We are accustomed to associating the practice of human resources management with large corporations or at least medium-sized companies. However, as human resources management has become increasingly sophisticated and comprehensive over the last decade, the tools of the trade have become increasingly useful and even necessary in fields far away from their original purposes. Human resources management, once highly peripheral to the main focus of a company or other organization, is now a central force in creating and maintaining a healthy organization.
This paper examines one of those fields that have become increasingly dependent on human resources management: The field of sports and recreation management, specifically as it is used in soccer, one of the most popular sports in the world and one that must face the challenges of other major sports, including the great disparity in pay and privilege between the stars and other players, problems with drug use, a "workforce" extraordinarily susceptible to injury, and a sports tradition that has encouraged what can only be described as unsportsmanlike behavior much of the time, not only against opponents but against teammates as well.
Professional sports have long been the province of flashy sports managers and team managers who were at least as concerned about their own image as their management skills. The switch to professional human resources managers can thus be seen as a shift to a more overall professional attitude towards sports, an attitude that is likely to improve the sports experience for both the athletes as well as the fans. However, countering this last point is the fact that organizations are generally resistant to change and sports organizations (like some other types of organizations in society, such as arts organization) and so the implementation of a fully professional mechanism for human resources management program more difficult than it is in other fields.
This does not mean that it is not possible to implement such a program but rather that anyone who engages in such a task must be prepared for a range of significant challenges far beyond his or her colleagues might be facing in other fields. This means that the field is both more challenging and potentially more rewarding, especially for those human resources managers who are concerned with the entire sports organization process, from recruitment, to training, to maintaining key balances in the team, to managing the public and its influences on team strategy.
Background of Human Resources Management
Before focusing on the specific ways in which human resources management has been adapted to (and adopted by) sports organizations, it will be useful to examine the field in general and how it has morphed from the status of "human resources" and "human relations" that it held just a few years ago. For decades human relations departments did little more than collect paperwork from new hires and made sure that everyone turned in their tax forms. Employees might have interacted with their HR representative only once or twice in their entire employment.
While these are of course important tasks, they are essentially clerical. This is no longer the case for human resources management, which holds a professional role that has as much responsibility as any other high-level management department in a company or other organization and this authority (and responsibility) is highly focused on recruitment. This may come as a surprise for the field of sports where recruitment -- at least as it is seen in movies -- involves the grizzled coach leaning against a fence, chewing on a toothpick, and eyeing the field of young players before he selects the one and only player who will become a star.
Human resources management has changed dramatically in the last decade, and these changes have allowed the field to expand to new horizons. In other words, human resources management has grown in directions that have allowed it to embrace new fields, and these new fields (such as sports management) have in turn shifted human resources management goals to meet the specific needs of organizations such as theirs. Sports and other non-traditional work places and novel tasks and responsibilities of human resources managers have thus grown in tandem with each other, coming to exist in a symbiotic relationship.
At its most basic, human resources management focuses on the human capital of an organization, supporting that often-spoken (but much more rarely believed) maxim that a company's greatest resource is its people. A good human resources management team is capable of finding and recruiting and then retaining the best employees for an organization. Of course, it does not do this on its own, and especially in the field of sports many others would be involved in player selection, but the human resources manager is the one that helps to coordinate the enterprise from start to finish. This approach is one that is described as tracking the "employee lifespan."
Human resources managers also generally serve as the liaison between the team owners and the players' union. This too is one of the ways in which the contemporary human resources management has shifted into the in-house engine of using employees (and although it sounds odd, even star athletes are still employees) in ways that will create value for both the individual and the organization as a whole. Given the importance of unions in the sports world -- one of the arenas in which unions are still highly powerful -- this liaison position is a very important one.
Human Resources Management, Organizational Culture, and Sports
Another key function that the human resources manager performs is creating a healthy corporate culture. This might mean that the human resources manager might institute policies that discourage performance-enhancing drugs or that support athletes who perform volunteer work in their communities. A corporate culture can be understood as the way a company and its employees look at themselves as opposed to the face that they show to the rest of the world.
A healthy corporate culture is one in which the two versions of the corporation are the same, meaning that the organization has nothing to hide. As the headlines repeatedly show, this is not at all the kind of organizational culture that exists in the sports world. If it could be created and sustained in teams then the world of sports would be better for those within and without because the culture of the team would carry over to its fans.
Doherty (1998) summarizes this point, using the term "organizational behavior" in lieu of corporate or organizational culture:
Human resources, which are critical to organisational effectiveness, must be effectively managed. Human resource management relies on the ability to explain and predict organisational behaviour (OB), which is the attitudes and behaviours of individuals and groups in the organisation; their satisfaction, commitment, performance, and so on. OB research is directed toward identifying the determinants of these attitudes and behaviours, and further outcomes including organisational effectiveness. (p. 1)
Much of the apparent organizational strategy of sports teams would seem to circulate around money, with the assumption that the team with the most money and the stars who get the biggest chunk of that money are the best organizations (Li, 1993).
However, this depends entirely on how one conceptualizes the concept of "best" as it relates to a sports organization. The most obvious way to tell which team is best is simply looking at which team has won the most games, made it to the play-offs, won those play-offs. This is, of course, how most fans would go about determining the "best" team. However, what is not as clear to most fans, and probably even to many individuals who work within sports organizations, that the performance of athletes is very much tied to the basics of the human resources management skill and organization (Koehler, 1988).
What Really Makes the 'Best' Team?
Doherty (1998) explains more completely how athletic success and organizational structure and behavior (as implemented and supported by human resources management) are intimately link with team success:
OB refers to the attitudes and behaviours of individuals and groups in the organisation. How members feel about their pay, their commitment to the workgroup or organisation, their willingness to work overtime, and job performance are examples of important attitudes and behaviours in the workplace.
According to Ivancevich and Matteson (1996), "individual performance is the foundation of organizational performance" (p. 14). Koehler (1988) advises that "it should never be overlooked that the lifeline and energy of & #8230; organizations are lodged within individuals
[T]he "management of human resources becomes very critical because only people implement organizational policies and procedures. Further, money and material become resources only when people use them effectively in the production of goods and services"
The attitudes and behaviours of members are critical, and perhaps of particular concern, in difficult economic times when members are expected to do more with less.
The dependence of sport organisations on volunteers may increase the complexity of human resource management (HRM). The challenge is…