By Jim Ferguson
The “Sports Policy factors Leading to International Sporting Success” (SPLISS) model identified nine pillars or essential factors which it found fundamental to a nation’s elite sporting success in international competition. It did not, however, consider the effectiveness of those domestic sporting organisations on which the success of a national sports system depends. For this reason, it seemed timely to investigate the factors contributing to an effective sports organisation. The SPLISS model, modified to take account of the particularities of sporting organisations rather than national systems, has provided a useful approach for this endeavour, which is what my paper attempts.
It is accepted that there are significant differences between the environments in which sporting organisations operate. Some are rich, some are poor in terms of resources; some have large participant bases and some smaller support. Some, such as Rowing and Sailing, are associated with communities with high levels of education and wealth. Others have their roots in blue-collar communities, and some within migrant or indigenous communities. Some are more attractive to television or other streaming devices than others and therefore have a better chance of raising revenue. The significance of these variations in resource bases and operating environments can influence the extent of participation or international success of a sport. But all sporting organisations seek to promote their sports widely within the community while, at the same time, seeking to achieve success at the highest levels of international competition.
This paper is based on my personal experience of working with national and state sporting organisations during a period of over ten years as Executive Director of the Australian Sports Commission, prior to that as an adviser to the Federal Minister for Sport, and subsequently as a director/executive of two national and two state sporting organisations.
The complete paper – Effective Sporting Organisations: A Practitioner’s Perspective, Open Journal of Social Sciences, Volume 9, Issue 12 (December 2021 – is 44 pages and discusses in detail the reasons behind each Critical Success Factor listed below. Link to complete paper.
Critical Success Factors in Nine SPLISS Pillars for an Effective Sports Organisation
My research identified at least 138 critical success factors over nine pillars.
Pillar 1. Financial Support: There Is Sufficient Funding for the Effective National Operation of the Sport.
1.1: The organisation has a regime identifying all sources of revenue, including non-government income and which establishes set fees and charges, and is reviewed regularly.
1.2: Total income from all sources increases annually or, at least, does not decrease.
1.3: Capitation fees are set at a level to meet general administration costs, with at least one-third reserved for the national body, and the level of fees is reviewed regularly.
1.4: An accurate database is maintained providing details of participant members.
1.5: Established mechanisms to assist in revenue raising are regularly assessed.
1.6: The organisation has a detailed marketing plan to guide revenue raising, the sophistication of which depends on the level of commercialisation of the sport, and has, at least, access to marketing expertise.
1.7: The organisation regularly undertakes a review of its administrative procedures nationally to identify areas where cooperation within the sport, including its different disciplines, can lead to economies of scale and administrative savings.
1.8: The organisation has clear budgets which identify planned expenditures across all activities and conducts regular reviews of income and expenditure against budge.
Pillar 2: Governance, Management and Culture: There Is Effective Corporate Governance Based on a Commitment to Excellence.
2.1: The board is committed to a culture of excellence throughout the organisation and board members are educated on the practices of good governance.
2.2: Board members are elected by as wide a range of stakeholders as possible and owe allegiance to the national body and no other. Members of the board are not at the same time board members of affiliated associations.
2.3: The board represents a wide range of interests relevant to the national operation of the sport and includes a number of nominated independent members. Issues relating to the sport are considered by all members acting corporately before decisions are made.
2.4: Leaders in the sport nationally are encouraged to become involved in the affairs of the sport’s international federation.
2.5: The chair is elected by the board members directly to preside over its operations and, where the organisation has a president who is not also the chair, the roles of that position are clearly defined in the constitution.
2.6: Board members are elected for defined periods and rotated over a period of years.
2.7: The sport establishes a mechanism for regular exchanges with athletes, coaches and state representatives and, in conjunction with state representatives, with the broader participant base.
2.8: There is a comprehensive strategic planning process culminating in a nationally aligned strategic plan covering a three-or four-year period which identifies clear objectives across the whole sport and planned actions to achieve those objectives.
2.9: There is an annual operational plan which outlines the specific activities planned for the year toward achievement of the goals in the strategic plan, and the annual budget is set against this plan.
2.10: Expenditure and revenue statements are examined by the board at least six times annually, operational plans are examined by the board at the beginning and midpoint of the financial year and performance against the strategic plan is examined by the board annually. Reviews of the strategic plan involve input from senior athletes and coaches.
