Effective Working Relationships Between Boards and Swim Coaches by Sage Hopkins (2000)


We are going to briefly touch on, some different models that are out there: coach owned clubs, institution owned clubs, some of the more regular parent run parent type of organizations then. We are going to focus the main portion of our talk of getting your team on the right track as far as a long range planning process, and I’ll take you through an abbreviated version of how you can do that, and we will go on for a majority of our time to talk about what are some board basics, what are some tried and true industry wide non-profit acceptable set-ups for a non-profit board of directors and a staff.


Often times, as I don’t need to tell any of you, the swimming profession can operate in a little bit of a bubble as far as how the non-profit board operate in relation to the staff.  So we will go ahead and go over the first few topics.  Coach owned clubs.  I have had the opportunity of working under this situation for a team that Bob Steele owned and that probably has the potential to be one of your most desirable situations that you can get into.  There are some down sides.  You got to start with your own capital. If you start by borrowing money from a parent, or somebody supportive, you are going to be beholding to them to an extent.  If you want to start a coach owned program, it is probably because you want to run your program, you want to run it your way and you want to give yourself a chance to succeed, so you are going to need a little bit of start up capital. You are going to need some water space, so it’s going to depend on your particular situation.  It also takes the right kind of coach. You’re going to have to be a business person. You’re going have to balance, providing the best possible program for the swimmers, most attractive program to the community, while also running under sound business practices.  Basically, the key element in a coach owned club is that it is your program, you have the chance to succeed or fail.


Probably the next step down from that, is the parent owned but coach run program.  Again, there is some profitability in here if you are looking for that aspect. Stability in some ways is going to be a little bit more so than in a coach owned program, because you do have that parental group behind you.  The flip side is that you need to be wary of the type of contract you have especially in this day and age.  Even that is not enough sometimes, you need to be wary of the parental group at all times.  You have to have an ongoing parental education program — many of the same things that you would run if you had your own team, but maybe a little bit more emphasis on that area.  There is also with the parent owned program, the parents are going to probably have a little bit more of a track record as far as fund raising and that might allow you to focus more on the program end of things — the coaching, the planning, probably what most of you got into this sport because you enjoy, working with the kids, helping them achieve.


The down sides of the parent owned program is that you are being evaluated by people who don’t understand your profession and that is what really separates the swim coaching profession from many others. If you are in corporate America you are being evaluated by people who understand your business, if you work for IBM you’re being evaluated with people who are familiar with what IBM’s goals and expectations are and you’re going to be measured accordingly.  If you are working for people who don’t understand the business, you don’t have that, so there is a degree of education that needs to be involved.  There are also going to be some things that are never going to work out along those lines.  That’s why it’s important to have a multi-year contract.  Again many business people, they are used to seeing results in their work almost immediately.  With swim coaching a lot of times it is a year, two years, three years, before you really see the fruition of work, sometimes longer than that.  So a multi-year contract will give you that time to succeed with your program.  Again, on the down side is you still have to go to the board for approval on anything, and again this is going to be dependant on your age, your ability, your contract, your expertise, how long you have been with the particular program. There are a lot of different factors that are going to weigh into how much authority and responsibility the parental group is going to grant you, and again that is something that being parent owned, can change at certain times.


There are some of the most, stable clubs in the country and we don’t need to name names, who they have had very successful coaches, who have produced Olympians, who have been fired for absurd reasons, basically for just a whim, or been put through a lot of hard times, basically because there are just a few people who didn’t understand the philosophies of the program and wanted to do things their way.


The parent owned/parent run club, I’m not really going to talk about. The only thing that needs to be talked about here in that situation, my advice would be to run.  There is probably not a lot of good that can come out of it, unless maybe you’re a young coach, you’re starting out, and you are in a situation where maybe you can build a little bit of respect and a little bit more authority and responsibilities as you move through your career.


An institution owned program is something that has been around for a long time, and really differs. It could be a program that is owned by a city could be a program that is owned by a university, it could be a head coach of a university that owns a program.  Often times with an institution owned program you’re going to have some sort of protection.  You might have some type of state benefit employment package which is probably nothing like the money that much of us are used to.  But there is also is a lot of differences within that realm of institution owned teams, so you are going to need to check it out.  You want to look at the bylaws, you want to see a contract, you want to have a lawyer review all that, you want to sit down with people, you want to talk to other coaches in the area, just as you would before taking any other job.  There are a lot of things that you want to find out before you take the job.


