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The Role of Sports Development Officers

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    Entering the new millenium young people of today are exposed to computer technology, the web, television, and numerous distractions that are preferred to the traditional entertainment of Sports. [2] Not only is there a reduction in enthusiasm for sports there is also a proportionate decrease in opportunities in the form of playgrounds, sports centers, gyms, coaches and competitions available to the masses. Recognizing this dilemma and foreseeing its negative impact on health and society, many private and government organizations have stepped forward to promote sports in general and specifically at all levels and in a variety of aspects.

    Aside from its importance to maintain sports participation in society and school level Sports Development was also an area that emerged due to the changing structure of professional sports. Sports and sports people became a valuable commodity and the maintenance of their potential, promotion of their mass appeal, interaction with the media and sports industry produced an important role for certain individuals. Professional services were required in sports medicine, counseling, advertising, arranging and funding competitions, etc. [1] This vast area of expertise was labeled Sports Development and the people involved were termed Sports Development Officers.


    The Collins dictionary defines development as advancement, evolution, expansion, growth and improvement. It is a process whereby effective opportunities, processes, systems and infrastructures are created to encourage people in all areas to participate in sport and recreation, or to improve their performance and aspiration. [1] Sports have a healthy and enhancing effect on individuals physically, mentally, and emotionally. At various levels services provided by Sports Development Centers can have diverse effects so that sports can be introduced as a means of simple fun and an escape from boredom all too rampant in society. It can be a source of prevention from many of the fatal diseases produced by a stagnant lifestyle, give a young person direction who may otherwise drift aimlessly often turning to crime or other similarly destructive elements. [1]

    World class athletes can be discovered and trained with opportunities that they may not have had at their disposal otherwise. Sports can be a platform to enhance an individuals own personal development by giving them an opportunity involved in the administration of a club or sport session, which strengthens the sporting infrastructure. [4]

    Sports Development

    This field is needed just to fulfill existing demands but rather to create new opportunities for participation at the individual and community level. Many issues need to be tackled including sporting infrastructure, finances, public awareness, gender and racial issues, etc. [2] By involving the public in its operations it also influences, changes and challenges sports providers. Sports Development is all about teamwork, creating partnerships and networks through special connections available to professionals and organizations to achieve successful sustainable development opportunities. When such institutions are formed then they can help lay down regulations that work for the promotion of equality of opportunity, combating a range of social issues and problems, particularly affecting young people. Sports Development is planned, structured, strategic, monitored, reviewed and achievement orientated. [1]

    Sports Development officers promote and influence change in an individual's personal behavior, and within organizational structures. Their job is not just about offering new opportunities in isolation but need to achieve sustainability to be effective, and this denotes that partners are involved and contributing a role or function in its implementation so that it can continue self sufficiently over the longer term. [1]

    Development needs to retain its flexibility and adaptability whilst ensuring that the financial outcomes are compatible with the aims, giving us 'Best Value' in sport and service delivery. [2]

    The sports development process in various regions operates by identifying opportunities by linking different international, national, regional and local programs, projects and initiatives. This is especially developed in the United Kingdom providing a framework, which can often translate a vision for sport into reality at local level. Through this web an individual may leave and re-enter the sport and alter the level at which they aspire to take part, over time. [1]

    Sport England is a national organization working for the Development of Sports. It has three main aims, which its personnel promote, and these are: more people involved in sports, more places to play sports and more medals through higher standards of performance. [1] To achieve these aims it has formulated and implemented three large programs providing services for the furthermost of these goals.

    Sports Development Officers and Schools

    Active Schools is a development programme in England aimed at providing every young person with the opportunity to learn foundation skills and participate in the sport or physical activity of their choice. It is the officers’ job to provide recognition for outstanding physical activity in primary and secondary schools and for excellent physical education and sports provision in secondary and special schools. This encourages both students and administration to take an active interest in sports. [1,3]

    Coaching is provided for teachers to help run extra curricular clubs, and grants provided to schools to develop school/club links and for the purchase of equipment. These officers hold courses and workshops for teachers and volunteers involved in school sport and act as sporting ambassadors by being a role model. Often sport stars take on this role officially and inspire and motivate school children by visiting schools. [1,3]

    These programs also provide equipment, training, activity cards and resources into Primary and Special schools and experienced PE teachers, spending 20% of their lives teaching the curriculum and the rest developing links between the school and community sport. [1]

    Sports Development Officers and Community

    At this level the aim is to increase and sustain lifelong participation in sport and recreation at local level and improve the delivery of sporting opportunities, particularly for deprived or disadvantaged communities. An extensive network of local authorities, education department, governing bodies, sports clubs and sports development officers are working together to ensure that young people get more involvement in sport. At another level these bodies work to target the production of medal winners of the future. [1,4]

    Sports Development Officers and Skills

    Not many years ago local authorities and organizations ridiculed the thought of recruiting and appointing a sports development officer. Today sports development officers are very much the norm as opposed to the exception. There is no 'typical' sports development officer. Roles, responsibilities and work programme areas are very much based on needs, e.g. a particular area, region or sport. [1]

    These individuals may work for clubs, associations or state sporting bodies promoting their sport or their club. [4] They usually have marketing and public relation skills not to mention an in depth knowledge and links with the specific sport they are attached to. They would be the ones acquiring new promising players, arranging competitive events, and funding for their teams. [1] They would be consulted on the promotion of the image of their game and team so needs to ally with the media. They may visit schools, address pupils on the benefits of playing a particular sport or for a particular club, and organize demonstrations and activities relating to the skills of the sport. [1,3]

    Personally they need to be physically fit, dedicated towards attaining and maintaining a high standard of skill and endurance in their particular sport and have good communication skills for promotional work and be willing to travel if specializing in a seasonal sport. [4]

    There have been various research projects looking at the Sports Development Officers' work, and conclusive findings show that Sports Development Officers are often restricted due to a lack of suitable support and administrative backup. They are the people in the front line. [1] In recent years there have been growing concerns about raising the profile of sports development and sports development officers, the need for a professional development programme for those involved in sports development and for better recognition and representation of sports development at a policy level, whether local or national. [2]

    The sports development sector has grown in the last decade from a focus on community development initiatives to encompass a broad range of 'sport-specific' as well as health and fitness development projects. Employment opportunities exist in local authorities, national governing bodies of sport and organizations in the commercial and voluntary sectors. [2]


    The sports development workforce, in both the professional and voluntary sense, have a significant role to play in ensuring access to quality sporting opportunities throughout the community, for all age groups and all levels of ability. For some their role is increasingly about shaping policy, for many their work is about turning national and local policy into practice. Whatever their role, there has never been a greater need for a co-ordinated, planned and professional approach. [1,2] For more information go to


    2. PANNETT Brenda, Fitting end to a top year of sport. , The Southland Times (New Zealand), 12-13-2000, pp 25.
    3. Davis, R.S, Young People and Sport, SPORTS TEACHER (suppl) AUTMN, 1991, pp1-8
    4. Stewart, Robert and Aaron Smith. Sports Management: A Guide to Professional Practice. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

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