2.11: The board maintains and promulgates amongst its participants a set of policies on operational issues consistent with laws and regulations relevant to the sport and which are easy to access and understand.
2.12: The board ensures that constitutions, regulations and policies relevant to the sport are regularly and expertly reviewed to ensure consistency and relevance.
2.13: The board and CEO of the NSO engage in regular contact with their counterparts in the SSOs to ensure full and timely exchanges of information relevant to operational issues and the national strategic plan.
2.14: The sport maintains a centralised database which maintains up-to-date relevant information as an essential aid to management.
2.15: There is a distinction between the roles and responsibilities of board and management, with the board responsible for setting policy and providing leadership and the administration responsible for advising the board, giving effect to policy and managing the sport on a day-to-day basis.
2.16: The board appoints the CEO who is responsible for subsidiary appointments although, in the case of senior coaches or high-performance managers, board approval is required. Where board members or volunteers undertake management tasks they do so in close collaboration with the CEO.
2.17: In selecting a CEO the board takes account of a range of identified qualities set out in the selection documentation and applicants are recommended by a panel including persons both from within and outside the sport. A succession plan for the CEO is in place.
Pillar 3. Program Operations: Elite, Pre-Elite and Participation
3.1: The sport has a high-performance plan, derived from the strategic plan and accepted nationally, to guide progress towards international success, which is reviewed annually. Development pathways are linked to the high-performance plan.
3.2: A high performance committee oversees day to day progress in the implementation of the high-performance plan and reports to the full board on a regular basis.
3.3: The high-performance plan outlines the roles and responsibilities of each major contributor to the enterprise, including Coaching Director, subsidiary coaches, high performance operations managers as well as principal support staff. Support staff are of the highest quality possible.
3.4: The Coaching Director is responsible for implementing the plan, reporting to the high-performance committee.
3.5: The Coaching Director is given responsibility and accountability to deliver the high-performance objectives, not interfered with in pursuit of those objectives, is supported by the high-performance manager and reports regularly to the high-performance committee.
3.6: Alternative arrangements are in place should the Coaching Director become unavailable and, as appropriate, succession plans to replace the Coaching Director at the end of the contract.
3.7: The sport has established access to independently managed and funded centres of excellence which provide a comprehensive program of services to athletes in national squads, governed by agreements between the sport and the centre.
3.8: In cases where athletes are training and competing with clubs or organisations overseas not affiliated to the NSO, contact is maintained and agreements are in place to ensure they are eligible for selection in Australian teams when required.
3.9: The program of high-performance activities is promulgated through the sport and includes details of selection policies, training programs (including centralised national squad training) and international competition schedules.
3.10: After each major event a report is prepared and sent to the full board through the high-performance committee.
3.11: There is a specific pre-elite program to prepare athletes with potential to transfer readily into senior national squads. These programs involve intensive training in a supportive environment and familiarise young athletes with the requirements of senior international representation.
3.12: There is a national approach to the delivery of community support in conjunction with state and territory affiliates, with delegated delivery to those associations to take account of their different requirements.
3.13: Levels of community participation are at least maintained. Local clubs and organisations operating through state and territory affiliates offer opportunities for participation through a range of competitions for each age and level of competency and national membership details are maintained.
3.14: There are well-developed introductory programs for younger children with an emphasis on skill learning and fun activities and promotion through or in association with the school system according to local requirements.
3.15: Opportunities are provided for volunteer coaches and officials to undertake training courses designed for community level sport.
3.16: The value of the contribution of all volunteers is demonstrated and basic training to improve their competencies is provided
Pillar. 4. Talent Identification and Development: There Is a National System for Identifying and Developing Young Talent
4.1: There is a nationally consistent, well understood and diversified long term approach for identifying talented young athletes appropriate to the sport.
4.2: The national talent identification system outlines routes of progression or pathways through which young talent is developed and mentored with responsibilities assigned to particular entities within the sport’s national system.
4.3: The talent identification system is communicated widely through the sport, particularly to state associations, local bodies and clubs.
4.4: The system takes account of scientific evidence relating to physical and mental development and a register of talented young athletes is maintained through which progress is monitored and which is reviewed regularly.
4.5: The sport’s talent ID system provides for the identification of athletes from outside the sport’s traditional participant base, through schools or from other sports, based on a scientific testing basis or through observation.
