Solving a 100-year-old problem

Cora Lynn's Terry Dillon presented to the Cobras' local rival, Kooweerup, earlier this season.

By Russell Bennett

If struggling sporting clubs continue to do what they’ve always done, how can they realistically expect to improve the situation they’re in?

That’s one of the prevalent questions asked in ‘How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Clubs’ – a book written and released recently by one of the most well-known names in West Gippsland footy, Cora Lynn’s Terry Dillon.

The work, produced by Dillon as part of his work with TD Solutions (TDS) Sports Administration, is based on his five steps to build a successful community club.

“Community sport has some real concerns, and the modelling for volunteers, finance, the committee structure and revenue modelling hasn’t changed for 40-plus years, and that’s why more clubs are battling,” Dillon explained.

TDS brings Dillon’s lifetime work – including working for 17 years at AFL clubs such as Collingwood (as chief financial officer under Eddie McGuire), Hawthorn (as chief operating officer under Ian Dicker and Jeff Kennett, and acting chief executive), and St Kilda (as chief operating officer) – to the fore to help those running local sporting clubs.

TDS has now helped more than 500 clubs across 12 sports – including Aussie Rules, soccer, cricket, rugby, tennis , golf, and netball – at local, league, association, state, and national levels.

And though some may have a preconceived notion about Dillon through his heavy involvement with the Cora Lynn Football Netball Club, he has worked directly with a number of other local football and netball clubs who have clearly seen the need to improve their own situations. Those clubs include: Tooradin-Dalmore, the Warragul Industrials, Nar Nar Goon, Kooweerup, Dalyston, Pakenham, Narre Warren, and Hampton Park. He has also worked with a range of clubs in the MPNFL, such as Frankston YCW, Crib Point, Somerville, Hastings, and Devon Meadows.

The AFL has even utilised TDS in a range of pilot programs interstate.

Dillon has presented to club members of a large number of Cora Lynn rivals, and he explained why.

“I want a healthier competition, and this leads to greater health of all clubs,” he said.

“There is a formula to running a club and I feel privileged to work with some terrific community-minded people who want to make a real difference.

“The fundamentals of running a club are the same across all sports – they all have similar challenges but importantly the same opportunities.”

TDS has developed a model called the ‘REEDS’ approach with the clubs it’s involved with – Recognition, Evaluation, Education, Direction, and Support.

It utilises technology across a range of mediums and includes short, targeted online training sessions across 10 key areas. From there, it provides a set of simple tools to assist clubs and tailored coaching and support with experienced sports administrators.

TDS’ plan to improve clubs includes: building confidence with club volunteers, establishing a modernised committee structure, developing a thriving volunteer program, implementing an effective financial reporting structure and importantly a ‘new-aged’ revenue model, instigating a succession planning model, and helping to carry out both short-term and long-term strategic plans.

According to Dillon, the TDS model is applicable to all clubs from all sports which are either in debt, lacking revenue, finding it difficult to attract volunteers, overloading their most experienced administrators and burning them out, using out of date structures, or are simply open to change.

In his book, Dillon identified that the major challenges for clubs – regardless of sport -fall into the same five categories: Identifying and retaining good leaders, using strong financial reporting processes, using an effective and relevant revenue model, finding and retaining volunteers, and planning for the future.

Without expertise in these key areas, he says that even committees and administrators with the best of intentions will struggle to run their clubs successfully.

“I’ve always been surprised that to coach a team, in nearly all sports around the country, you need to have gained a minimum education requirement,” he said.

“Yet, if you want to run the whole club, you need no qualification whatsoever – nothing, zip, zero.

“To avoid catastrophe in clubland, there has to be a circuit breaker, something that provides not just hope and encouragement, but real, practical support and workable solutions for clubs and their volunteer administrators.”

TDS is built around two key philosophies – ‘don’t give clubs fish – teach them how to fish’ and ‘successful community clubs share the load’. The organisation meets with clubs and their committees on a face-to-face basis – via a strategic planning workshop – and helps to lay every challenge that may be facing them out on the table.

“The TDS workshops – in combination with the online education available – provides the administrators new energy, new hope, and importantly a precise pathway to take clubs forward in a sustainable manner,” Dillon said.

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