The ‘Strengthening Football Clubs’ project aims to help breathe new life into ten amateur football clubs in Utrecht. The football clubs in question are VV De Meern, Kismet, VSC, Elinkwijk, VVUA, Zwaluwen Utrecht 1911, UVV, DHSC, Sporting and VV Hoograven. By helping them to revitalize, all these clubs will be able to function better. This initiative was launched in the summer of 2012 by the Participation and Society (PMO) research group at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, as part of a consortium including the KNVB (the Dutch Football Association), the Mulier Institute, Utrecht University and the Sports Association of Utrecht (VSU). It was made possible thanks to a grant from Sia Raak-mkb.
Football associations would like to develop and revitalize, according to an association survey carried out by the Sports Association of Utrecht. The Utrecht Total Football Plan was developed to help football clubs achieve these goals. This is a partnership between the municipality of Utrecht, VSU, KNVB and FC4YOU. According to the association survey, only 7 of the 33 football clubs in Utrecht are currently in a healthy state. The goal is to bring this number up to 12 by 2014 and 18 by 2016.
Responding to developments
What is a vital football club? According to Stijn Verhagen, Professor of Participation and Society, associations can only seize opportunities if they are vital. “An important element of vitality is the ability to respond to internal and external developments. A vital organization will have a clear mission, is well organized with enough volunteers qualified to do their work. This will make it easier to identify new target groups or, for example, link up with schools in the local area. Furthermore, vital associations benefit from good communication flows and a pleasant atmosphere, so that people with different backgrounds can get on together there.”
The VSU’s survey of associations, which football clubs in Utrecht completed in 2010, showed that many of the city’s football clubs are currently struggling with the question of how to revitalize and stay vital. For example, how can they arrange their organization in such a way that they are able to overcome a shortage of volunteers? How can they function in a way that reduces aggression on the football field? And how can they take on the social functions that are increasingly being assigned to them, such as contributing to reducing school drop-out rates, obesity or discrimination?
Although the clubs are already active in these areas, they have asked the Participation and Society research group and its partners for support. This is how the Strengthening Football Clubs project began. The support that it provides consists of a combination of applied research and other activities at the clubs concerned. This brings new insights and creates a new toolbox of instruments, which the clubs are able to use to revitalize themselve. Students from both HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht and Utrecht University are actively involved in this project.
The knowledge and understanding gained through this project resulted in recommendations (among other things published in a new Dutch book), which are available for other organizations in the region and the rest of the country to use. Examples of activities that resulted form this project include: social internships, an annual Fair Play Cup between the clubs, the use of social media to improve the clubs’ internal and external communications and promoting the use of positive coaching.
Social cohesion through soccer
Strengthening Football Clubs is a follow-up to the successful Social cohesion through Soccer project. The Participation and Society research group organized a range of activities as part of this project at the football clubs Zwaluwen Utrecht 1911 and VV De Meern - in partnership with F.C. Utrecht, the KNVB and the Verwey-Jonker Institute. The goal was to promote respect, good manners and pleasure in sports and to prevent aggression and tension at these Utrecht clubs. All the stakeholders were positive about the results of the project. Strengthening Football Clubs now intends to build on this approach and include many more football clubs in the city.