4.6: Quality coaches are provided appropriate to the level of developing athletes.
4.7: In developing systems for talent identification and development, the support needs of younger athletes are considered and implemented in cooperation with affiliated bodies.
Pillar 5. Athlete Welfare and Support
5.1: There is a national program providing general welfare, education and career support to at least pre-elite and elite athletes according to their individual needs, with details recorded on appropriate databases.
5.2: That system makes clear the levels of support available from and the responsibilities of the various partners involved.
5.3: A designated person has responsibility to ensure athlete welfare and support is appropriate to each athlete and monitors them regularly.
Pillar 6. Training Facilities: Athletes Have Access to Quality Training Facilities
6.1: The sport maintains a database of facilities nationally and, through its SSOs, takes an interest in development needs at local level and provides support for applications for improvement or development of new facilities.
6.2: Elite, pre-elite and senior developing athletes have ready access to high quality training facilities which have accommodation and meeting facilities and sports science and medicine services in close proximity.
Pillar 7: Coaching
7.1: There is a sufficient number of qualified elite coaches to cover the elite, pre-elite and senior development programs of the sport and a program to encourage suitable people to take up coaching.
7.2: A database of coaches at all levels is maintained.
7.3: Coaches at all levels are recognised by the sport for their contribution and are provided with opportunities for improvement.
7.4: The relationship between coaches and athletes is monitored through regular contact with athletes and high-performance managers.
7.5: There is recognition that, at the elite level, the coaching market is an international one and coaches are renumerated appropriately.
7.6: Coaches are employed under formal, written contracts which outline their responsibilities. Once appointed, the Head Coach or Coaching Director is given freedom to undertake their responsibilities without undue interference, with established arrangements for reporting to and contact with the board.
7.7: There is a nationally coordinated strategy for coach education and development.
7.8: There are opportunities for leading coaches to pass on their knowledge to other coaches, as well as opportunities for coaches to discuss with and learn from other coaches in the sport and from coaches in other sports.
7.9: Coaches are able and are encouraged to work closely with sports science and medical personnel
Pillar 8. Competition: There Is a Nationally Coordinated Approach to Domestic and International Competition
8.1: There is a nationally coordinated plan for all competition in the sport, both domestic and international, and the domestic competition is integrated into the international calendar.
8.2: There is a broad-based domestic competition catering for the bulk of participants while providing opportunities for young talent to progress commensurate with their abilities and providing flexibility to cater for talented athletes experiencing special circumstances.
8.3: There is a planned annual program of international competition both elite and pre-elite athletes with pre-competition preparation, including events organised outside and within the calendar of the international federation.
8.4: Arrangements are in place to maintain contact with athletes living and competing in overseas competitions so those athletes are still available for selection in national teams.
8.5: Provision is made to meet or at least subsidise the costs of athletes representing Australia at international events
Pillar 9. Sport Science, Medicine and Research: Sports Science, Medical Services and Research Are Readily Available
9.1: There is readily available to athletes and coaches a full suite of quality sports science disciplines and sports medicine services in the closest proximity to training facilities used by pre-elite, elite athletes, and national teams.
9.2: There is a coordinated approach to the application of the sports sciences and sports medicine in the closest relationship with coaches and athletes.
9.3: Coaches understand sports science disciplines relevant to their sports and keep up to date with scientific developments. Coaching courses include components on sports science.
9.4: Provision is made for ready access to basic sports sciences and medical services by teams travelling overseas.
9.5: Research relevant to the sport has an emphasis on its ready application.
9.6: Contacts are maintained with research bodies undertaking relevant research, a data base on research is maintained and opportunities to discuss and promulgate details on work being undertaken are provided.
I would like to acknowledge the particular help provided by the following: Professor Allan Hahn, Professor Graham Cuskelly, Dr Gary Moore, Dr Paul Perkins, Dr Ron Smith, Ned Coten, Warwick Forbes, Greg Hartung, Patrick Hunt, Andrew Dee, Anne Gripper, Lawrie Woodman.
The complete paper – Effective Sporting Organisations: A Practitioner’s Perspective, Open Journal of Social Sciences, Volume 9, Issue 12 (December 2021 – is 44 pages and discusses the reasons behind each Critical Success Factor listed below. Link to complete paper.