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This essay serves to give a general overview of the work of a sports development officer. It will start with definition of the term, set the context in which they operate, offer some work they get involved in. finally, it will raise some of the issues and challenges that they face and will briefly give a strategic direction for the future of the service while developing sport in the local communities.

The context

Sport has a key role it plays in helping communities achieve their vision that can include a healthy and happy people. Sport touches most people in one way or the other as spectators, volunteers and or participants. In this way, sport improves our quality of life. Sport makes a significant contribution to political and social agenda in community regeneration, community safety, health education, environment and local economies.

Sports development involves provision of better and more opportunities to participate in sport. Thus sports development is defined as the creating of pathways for people to improve their sporting activities through to excellence and provision of necessary opportunities to ensure that that achieve their full potential.

Sports development officer

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Sports development officer is defined as those people whose aim is to improve access to sport and physical activity to people of all ages and abilities, and develop communities through the use of sports and physical activities. Sports development can be said as a process whereby processes, opportunities, effective structures and systems are put in place to enable and encourage people to participate in sports and sporting activities like recreation as well as improve their performance in whatever sport they are involved in. Sport development thus is about developing not only sports activities but also individuals participating in sports, sports organization to ensure better support for sport and sport within the community. More often than not, the work of sports practitioners are usually underestimated and undermined. But effective sports development in our communities can be a great boost and motivation to the sports practitioners.

Roles of sports development officers

Their central role is to increase participation in sports of all kinds. These officers can also be involved in organizing projects, organize programs, provide information on training and encourage people to engage in sports to have a healthier lifestyle and also as part of community participation. Therefore a SDO promotes and coordinates the participation of all people especially the young in sports.

Duties and tasks of a sports development officer (SDO)

Although SDOs were employed in general posts, this has shifted to theme based (directed towards a certain discipline say like that of women sports) or sports specific functions officers (focusing on one sport). This was done mainly to concentrate the officers in one discipline and try to make some achievement. Sports development officers may be involved in the following duties:

  • Developing, coordinating and delivering of sport and recreation programs and services aimed at addressing community issues like social injustice and equity.
  • Gather enough information to help in understanding sport and recreation issues as well as assist in grant administration.
  • Render organization support to clubs and schools.
  • Act as a scout talent for clubs.
  • Act as a coach for either teams or individuals in competition.
  • Improve skills by developing training exercises.
  • Help manage finances for approved projects and programs.
  • Ensure that sports ground, courts and venues are maintained.
  • Schedule competitions, allocate and arrange venue.
  • Employ, train, support, develop and manage coaches and volunteer staff.
  • Maintenance of relevant record and produce written records.

The SDOs may also have specialized posts such as a disability sports development officer whose activities may involve the following:

  • Using available information and publicity to ensure that people with disabilities are aware of the sporting opportunities that they can access.
  • Train and educate coaches and volunteer experts in disability.
  • Maintain inclusivity in sports.

Challenges for sports practitioners

For the provision of quality community sports by sports developments officers, they have to respond to a groundswell of demands from locals. They meet several challenges that hinder the smooth running of their activities. Some of these challenges are outlined below:

Sports development is entirely a new concept

Sports development is entirely a new concept to many of those involved in sports. Traditionalists who see sport as just existing tend to put obstacles on the way for SDOs. They see no need to promoting, developing or enhancing sport any active way. The desires to expand and bring sport innovations are usually resisted by thes kind of people who are a big impediment on the way of SDOs. This means that the SDOs really do struggle if they are not given moral support by the authorities or any sort of strategic planning support to keep them focused. To be effective, sports development takes time and thus some people may get impatient if they do not see any positive developments by the SDOs within a short period.

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Sports developments officers face a daunting task to ask the relevant authorities for enough cash to carry out enough sports development activities. Funding has been the main challenge, the national sports policy dictates what is to be done and by what amount; this limits the scope of SDOs and what they are able to achieve. Resources are another big problem as the NGBs always charge that they do not have enough cash to spare. This has greatly reduced the number staff to run as SDOs. The national policy dictations can be very restrictive and hinder the work of SDOs.

Financial issues, structure and control of finances have been a great challenge to the SDOs. Most of the trusts may get interested in cost efficiency than the quality of services rendered by the SDOs.  

