How to Create the Best Environment for Your Club or Team to Prosper

How to Create the Best Environment for Your Club or Team to Prosper

Sports clubs and teams are a focal point of development for athletes of all ages. The difference between good and poor can often lead to substandard development and retention of athletes, thus inhibiting peak performance and losing lifetime members who turn away from the sport.

Henriksen [1] conducted multiple case studies [2,3,4] into talent development environments in sport and what makes them successful or unsuccessful. Henriksen concluded that each specific environment has eight commonalities which make them successful. 

Here, we’ll aim to break each of these eight commonalities down and show how you can introduce them into your club or team.

Commonalities of Successful Club or Team Environments

A Supportive Training Group

Training groups with supportive relationships are evident across each case study conducted by Henriksen. When we think of specific examples, we are often drawn to the Sunday cycling club run or long run in an athletics club throughout the off-season. It is here that many skills are learned, and knowledge is passed down from more experienced members in a relaxed, but sport specific, setting. 

Creation of a training group allows vicarious reinforcement to take place which effectively means we mimic or duplicate the behaviors for which others are being rewarded (or we limit the behaviors for which others are being discouraged). This can range from riding in a paceline on a bike effectively to timing nutrition properly, among many other positives all achieved with minimal coach input.

Proximal Role Models

In a way, proximal role models can be explained in a similar light to the training group. Older, more experienced athletes may serve as role models for younger members or beginners in a club or team. We want to create an environment in which the athletes are open and participate in sharing of experiences—both negative and positive. 

This leads to a trickle down of knowledge within the environment. Unfortunately, team rivalries for selection, differing views, etc. can often stunt this growth and development due to knowledge being withheld.

Support of Goals Under Wider Environment

In Henriksen’s case studies, wider communities support their athletes and their goals, and this is evident by schools being willing to facilitate the athletes’ pursuit of an athletic career while balancing school. This is achieved through clear and consistent communication between all parties involved. If this is implemented correctly, it allows the athlete to excel in all areas. 

We may see examples of this in upper-level education where options are available for distance learning or part-time courses. We can also relate this back to the club and team, recognizing that school or work in general needs to take priority at key times and a mutual respect is set up around this.

Psychological Skills Support

Psychological skills training is used within these environments as a way to develop the athlete as a “person” rather than just someone who is good at their sport. Skills such as autonomy and responsibility are emphasized.

We can implement this ourselves by allowing athletes to lead a training session, reflect on competition, and provide constructive peer-to-peer feedback.

Training Which Allows Diversification

Early specialization is discouraged within these environments, and this effectively means a mix of sports and hobbies are pursued up to a later age. It has been highlighted that expert performers tend to specialize later in their adolescence [5], which allows the athlete to sample multiple sports with multiple coaches and leads to them having a robust sporting profile and developing fundamental movements all while avoiding burnout. 

When implementing this in our own teams or clubs, we should not discourage other sports being pursued, and this is especially important at youth and junior levels. Within cycling we are also lucky in that the varying disciplines allows for further diversification while still being sport specific, and track and field may also correlate with this.

Long-Term Development

Expanding on the point mentioned above, there is a massive focus on long-term athlete development in these environments. This ties in with building our fundamentals through diversification and steadily progressing up the ladder through age brackets with activities that are relevant for the training age. 

One example could be exposure to competition in a developmental capacity. This can be seriously beneficial, and examples here include club leagues, races, etc.

Coherence in Organizational Culture

Based on Schein’s model [6] of organizational culture, Henriksen proposed that each environment has specific values, artifacts, and assumptions. Values coincide with what the athletes are “told”, for example autonomy in setting up your own equipment or working with the coach to develop a plan together. Artifacts are what we observe, feel, and hear. Examples of this could include stories of previous club “legends” or jerseys hanging on the clubhouse wall. Assumptions are what people take for granted in these specific environments, and this could be a deep-rooted training methodology or a specific way clubs or teams operate.

Assumptions usually form the basis for values and artifacts.

Shoot for aligning these three things so that, when thought of as a whole, they form a coherent environment preferably of continuous learning and development.

Integration of Efforts

The integration of friends, family, and athletes (among other stakeholders) should never be taken for granted. From amateur to elite sport, this is a key element in sustainability. This could be using the wider club community to volunteer to marshal races, organize club nights, provide transportation, etc. The end goal here is to create a community that allows the athletes themselves to experience a type of synergy in their everyday lives.

Next Steps

Having a basic awareness of the above points allows you to reflect on how your club or team approaches how they create an environment that fosters athletic talent development. Being honest and critical in how you construct your own environment is the only way to bring about change.

References

1 Henriksen, K. (2010). The ecology of talent development in sport: A multiple case study of successful athletic talent development environments in Scandinavia (Doctoral dissertation, Syddansk Universitet. Det Sundhedsvidenskabelige Fakultet).

2 Henriksen, K., Stambulova, N., & Roessler, K. K. (2011). Riding the wave of an expert: A successful talent development environment in kayaking. The sport psychologist, 25(3), 341-362.

3 Henriksen, K., Stambulova, N., & Roessler, K. K. (2010). Holistic approach to athletic talent development environments: A successful sailing milieu. Psychology of sport and exercise, 11(3), 212-222.

4 Henriksen, K., Stambulova, N., & Roessler, K. K. (2010). Successful talent development in track and field: considering the role of environment. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 20, 122-132.

5 Baker, J., Cobley, S., & Fraser‐Thomas, J. (2009). What do we know about early sport specialization? Not much!. High ability studies, 20(1), 77-89.

6 Schein, E. H. (1985). Defining organizational culture. Classics of organization theory, 3, 490-502.


Jamie Blanchfield is the founder and head coach of Premier Endurance – an endurance support provider based in Ireland. Jamie’s main role is a coach to road cyclists from beginner right up to professional while also working in a consultancy role with Cycling Ireland. Jamie possesses a BSc in Sports Coaching and Performance and is a certified Cycling Ireland coach. Premier Endurance’s philosophy of coaching revolves around the development of self-sufficient athletes by aiding and educating them in every way possible along their journey.

Visit Jamie Blanchfield's Coach Profile