Finally, the last topic before we go on to the meat of our discussion is the club membership.  I know that this is a real hot topic that has been bouncing around for a couple of years and coaches are all over on whether or not they are for it, against it, uncertain.  There are so many different versions that came out that in my opinion the final version was so watered down it was pretty much meaningless.  I truly feel and a number of the coaches that I had spoken with based upon personal experiences, experiences of colleagues, that a major thing that we need to do is take the control of American swimming out of age group parents and put it into the hands of professionals.  This is maybe, I don’t know that it is, but this maybe is a solution. I think it is something that if it has enough support behind it that its going to continually pop up.


The club membership proposal, basically the idea was to have criteria or categories that a club would fit in.  Let’s just say that there is a gold level, silver level and a bronze level and I’m not recalling what exactly it is, but just for the sake of names and the highest level of organization that a club could have, they’ve got a great set bylaws, contracts, multi-year pool contracts, a very stable organization producing top level kids, doing everything right, they are registered up here.  And then there is lowering, lowering criteria, where you have basically a new club at the bottom and there given a certain amount of time to get their business in order.  One of the main pushes behind this is that anybody can go start a team.  I was fired from a job April 10th and April 11th I had my own team.  And any parent can get angry with you and send a check with $100.00 to U.S. Swimming and have their own team the very next day and that is one of the main, major problems that we are having right now, anybody can have a team.  I think that we need to start putting some criteria on who we are allowing to shape the future of our sport.


We are going to focus now on getting and keeping your club on track. We are going to focus on long range and strategic planning here.  Basically the reason that you want to have a long range or strategic plans is that keeps your board of directors on track and it keeps your coaching staff on track.  Probably everyone in this room has seen times where a board of directors maybe doesn’t know what they should be doing, they start focusing on micro managing, they want to know what groups are practicing at what time, they want to know all sorts of little things, they want to talk about why some kid wasn’t on a relay, all sorts of things that should be left in the coaches hand.  A long range plan is something where you say O.K. we are going to have our team look like XYZ in 3, 4, or 5 years and then you back track with the steps that you need to achieve that.  This is something that all of us already do in a sense with our athlete planning.  We start with the end of the season and then we work backwards.  How do you want your swimmer to look, perform, and so on at the end of their season, their career, and you track backwards with the necessary steps.


The model that I’m going to show you is entitled VVMOST and is one of the various procedures that I’m most familiar with.  ASCA adapted this model from the corporate world for use with a swimming team.  U.S. Swimming also has strategic planning available.  What he VVMOST stands for Values, Visions Mission Objectives Strategies and Tactics.  We will go through with exactly what each one of these means, and how you can develop them in a little bit of detail.  First I’d like everybody just to join with me here for just a second. I’d like you to just close your eyes for a moment and envision what you think your perfect team situation could be, doesn’t matter for this exercise if you’re coach owned, parent owned, university coach, what have you, think about what your perfect situation could be in two, three, four, five years. What you want to do here with the VVMOST process takes about a day and a half, it’s not something that you want to rush, you want to do a very good job on it, and if you are not familiar with the process, you’re probably going to want to get some more insight as far as the proper steps to take.  You can call ASCA, or you can contact myself.


We are going to begin with values. Values, that is what you start with, and this is probably the most important, if not the most important portion of the exercise.  You want to spend probably five to six hours here.  Now who is here?  You have the board of directors, the key coaches who would be the full time, any other full time staff.  Some of the larger teams will have administrators, assistant secretaries, etc..  If there is any key person in the life of your program such as the pool manager or somebody like that, you might want to bring them in, depending on your relationship.  You’re going to start with values.


Should you bring in somebody from the outside or should you have somebody from within the group do it?  The first time you do this you would want somebody to come in from the outside for a variety of reasons. One, they are not going to be attached to any issues that might be going around the city, the team, the board, what have you.  Anybody that walks into the board room that carries a brief case and comes from more than 200 miles away is considered an expert.  You want to, after you have gone through the process and if you feel comfortable, then you can have maybe somebody from your own club, maybe a past board member, somebody that is going to be neutral, that is going to be able to moderate and do this.  Probably the best person to perform this would be somebody that is very familiar with the profession. I would be calling through ASCA or U.S. Swimming and depending on your comfort level and the level of success with your plan, you can go from there with whatever you feel is important.


