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Visionary leadership provides direction for sport organizations

This is an excerpt from Contemporary Leadership in Sport Organizations by David Scott.

From Vision to Reality

One example of an individual's vision that evolved into a global sport movement is that of the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Special Olympics International. Shriver, in the early 1960s, based her vision on the belief that people with intellectual disabilities could accomplish more than was thought possible and that sport and physical activity was an avenue through which they could realize their potential ("Eunice Kennedy Shriver," 2012). Through her commitment and will to move a vision forward, Shriver began providing organized activities for children with disabilities at a summer day camp in her backyard. Since that time, her vision evolved into what is now known as Special Olympics International, a global organization that serves over 3.7 million people in 170 countries (, 2012).

Another example of extraordinary visionary leadership is that of former tennis star, women's sport leader, and social advocate Billie Jean King. Among her numerous honors, King has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and named Global Mentor for Gender Equality by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); she was acknowledged in 1990 by Life magazine as one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century (Mylan WTT, 2012).

King has provided vision, guidance, and support to organizations including the Women's Tennis Foundation, World Team Tennis, and the Women's Sports Foundation; most recently, in 2007, she cofounded GreenSlam, an initiative to make sports environmentally friendly. King's leadership demonstrates how linking vision with commitment has produced extraordinary outcomes leading to significant advancements in gender equity as well as social, cultural, and environmental responsibility in sport.

Emerging Visions in Sport

Many of the challenges facing the sport industry today call for visions that emerge out of collective thinking and create a collective impetus for change within or across organizations. In an article addressing visioning as an essential element for the overall future of the sport industry, Jean-Loup Chappelet (2009) points to several problems that he believes must be collectively addressed in order for sport to continue to play a positive role in 21st-century society. According to Chappelet, the core problems, particularly in competitive sport today, include (a) increased use of doping substances; (b) increased violence on the part of fans, players, and coaches; (c) corruption among athletes and officials; and (d) "gigantism." By gigantism, Chappelet means the "sheer scale of many sport events and facilities, which makes them difficult to maintain and sustain" (p. 484).

As a first step in developing a foundational vision for how those in the sport professions might conceptualize these problems and begin to propose solutions, Chappelet refers to a key question posed by Earle Ziegler (2007): "What kind of sport should the profession promote in order to shape the world in the 21st century?" According to Chappelet, a possible way to think about this question and its relationship to a future vision of sport is to consider the benefits of what he refers to as "good sport" (p. 484). These benefits can be classified into four categories:

  1. Sport brings good health and quality of life for those who practice it.
  2. It is a means of physical and moral education.
  3. Sport provides role models and helps in the social integration of young people and other minority groups.
  4. As a crucial global industry, sport contributes to economic and social development in the areas where it is organized.

Chappelet goes on to suggest that sport managers ask themselves four key questions when considering the future vision of sport. These questions, simply stated, are (1) "Do we promote health?", (2)"Do we encourage education or violence?", (3)"Do we provide good role models or encourage corruption?", and (4) "Do we promote balanced development of sport in cities?"

In summary, according to Chappelet, effectively addressing these four questions can lead to emerging visions and changes capable of producing sport that he describes as "Sustainable, Addiction-Free, Fair and Ethical - SAFE" (p. 485). In his view, this can occur through use of a holistic approach that operates at both the local and global levels.

In this example of visioning in sport, Chappelet lays a foundation for how leaders of sport organizations could collectively begin to visualize an ideal future. He also cites examples of work associated with this vision that is already in progress at various organizations, including the International Olympic Committee, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), and the European Olympic Committee. Each of these organizations, according to Chappelet, is contributing directly to initiatives designed to address some of the current challenges and issues related to doping, violence, and ethics in sport.

Another example of how leaders can collectively identify problems and begin to envision a different future relates to college sport reform in the United States. The challenges and issues associated with college sport, particularly in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I, are mentioned almost daily in the news and have become a key focus of many individuals and organizations. These include university presidents, the NCAA, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Knight Commission, the Drake Group, and the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA) (Benford, 2007). As pointed out by Benford, COIA, which is composed of 52 Division IA university faculty senates, is dedicated to promoting comprehensive reform in intercollegiate sports. Issues identified by COIA to be addressed include academic integrity, welfare of athletes, governance, finance, and commercialization.

According to College Sports Business News (December, 2011), the positive virtues of college athletics (including institutional pride; strengthening connections to alumni; and creating educational, competitive, and physical development and socialization opportunities for athletes) are often overshadowed by the demand for "sports-generated dollars." Among reform efforts, new visions for college athletics supported by Division I presidents include significant revisions to NCAA rules, improving academic standards and tying academic performance to participation in championships, and revamping the penalty structure for rule violations (Ramos, 2011). It is likely that the ultimate outcome of any college sport reform efforts will be directly influenced by the extent to which all of the individuals and organizations involved are able to align their collective visions and work together to create the impetus for lasting change.

Learn more about Contemporary Leadership in Sport Organizations.

More Excerpts From Contemporary Leadership in Sport Organizations