Compulsory competitive tendering

Sports development has been adversely affected by CCT and unfortunately the SDOs are also embroiled in then same. In drawing up of initial contract specifications, many opportunities which detail the development responsibilities upon contractors are missed. This has resulted to a tendency of concentrating on numbers through the door and financial returns; this is done without considering community involvement or the desire of expanding client base. This neglect and financial emphasis are so epidemic that SDOs find it difficult to gain access to the sporting regalia in their own sporting areas.

The situation can be remedied by authorities, facilities managers or companies operating under CCT. They need to realize the importance of working with SDOs to develop new customer bases, activities and programs for specific groups such as women, disabled people or adults. This will ensure that when drawing contracts in the future, sports development is part of the contract specification. The need to have SDOs develop new initiatives should be emphasized.

Shortage of knowledge

In the whole area of sports development, there is no doubt that there is a shortage of knowledge for the practitioner, politicians and senior officials. National officials need to seriously look at this issue. Sports council and education institutions need to provide more courses to support the development in this area of sports up to degree levels. To be effective as SDOs, these individuals need to be self-motivated and relate well with seniors so that they remain focused. They also need to know how to handle those people or politicians opposing it and be effective in dealing with bureaucracy to get things done as they want them.


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In the sports fraternity, there is a feeling that we have instant right leaders who can make the right decisions for the fact that they have participated in sports. This is not always the case and thus SDOs must be supported unlike these "instant" leaders.

Data shows that as earlier as 1970s, national governing bodies (NGBs) were receiving some cash from the sports council in which much of the aid was directed towards coaching and improved administration. But unfortunately, NGBs were conservative and did not do enough to show direction for sports development. Another factor that challenged SDOs was the sports council instability priorities in the 1980s. And hence still in the 1990s sports development was still at its infancy and struggling to get recognized by the government and among conservatives. Administrative and organizational arrangements still in the 1990s at the national levels were not conducive to policy stability. SDOs were distracted by the tension between CCPR and the sports council.

It is important that the sports fraternities seek to develop leaders and encourage professionalism from such individuals. Leadership skills in sport can be nurtured, grown and supported but not automatically possessing them.


Sports development is and has been about individuals in community development through participation in sports. Sports development is related to community education as well as community's recreation fields. Although SDOs will want to use these available facilities to enhance sports in our communities, there is danger that some individuals will get embroiled in political and academic arguments. This may spoil the party for OSDs who could want to provide sporting opportunities for all community participants but only result to bedeviling community education. Another contentious issue facing the SDOs has been work at the grassroots, there are always disagreements as to where more energy should be focused as well as disputes as to the most important areas.


In order to carry the above sports roles, SDOs are required to have very wide range professional skills. They need to be competent in the following disciplines: organization, communication, evaluation and understanding, selling sourcing, planning, persevering, thinking, leadership qualities and being able to deal with people. All these attributes seem to be many thus posing a great challenging to the sports development officers. They are meant to try as much as possible to acquire or better the above qualities and work towards enhancing and developing their skills at any given opportunity they get.

Lack of infrastructure

Shortage of resources like finances, grassed playing field, lack of enough physical educational teachers and transportation services have resulted to stiff competition in the same community and between regional centers. There are a few available fully trained SDOs and with great masses, there is consequent burn-out of the available professionals. Many communities are now struggling to establish new sporting and recreational facilities to keep up with a large growing population.

Although SDOs usually are supposed to work 36 hours a week, this may vary from time to time and may entail attending meetings in weekends and even in the evenings. The job involves a lot of local travel and attending to community groups.

The sports development officers although faced with many challenges that may slow them down or even be demoralizing, they ought to understand the nature of their jobs and know that they are in the business of devising better and more effective ways to promoting the interest, performance and participation in sport. The importance of sports development has to be emphasized and hence the need to work at both elite and grassroots level. Individuals aspiring to be effective sports officers must be controlled and self-motivated. They need to be focused, relate well to different people and work with enormous commitment.   


A sports development officer is defined as a person whose aim is to improve access to sport and physical activity to people of all ages and abilities, and develop communities through the use of sports and physical activities. Their central role is to increase participation in sports of all kinds. Their specific roles are varied from sports development and coordination to coaching and financial management for the communities. Sports development is all about making a different approach to sports, promotion of positive change, creating effective partnership, overcoming barriers and challenges, improving shortfalls in provision and improving the standards of current provision.

Sports development officers encounter several challenges that can slow down the pace of their career and or demoralize them. The challenges include: financial hurdles, lack of enough infrastructure, political interference, leadership woes to stringent qualifications for the SDOs.

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