We are going to start with the values. It is just a brainstorming session, you list out the values your program currently has and most importantly the values you think it should have.  You don’t want to do, what is called fire hosing in corporate America, there is no commentary, there is no shaking of heads, everybody in the room speaks, there is one hundred percent participation and everything is by consensus.  So the first round we are just going to go through and think of the values. Obviously the things like hard work, dedication and all that are going to come out.  There are also gonna be some words like fun, that you are going to want to, talk about.  Competitive, things that can have double meanings, and competitive can have a negative connotation to some people and has a positive connotation to others.  When you get into those kind of areas, it is probably good to have a little bit of guiding.  But if you tell everybody that your program is about fun and you’re asking the seniors to wake up at 4:30 in the morning, somebody can say that that’s not fun.  So this is really where you want to spend a lot of your effort.  And five to six hours really is not to short of a time or to long of a time to spend.


You want to go through the first round just a brain storming session. You’re going to post up and put your paper all around your room and list out those values.  From there you’re going to go around the room and ask a person what they meant by their value.  Because, if I say competitive, it might be something entirely different then if somebody else says the word competitive.  So you need to understand what I mean by the word competitive.  You’re gonna go through a third time and then decide what fits, what doesn’t fit by consensus.  Either everybody agrees or they don’t agree.  If one person doesn’t agree then you put it off to the side in what you can call a parking lot, or there are a lot of different names for it and that is something that you’ll get back to later.  You don’t want to get into an argument. you don’t want to get into a difference of opinions, you just want to keep moving forward by consensus.


Once you’ve got the values of your organization down, you’re going to go onto the vision.  Now the vision is what you just closed your eyes and pictured, what you want your club or organization to look like in any given period of time, maybe two to five years. You want to start by incorporating some of your key values, because hopefully you want to put your words behind your actions here and so you start with the key values of your program and incorporate that with your vision, it should if you are doing this correctly.  This is what you want your program to look like in a period of time and you want it to be a definite period of time.  You want to be as exacting as you can.  It shouldn’t be I want my club to be great.  We are going to win a lot of meets, what meets, what level of success do you want to achieve?  How many kids at certain meets, how many kids on the team?  There are a lot of different areas that you can put in here other than just competitive success.


From there we go onto the mission statement.  This is how your program is going to achieve the vision.  You have this vision of how your club is going to look in a period of time.  The mission is the philosophical approach that you are going to take to achieve that vision.  There are a lot of different philosophies on how a mission statement should be written.  Some say that it should be short, one line, that can be recited at gun point.  Generally mission statements are starting to look a little bit longer, being a little bit more involved.  You do want to make sure that the entire board and staff agrees and understands the mission because there is a lot of philosophy in here.  It’s the philosophical ways that you are going to get things done in essence.


From there you are going to move on to objectives.  Your objectives are going to be 4 to 6 major tasks that are going to take your organization a year up to two years to complete, to help move you closer to your vision.  When I was in Bakersfield part of our vision was to contribute to the community, we also wanted to be recognized both regionally and nationally so we hosted junior nationals. Junior nationals was one of our main objectives for a period of time. You are going to have objectives tailored to your division.  As you can see there is not a lot of brain science in this – it’s not a lot different with how you set up a season plan.  Just start with what you want and then break it up into steps.


Strategies:  each objective should have strategies, and this is where you are going to get specific and you are going to assign specific committees specific tasks. You’re going to assign specific people to specific tasks, and you are going to set time tables.  This is important, you don’t want to have an objective and then all leave without identifying strategies and have people assigned to each.  We know the story about how that works, nothing is going to get done if everybody thinks that somebody else is going to do it.


The tactics are going to be more in your hands.  Those are probably your monthly goals as a coach, and that may be something that you want to incorporate in the monthly report to the board if you do a monthly report. Maybe somewhere between six and ten monthly goals, and those should be steps towards strategies.


Basically we are getting everybody on the same page, philosophically. A lot of the problems in clubs occur because there will be a club philosophy that maybe the coach has, there is a group of parents that have a slightly different philosophy, there is somebody else that has a slightly different philosophy, everybody thinks that they are going in the right direction, and the roads are slowly diverging and you are going to reach a point where the situation is going to come to a head with the different philosophy.  You want to get everybody on the same track and then through these objective strategy tactics and the monthly use of them and the coaches reports and some of the other things that we are going to get to with board roles, you want to keep the board on track.


The next section I’ve entitled board basics.  Largely this is going to come from a talk that I attended from the Center for Non-Profit Boards.  The talk was aimed on non-profits, mostly large, some small non-profit organization such as Y’s, churches, community groups, counseling organizations, whatever you can think of that would be non-profit organization. They all have boards of directors, generally they have an executive director, you can call a head coach.  A lot of times they run into some of the same issues.  So this talk came about by me sharing some of this information with John Leonard, and him thinking it would be good to share in a larger setting.  So we are going to start with the basics of government or governments.


