don’t have long to wait to find out: is sports coverage still a headache, or 21 years down the line, will the challenge of shifting the male-oriented content and perspective of one newspaper for one day be interesting reading for Scottish women interested in sport?