The Best Offense Wins

38258047 - football play drawn on green chalk board with hand.
38258047 - football play drawn on green chalk board with hand.

“The best defense is a good offense” is an old adage you’ll frequently hear during Sunday afternoon football telecasts. The original source for the quote is unknown, but it is more often attributed to George Washington than Bill Belichick. Projecting an aura of strength was one of Washington’s key principles as his ragtag Continental Army faced long odds against the larger and better trained Redcoats. Belichick does this too; his defense rests while Tom Brady holds onto the ball for long periods of time before putting a few points on the board. No matter the source, the notion of going on the offense to push back against threats applies in either case; and has broad application to war, games, business, even life in general.

In a world of challenges, many clubs are choosing to go into a defensive shell instead of going on the offense. They do this when they cut services and initiation fees, or they fail to invest the capital necessary to maintain or enhance their facilities. They take the easy way out, as in selling memberships for half their true value rather than adding value or embracing commercial activities like non-member use and banquets to generate short-term cash flow rather than offering the experiences necessary to attract new dues payers. It is also one of the reasons they are turning to management companies, throwing up their hands on the hard work of good governance to embrace a generic operating model. 

These defensive measures serve only to damage the club’s brand, drive away members who want something better or inhibit their ability to attract new members. Their defensive shell ultimately cracks and they achieve mediocrity or worse. A lack of offense is a sign that the board lacks clarity about the changes taking place in the external environment and how they are impacting demand and use, or even why their club exists. Most commonly they see their club as an activity rather than a community. They embrace “we’ve never done it that way” over “let’s try something new”. 

Private clubs are complex social and operating entities. They require investment of time and resources on the part of leadership to identify why they exist and to generate the capital required to continually evolve the membership experience to suit shifting values. It is imperative that boards go on the offense by adopting a strategic governance model and empower professional management to operate the club to fulfill the vision they’ve identified. They must focus on strategic outcomes instead of any outcome. In short, they need a Strategic Plan. 

Today’s club world is comprised of winners and losers. The winners clearly have the best offense.

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About Frank Vain


Mr. Vain provides consulting and planning services to private clubs throughout North America and Asia. Through use of specialized services including membership surveys, strategic planning, operational analysis and facility long range planning, Frank assists clubs in developing individualized strategies for their unique situations.

Mr. Vain joined McMahon Group in 1988 and has more than forty years of experience in the management and development of hospitality properties including private clubs, athletic clubs, resorts and restaurants. Frank is a Past President of The Country Club of St. Albans, an 800-member, 36-hole country club located in Missouri and he is the former owner of Concord Sports Club, a 1,700-member family athletic club in St. Louis. Frank was elected to the Board of the National Club Association in 2011 and served as Chairman in 2018-19.

Mr. Vain is a native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a featured speaker at the annual Club Managers Association of America World Conference, National Club Association National and Regional Conferences, Major Golf Associations and at regional chapter meetings of club managers and leaders.

He has written numerous articles that have been published in Club ManagementClub Director andBoardRoom magazines. Frank was named the Gary Player Club Educator of the Year for 2012 and 2015 by BoardRoom magazine. He is the co-author of McMahon’s Club Trends®, a recognized industry benchmark on the trends and issues affecting private clubs.

More articles by Frank Vain