There are three basics of governments that the board of directors needs to have.  They need to have a duty of care, and that is the care of the bylaws, for the organization as a whole, which encompasses every kid in the group, every coach on the staff, the whole ball of wax.  It can’t be compartmentalized, it can’t be, I like this, but I don’t like that. They can have certain areas that they like and other areas that they think can be improved, and that is entirely valid as long as the improving is done in a constructive and collaborative manner.


Second, duty of loyalty. Again, loyalty to the team, to the bylaws, to the swimmers, etc.  There shouldn’t be any backroom politics or anything like that going on.


Third, duty of obedience.  Again to the bylaws. Each state has slightly different laws that are going to govern a non-profit organization and there needs to be some realization as to that.


Three hats that the board members wear, this is what board members should wear, a lot of time in the swim coaching business. Board members will tend to get a little bit over zealous in their roles.  First hat: Governing, that is as far as setting policy, passing motions, the general legal issues that need to be done to fulfill the team’s obligation.  Second hat, implementation, is just simply implementing the roles the various decisions that have been passed and what not.  And third hat, volunteer. Obviously we are dealing with volunteer people on a non-profit board, and with that there is a of double edge sword.  One they’re a volunteer, they are giving their time — you need to be thankful of that.  On the other hand they are volunteering their time and there isn’t any kind of accountability that you want to hold them to, because you don’t want to scare people off, and they are volunteering their time for you.


We are going to next go to individual board member responsibilities. I’m just going to generally go over some of these key points and then we are going to get a little bit more specific. General expectations of a board member:  First and probably foremost, that they know and are familiar with and truly understand the program’s mission, goals, philosophies, etc.. You don’t want somebody to come onto the board because they want to change the team.  There are probably a lot of teams in your county, if they want a different team, they should probably go seek that elsewhere.  If they think that there are some programs that can use some help, if they think that they have some expertise and they want to help change things constructively and through collaboration with the rest of the board and the staff, that is wonderful.  The board has a responsibility to continue a strong leadership. There should always be the calling and the grooming of new board members.


Next, this is one that applies a lot in our dealings in the coaching world, and that is avoid prejudicial judgment based upon something you may of heard.  If I am a board member and he comes up and tells me what a rotten job a coach is doing out at a satellite program, I want to listen, understand what his points are and tell him I’ll go pass along his commentary and somebody will get back to him.  What I don’t want to do is say, “wow, what a jerk, I can’t believe that happened, wow, you should be ticked off, I’m going to call some other people about this.”  Now I’ve just kind of fanned the fire, whereas before I listened, told him that we would take some steps and that we would get back to him.  Now if there is a problem, what you do is you take that problem and relate to your program’s VVMOST. Is the issue at hand in line with your program’s values, vision and philosophy, or is it not?  If somebody has a problem with something you are doing that is directly in relation to this, then they need to find another team. If they have a problem because a certain aspect of the program is out of line with this and they have a valid gripe then it’s something that should be addressed.  Meetings, board members need to be prepared, they need to ask timely questions. Board members are ultimately responsible for the team in the long run, fiscally and a lot of other ways.  They need to make sure that they understand the financial report, they understand the coaches report and that they have a general knowledge of the whole team as opposed to a compartmentalized view.  Relationship with the staff, basically to offer support to the executive director. A lot of times that will be done through a specific committee or the president of the team.  The executive director or the head coach, hopefully we will have relationships, such as they may go out to lunch, or they may have meetings, weekly, monthly, to go over board meeting agenda’s or other topics.  And then a big one, that the parents need to do and the coaches need to watch out for, is special favors.  This is especially true with young coaches to accept a free dinner or accept free tickets to the movies, or free what have you, but there is always a string attached and there is never an end to it, so you need to be careful.  You probably have plenty of friends and you don’t need to make friends with board members, with parents, or the kids that you are coaching.


There are two more points that I want to hit.  Avoiding conflict, we are going to address resolution a little bit more later, again this is something I’ve already said, but serve the organization as a whole rather than a particular group or a particular special interest or your friend’s needs.  That is actually all that we are going to cover on that.


The question was, if you have a parent who owns a business, maybe a restaurant and they are offering their services to the staff or something like that then that is something that is legitimate, because you can be using it as a staff meeting.  There is a professional reason why you are there, you are not there as a special favor, you are not going to be seen by other parents as having a special relationship with parents and you are going to give special interest and support to their child.  There are some times where there are going to be some cases where that is valid.


Someone commented was that he has found that when he treats volunteers as just straight volunteers he has run into some problems with productivity.  My understanding is that if you give them some specific roles and tasks then they are going to stay focused and stay on track.


