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Importance of organizational behavior in sport

This is an excerpt from Organizational Behavior in Sport Management by Eric MacIntosh & Laura Burton.

Business is conducted by people, for people, and through people. Even today, when technology plays an increased and critical role in our lives, a sport organization cannot exist without the people who conceive it in the first place and those who work toward accomplishing its mission, vision, and objectives as set forth by its leaders. In every sector of the sport industry - from grassroots club sport to the high-performance sector - the people who run and contribute to sport organizations are crucial to each organization's daily challenges, trials and tribulations, and, ultimately, success or failure.


The field of organizational behavior (OB) involves the scientific study of individual behavior, group dynamics, and structural choices in organizations (Nelson, Quick, Armstrong, & Condie, 2015). Put simply, OB researchers study people, what they think of and do in their jobs and in their groups, and, more generally, how an organization operates and performs. Such researchers find a wide array of opportunities to examine organizational behavior in the sport industry. For instance, employed work may be performed on either a part-time or a full-time basis in either the amateur or the professional sport industry.


Furthermore, both part-time and full-time work can be done in either an enduring or a temporary organization. Enduring organizations (e.g., the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadiens) have a long and storied history, whereas temporary organizations (e.g., an organizing committee for a sport event - for instance, the 2018 Commonwealth Games) exist for a defined and relatively short period of time. Temporary sport organizations typically rely more heavily on volunteers, particularly at higher levels of performance (e.g., the Olympics) and in the amateur sector both nationally and locally (e.g., Canada Games, club-based sport competitions). Of course, volunteers are also invaluable to enduring organizations, where they support various initiatives, such as community fundraising campaigns. At the amateur level, however, many organizations lack the budget to hire paid staff and therefore rely largely on unpaid volunteers for their success and even for their survival.


The work performed in the sport industry engages many stakeholders, who are also part of what makes sport operations both attractive and specialized. Full-time employees, sport volunteers, athletes, coaches, trainers, administrative support staffers - all of these people have various levels of attachment to their work and to their sport organizations. For instance, the factors that motivate full-time employees to excel at their jobs and advance in their companies are likely to differ from the factors that motivate individuals to volunteer their time without any particular expected return on investment. Differences also exist in their attitudes toward work and their behavior in group and organizational settings. Sport organizations are also distinguished by the variety of actors who may hold relevant technical expertise - sometimes with very different skill sets - such as coaches, players, and administrators.


As sport management began to emerge as a field of study in classrooms across the United States and Canada in the 1980s, scholars borrowed from parent disciplines - such as sport psychology, sociology, and business administration - in order to learn more about the factors that make working in and for sport organizations unique (e.g., transformational leadership in sport administration or coaching, marketing segmentation for sport organizations, the marketing of and through sport). Sport management scholars also began organizing conferences, both in North America (e.g., North American Society for Sport Management, n.d.) and abroad in order to discuss the field and its future. In these formative years of sport management scholarship, the study of people's organizational behavior often concentrated on coaches and administrators. As the field matured, research also addressed other stakeholder issues (e.g., volunteers, gender, ethics, race), marketing literature was further developed, and the study of human resource management in sport organizations emerged.


Thus the study of people in sport organizations was garnering more interest. This growth resulted in part from the increased understanding of the importance of knowledge acquisition relative to the field of sport management and the realization that human capital is one of the most important resources in an organization, regardless of sector. This resource-based view, or RBV (see Barney, 1991), posited that firms are more likely to enjoy sustained advantages if they control resources that are not substitutable and are valuable, rare, and imperfectly imitable. The RBV approach has helped sport management researchers determine the ways in which sport is unique and the ways in which it is similar to other industries.


Acquiring and developing both tangible and intangible resources is crucial to the successful management of an organization. This process requires us to appreciate both the external environment and the internal context of the organization. External forces acting on the organization include economic, political, sociocultural, legal, ecological, demographic, and technological factors. In this competitive global ecosystem, "knowledge and human capital have become essential strategic resources . . . , [and] the process of fostering their creation and deployment has emerged as one of the most important areas of strategic management" (Szymanksi & Wolfe, 2017, p. 26). In these days of fierce competition and rapid change, it is critical that management scholars recognize and understand that attracting, developing, and retaining human talent is a prerequisite for success.

Learn more about Organizational Behavior in Sport Management.