By Atte Varsta |
The Finnish sport management and coaching system has been questioned after the country’s athletes registered poor results at the European Athletics Championships. This is not a surprise since track and field has been almost like a national sport for the Finns for the past century.
I am a late bloomer in sport management since it was only six years ago when I made a drastic move from business to sport management, without any personal experience or background in adult elite sports. Therefore, it is often hard for me to step into the shoes of a sport manager who speaks from experience. Due to respect I often don’t even want to try to step into anyone else’s shoes.
The most frequent argument that I have heard is that in sport management you cannot apply the same principles as in business management. For sure, that isn’t always possible. But if the results in sports do not support the current model, there has to be changes. Rarely, if ever, the results will change by repeating the same patterns over and again.
There are a lot of good examples and best practices to be learned from the business world. In business, everything is based on a target; a clear, ambitious, and well-communicated target. Setting the target also shows the understanding of the management on what is the most realistic but yet ambitious level of performance possible in relation to competitors. In both sport and in business world, when the target is clear, a strategy needs to be formulated in order to reach the target. This strategy must be conveyed from paper to practice. This strategy must also define the needed structure behind operations. In today’s changing competitive field, structures and organizations must be flexible. Structures must support the implementation of the strategy and not vice versa.
And finally, the key contributor, that in this case is the athlete, must get the management’s unconditional support to generate the results. An athlete must know what performance is expected and must be given the financial and operational preconditions for proper implementation. If this is not the case, the target setting must be adjusted.
Let me give an example on the clarity of goal setting from motorsports. I served, for one year, at McLaren Formula 1 team during the reign of Ron Dennis. At the time, McLaren was Formula 1’s leading team on a grid.
Each acquisition, spending and investment decision had to go through Ron Dennis’ one clear criterion: “Will this acquisition or investment make our car faster?” It was clear and simple. If the answer was “yes”, the decision maker had to be able to justify the decision from the sports point of view and implement it. Obviously, it is not always that simple. However, it shows the importance of the target setting and what the sport is ultimately all about. It is not about structures, people, or organizations. It is nothing but results.
To return to my beginning point, there are a lot of similarities between sports and business management. The key is to apply corporate management lessons to sports management. Unfortunately, the education of applying that knowledge into practice is lacking from the Finnish system for at least in the broader picture. We are taught business and sports training, but not broadly enough to operate sports from a business perspective.
Due to this problem, we have, together with my associates, brought the academic programs of the United States Sports Academy to Finnish sports organizations and leaders. The Academy was founded in the USA after bad results at the Munich summer Olympics in 1972. Back then they had to do something for the US sports management, and it was done. Now is the time to do something in Finland.
Atte Varsta is an experienced motorsport manager and well being entrepreneur. Varsta is a co-founder of Proftraining Finland specialized in well being and training concepts for athletes and consumers. He is also G-Fors Renault Rallycross team’s Team Manager and partner of V&V Sports Management. Varsta manages drivers, having been part of nine World Championship titles, one European Championship title, one Global Rallycross title, nine Finnish Championship titles and five other World and European Championship medals in rally and rallycross throughout their respective careers. Varsta is also Member of The Board at Finnish Sports Managers Association.