Board staff leadership. As I said before, anytime it says executive director you can insert head coach.  There are a lot of head coaches who have the title of executive director, or chief executive officer. Any time you see executive director you shouldn’t be worried or scared, oh my goodness I have to do everything under the sun.  You have a staff that you can delegate to, you have a board that you can delegate to, but, you want to make sure that you do it within the framework here and you want to make sure that there are specific assignments and that it is written down and there is a certain level of accountability there.  Basic responsibilities of non-profit boards: determine the organization’s mission or purpose. That is something that may already be in place in a job that you are looking at, or it may be something that you need to put in place for this type or another type of a planning process.  But each team is going to have a philosophy. If it doesn’t have one, then you need to find out if there is a understated philosophy that the parents really do have, it’s just not on paper.  If it is a job that you are thinking about taking, you need to have a very, very good idea of what that philosophy is.  Find out from previous coaches that were there or other coaches from the area. Select the executive director and then go hire the executive director, support the executive director in their performance as far as following the program missions and objectives.  Insure that there is effective planning going on. Generally that is going to be through the board meetings, monthly or quarterly, where the coach or the executive director will give a monthly report, will show that there is progress being made.  There also should be committee reports.  The board needs to insure that their own committees are doing their job and that everybody is living up to expectations.


There should be adequate resources.   That could be through fund raising.  Making sure that there is enough water time, equipment, what not.  Manage the resources effectively. It could be, if it is money, it could be how are you managing your money through investments if your club is at that point, or how to build up enough cash reserves so that you can look into investing your clubs money.  Taking care of equipment, if you own the facility or if you have to pay a portion of the heating bill, making sure that the covers are on all of the time, making sure that everything is being run as efficiently as possible.  Monitor the strength in the organization’s program and services.  Here basically the board has said O.K. we have a swim team, we want it to look like this, we have gone out and hired somebody to do that, and then their job is now to step back and monitor that and maybe through a six month or yearly review of the coaches performance.  Enhance the organization’s public standing.  Board members should be a role model to the community and to the team as far as exhibiting the type of behavior you want.  The board members should be trying to create introductions into the community for the coach if the coach needs one.  Often times some of the board members are going to be some of the movers and shakers in the town and they can get some doors open that maybe you couldn’t get open otherwise. Ensure legal and ethical integrity and maintain accountability.  Basically make sure everything is being done correctly and everybody knows the difference between right and wrong. Recruit new board members to make sure that there is a continuum of leadership and their vacuum doesn’t form.


We are now going to get into some issues as far as who does what.  So this is under the guise of planning.  The vision, mission, goals of the organization are going to be set either in theVVMOST process or may be already in place when you’ve accepted the position.  The executive director, head coach, is then hired.  The executive director is then going to take a look at this and determine what he or she is going to do during that year period to facilitate the team moving in the correct direction.  The executive director is then going to give that to the board at a meeting for its O.K. and then the board is going to hopefully approve and give input and then at the end of the year monitor the success of the program., the success toward the goal. What we are trying to do here is get the board to think big picture, not micro manage.  You want to leave the coaching and all that up to the professionals.  Program, the executive director conducts a survey of the community.  Basically in the swim coaching world, what does your community need, what can it support?  If you’re Bill Thompson in San Jose , I believe he’s got water polo, swim lessons, synchronized swimming as well as the swim team, you have several different businesses that his office is running.  And that is something, being in the silicon valley that he can do.  If you’re in a smaller town you may have to tailor your program a little bit, determine the program fee and this is all with the board’s evaluation with the yearly plan.  The program fees are definitely tied to the budget and the budget is tied to the priorities of the program.  Those are some key points.


Plan the program schedules, train any volunteers needed and maintain program records.  That is the coaches role as far as the programming.  Now one of the tricky ones, how should a coach be evaluated.  There is a quote by Peter Drucker who is a management expert, the basic question is not how do we control, but what do we measure in our control system, with the idea of what you measure is what you get.  So boards, you want to be very specific in what you want to measure and evaluate your coaches, because that is what you’re going to get.  Coaches you want to look at what your expectations are, are they reasonable are they measurable.  You don’t want areas in your job evaluations that can be solely opinion based and can’t be evaluated with a lot of fact.  Also, what you are evaluated on you need to have control on it, you are evaluated on the physical success of the team and if you have no control over that then you are in a little bit of a tough spot.  That is a little bit of the big picture.


Guy Edson gave a quote at a clinic a couple of years ago, that teenagers by definition aren’t happy and so you have to look at how are the kids happy in relation to the program, not are they happy the day after the coach kicked them out of practice.  Are the kids improving, and again this is long term, and finally, most importantly are they becoming better people. Those are some very hard things to evaluate, especially hard to evaluate from a board of director’s stand point if they have no expertise in the area.


Finances, executive director is your job and you’re going to prepare a preliminary budget and you want to do as good of job on this as you can.  You want to have every penny accounted for, you want to do the most perfect job because this is one of the main areas that you’re going to gain some accountability.  You’re going to gain some respect and some authority and eventually you’re going to get a lot more out of your job and out of the board if they begin to respect your abilities in this area a little more.  The board then has the fiduciary and legal responsibility of finalizing the budget and again there may be some differences state to state.  The executive director then sees that all expenditures are within the budget.  Basically as head coach or executive director, you are making sure that if you have a hundred dollars to spend at this meet that you don’t spend over a hundred dollars, if you have a thousand dollars for equipment, that is what you spend and no more.  If for some reason a situation arises the board would approve any expenditures outside of the authorized budget.  Now a lot of times inside of a budget, a coach will have the authority for let’s say $3,000.00 for equipment and coach has sole authority and so I can come here and if I wanted to get a great deal and wanted to go buy eight VASA trainers I could.  That would probably be the ideal situation to work for — where you have authority to spend the money within the constraints of what’s been approved.  The board solicits contributions, for support of current programs.  If you want to build a pool, or if you want to start a new program, if you want to start a swim school and then as executive director it’s going to be crucial that you help organize that.  You need to enlist the swimmers and their families support and you are going to be crucial in the success of that.


And then finally, the board insures that there is an annual audit of the agency or the organization.


Again the board hires the executive director and the board may decide at certain times with the executive director’s commentary, to hire other staff, which could mean a secretary, administrative assistant or what not, but as far as program aspects and the coaches and whoever is going to be operating under the organization, the executive director basically needs to have full authority to hire, to fire and to review.  You do not want to get into a situation where your assistant coaches aren’t working for you as a head coach and they know they’re not working for you.  There is an awful lot of coaches that I’m sure you know that have had age group coaches throw a little coup when they have been away to junior nationals and that is not a situation that you want to be in.  Also the executive director would settle any disputes among the staff.


The final one that we are going to look at here is going to be the board-staff-committee interaction. The board is going to settle any clashes between the committees.  You have two committees that for some reason are arguing or are not getting along, are disagreeing.  The board is going to need to step in and settle that.  The board is also going to be responsible for signing and executing any legal documents, appointing committee members and calling a committee into action.  The executive director should be in charge of following up and to insure that anything that is past or any motions or new policies are implemented.  It says to take minutes at the board meetings.  This is something that traditionally at swim clubs the secretary does. In a lot of non-profit organizations the executive director will have a staff person do that.  Speaking from my own personal experiences I would suggest that if you are not taking or you’re not having somebody taking minutes, you want to keep a very, very good track of what happens at a board meeting. Historically speaking, generally the coach, you’re going to be there longer than most board members and a lot of issues come up again and again and you want really good records of when this happened three years ago.  We did XY and Z and this is what happened.  Additionally, if some type of a dispute arises you want to have some accurate records as to what occurred and to what conversations took place.  Prepare any exhibits any reports, any material that you need to present the board.  This could be on selling them why they need to be doing a certain thing, it could be your standard coaching report what have you.  Then we’ve got this area in here that there is a lot of collaborative efforts.  Now the executive director and probably the president or most of the executive committee of the board are going to plan the board meeting agenda.  Probably the best case scenario is the consent agenda, where the executive director a week or two weeks out before the board meeting sends out an agenda and to all the board members and on the bottom it will say something along the lines, if you have any additions please let me know and that is the agenda.  That will insure that the agenda is driven off of a long range plan and will also insure that the agenda stays on task and is specific.  And then getting it out to the board members early will also give them the chance to review it and if there are any issues that they feel need to be addressed then they can ask that those be addressed.


Recruit new board members.  Now the executive directors are gonna want to have a big part of this, you should all be on the nominating committees, hopefully chairing the nominating committees of your club.  You want to have some type of filter on who comes on to your board.  You want to make sure that they have an understanding of these.  You don’t necessarily want to get five, ten, however many people that are going to agree with everything you say, because then there is going to be an argument thrown back at you, because then you’re just stacking the deck in your favor.  There is always going to be somebody on your club that has a problem with you about something or another and that may be a good person to stick on the board because they’ll be the bad guy on the board. It’s human dynamics that a continuum is going to form a group of people and there is going to be a group of people that love the executive director, there is going to be a group of people that wants the coach to move away and there is going to be a group in the center.  And if you already have somebody that is fairly critical of you, go ahead and let him or her on the board and they’re probably going to be the person on the right field that is going to talk, say their peace and everybody is going to roll their eyes, nod their head, and move on.  It is a lot better to have that person out in the open doing things than behind your back doing things.


Plan and promote proposed committee organization.  Again something that should be a dual responsibility.  Promote attendance at board meetings and committee meetings, and that should be not just of the board members obviously, but of the parents of the organization, community people.  You want people to see that you’re organized, that you’re efficient, that’s what your about and that is the way that you can gain support.


The importance of when you schedule the board meetings:  In some cases coaches are walking off the deck 15 minutes after practice and into a meeting.  I’ve been in the same situation where I’ve had to run out of practice to a meeting and generally in Bakersfield the meetings ran until about 11:00 at night and then I was up at 3:45 the next morning at practice and all the other board members were in that same boat. They were all up late at night and it’s tough to make decisions after a long day, it’s tough to make hard decisions when you’re tired. You want to try, if you have a strong strategic plan and it’s in place and you’re running the meetings effectively, you have a strong president and you have an agenda that is driven by your long range plan, you should probably expect a 45 minute board meeting.  You just boom, boom, boom, here is where we are and that is it, and there should be no excuse for anything longer than an hour board meeting and that should be a goal for your program. Say, “O.K. at the end of an hour we are all getting up and leaving, we will see you next month.”  After a couple of months of that, people are probably going to get their act together and there will be a lot less chat and what not, but when you schedule your board meetings, it’s very important.


ASCA can facilitate a VVMOST session.  Just call them to set one up.  John Leonard or Guy Edson will come to your club for $2000.


The comment was that you don’t need parents from your own organization to be on your board and it’s perfectly legal I believe in every state to have board members who are outside of your organization, and there is a lot of good reasons why you would have a local business person come in.  (Check your bylaws.) One they don’t have the time to sit through a lengthy meeting and they are not going to put up with that, two, they are going to bring a level of expertise and professionalism in.  I know that there are quite a few clubs in some areas of the country where they will actually have other coaches from neighboring clubs formulate their board of directors.  So you would be wise to look at your laws at the state that you’re in and see what you can do as far as setting up the best possible situation.  You said that you may want to occasionally hire a CPA or a lawyer to advise your club on certain matters.  Probably every club has lawyers and CPA’s in them, but you are also going to get that lawyer’s and that CPA’s slant on everything, and just because they are a great lawyer or CPA they also have kids in their program and they are going to have some vested interest and they are going to have a little bit of a slant.


The question was given the recommendation that the head coach is in charge of hiring and firing, and should the board have a say in that and how does all that work.  Generally at your yearly budget meeting you are going to throw out a figure, I need $400,000.00 for salaries, whatever the case may be, and you are going to divide that up amongst your staff.  Now if the program grows, you have some type of explosion in numbers and you go to the board and say O.K. we have X number of revenue coming in and now can we have another coach. That would be outside of the parameters where you would need to go to the board and they would need to allocate some additional funds.


The question was do you want to exclude the board from that process, do you want to have them involved.  You don’t want to have them feel alienated, you don’t want to leap from a situation where they have done all the hiring to a situation to where they have nothing to do with it. You want to have a slow plan to end their involvement with the hiring process.  Eventually you may be in a situation to where the team is successful enough and the executive director has the trust and authority that you’re going to have cart blanche.  You’re going to be able to hire the people and you’re going to have the trust and you’re going to have proven that you have a first rate organization.  To start off with, it’s not a bad idea to have the coach sit through an interview with the understanding though that it is the head coaches responsibility and the head coaches decision on who is going to be hired for that assistant coach spot.


Mark from Dad’s club just said that he had one board member sit in on his interviews and that they are able to go back to the full board and relay who is being hired and what is going on.


I’m going to go over really quickly, some ideas on how to avoid conflict and fix it if it happens and this is titled how your board can govern more and manage less.  Develop a strategic plan and adhere to it.  It has to be worth more than the paper it’s written on.  Link the current agenda to the strategic agenda.  Monitor the success of the organization activity, that should be in a broad scope looking at a year two year in general, how the program is doing.  Develop clear expectations and a plan of action for the board of directors.  The board needs to know what their roles are, they need to know what their responsibilities are and it all ties in here.  Direct the executive director to prepare strategically. That’s the boards insurance to direct the executive director and see that he is following the plan as well.  Structure meetings to direct the board’s attention to matters of policy and strategy. You don’t want the board to micro manage, you want the board to deal with this up here.   Develop and use the consent agenda.  Determine priorities and organize the agenda accordingly with your more pertinent matters toward the front.  Assess the performance of the board on a regular basis.  That should be something that the board should assess their own performance. The staff should also be given a chance to objectively and without retaliation assess the board’s performance. Objectively determing the boards ability to meet their specific tasks and focus on policy objectives, organizational strategy and the relationship between budgets and priorities. Where you spend your money is where your priorities are with your club.


How to problem solve within a board. Decide that you want the problem solved.  Consider only the present and the future, it doesn’t matter what happened a year ago, a month ago.  If you want to really focus, focus on the solutions, focus on the future.  How do you want this to end up.  Disclose as much data as possible.  Lay all the cards out on the table in a diplomatic way.  Consider all pertinent data, if you are dealing with objective A don’t let somebody pipe in about objective B or C that they were also mad about, that is the way that the whole board can get into an uproar.  You want to focus at one objective at a time.  Separate fact from assumption.  That is a biggie, you need to know what did happen or what may have happened.  If a related issue arises, record it. If somebody is angry about B or C write it down in the parking lot and we’ll address it later.  Don’t let your self get sidetracked.


The way to balance between a quality decision is acceptance.  This is something that is a little sticky with a lot of coaches and their philosophy’s.  You want to work towards collaboration where it is win, win, not just a cooperation where you nod your head and people walk out of the room angry.  Make the decision and commit to it.  Once you have made a decision that is the way it is.  Once the board has made a decision that is what is and the entire board and staff works towards implementing it.


Labor laws, do they apply to swimming coaches?  They definitely apply to the swimming coach profession just as it does to any other.  When somebody is terminated you need to file specific protocol and I’m actually in a situation right now that I can’t really talk about, but I know all to well, if you are a board of directors, realize that you have the responsibility to provide your employees with a working environment that is free of hostility and free of harassment.  If you are an employee, realize that there are certain things that you need to do to fulfill your obligations.  If you are in management such as an executive director, and somebody under your supervision comes to you, there are certain steps that you need to take.  Some of those differ state by state and depending on what type of infraction it is.  What it all comes down to in a nut shell, is doing what is morally right, and if you follow your morals and follow your values, usually you won’t run into those types of problems.






How to Problem Solve Within a Board

(Or, Addressing Conflict Without

Threat or Accusation)

Source:  Center for Nonprofit Management


  1. 1. DECIDE that you actually want the problem solved.


  1. Consider only the PRESENT and/or FUTURE aspects of the issue. Avoid thinking and talking about the past, which cannot be changed – most of the time, it cannot even be proven.


  1. Disclose AS MUCH DATA AS POSSIBLE – holding back information is a form of “power play.”




  1. Separate FACT from ASSUMPTION (assumptions are all right to bring up as long as we acknowledge they are “assumptions”).


  1. If related or tangential issues arise, RECORD THEM for future reference and possible consideration by the board. Don’t let side issues crowd the issues at hand.


  1. Weigh the balance between a QUALITY DECISION and GROUP ACCEPTANCE. The quality may have to yield to a level which the total board can accept and ACT upon.


  1. Make the DECISION and COMMIT to it! Sometimes, boards sabotage their own decision-making.  Be prepared – once the decision is made there will be resulting outcomes and demands.



Tips for Successful Committees

Source:  Center for Nonprofit Management


  1. Develop written statements of committee responsibilities, guidelines, and annual goals, and review and revise them periodically.


  1. Appoint an effective chairperson who clearly understands the organization, the role of the committee, and the importance of conscientious committee leadership.


  1. Choose committee members whose experience, skills, and interest supports the goals of the committee and complements the abilities of their fellow members.


  1. Create written job descriptions for committee members. State expectations clearly.  Distribute tasks reasonably among members.


  1. Arrive at a clear understanding of the relationships and respective roles of board, committees, executive director, and other staff.


  1. Give committee members thorough information to aid in their decision making.


  1. Make timely reports to the board on committee actions and recommendations, allowing the opportunity for members to consider the information before discussion.


  1. Set terms of service for committee members to ensure new perspectives and to give board members the opportunity to contribute to other areas.


  1. Set meeting schedules well in advance, in consultation with members. Make effective use of meeting time by sending materials and an agenda to members well ahead of scheduled meetings and by moving through the agenda in a businesslike way.


  1. Schedule an orientation session for new committee members.


  1. Conduct an annual evaluation to assess the committee’s accomplishments in relation to its goals.


  1. Recognize and express appreciation for the achievements of committee members.




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