Tell me about an average day at Sport and Activity Professionals?
It’s quite varied. I’m fortunate to work with a lot of different businesses in sport, health, fitness, education and kids’ activities. I spend time with clients helping them grow & improve their businesses, plan for the future and overcome barriers or issues they have.
It’s enjoyable seeing them grow & develop and the positive comments you get back are good for job satisfaction.
What is Sport and Activity Professional’s proudest achievement?
I guess, it’s doing it in the first place. I sold my shares in a previous business I was a minority shareholder in and ran as MD and set this up to help similar sorts of businesses. I took the plunge on an idea & have been doing it for over 5 years, so I must be doing something right.
I will hopefully be as proud of a new business I’ve invested my time & money into called plaay.co.uk. I’m piloting it in Yorkshire to see how it goes and then will hopefully take it nationwide.
I’m really passionate about the fact that there’s a sport or activity for every kid or multiple ones that they can enjoy as children, as well as take into their adult life and see all the positive social, mental, emotional and physical health benefits. It’s just about exposing them to a number of things & them finding something that they love, whether that’s your traditional sports & activities or new things like Skating, Parkour etc – something that makes them feel good about themselves.
We’ve got an obesity crisis in kids which is a ticking time bomb that will bankrupt the NHS so getting them active for an hour a day is half the battle. Then it’s just educating them & their parents about healthy eating which many public & private organisations are currently doing. Cultural change doesn’t happen overnight but it will be real legacy from things like 2012 if we have a fitter, healthier nation, better educated as to all the benefits derived from sports. Oh, and if we produce sports individuals and teams are country can be proud of, that will be a big bonus.
Working in sports is a dream job for many – working outside, doing an activity you love – but is it always as good as it seems?
Unfortunately, I’m not lucky enough to be working with kids directly myself now as, working on the business side, you don’t get chance. I still volunteer to coach and help at the local school taking PE lessons & football coaching but my days as a professional coach are behind me. I loved them to be honest & often hark back to those days which seemed more fun & carefree.
Essentially I do the same activities as most people in business, it’s calls, emails, meetings etc that we all do but I’m talking about a subject that I’m hugely passionate about so it makes it easier.
That’s why I chose to work in the sector and created my own role so that I enjoy it as I think you achieve a lot more when that’s the case, or I certainly do.
What are the common mistakes made by sports companies?
Essentially a lot of the businesses I work with are in the SME sector like most UK businesses and most of them in my sector get into a business in Sport, Dance, Drama, Music, Martial Arts or Kids
Activities because they come from that background and a lot of their training, experience, expertise, skills and passion is on the subject area.
They often don’t have a huge business experience behind them and if they do it’s not on running the type of business that they currently are, so they make classic mistakes that we’ve all done because they haven’t been through situations before and they don’t know that there’s guidance out there from someone who understands their business & has previously built up one similar to their own. A lot of the generic advice they can get isn’t applicable to this sector as a lot of the normal business practice doesn’t apply or needs to be more specific to this sector.
My clients don’t really see themselves as similar businesses: dance schools don’t compare themselves to martial arts centres, soft-play centre, 5 a side football venue etc. They think they are very different, but to me there’s a lot of best practice that can be applied that I’ve learnt from helping to build a business in this sector that we franchised all over the world and in working with all sorts of sector businesses since I set up on my own.
Every client is different with different aims and objectives and the skills, ability, experience and resources to get there, I help them to make less mistakes, waste less money, get them there quicker and be bigger and better than they are likely to be on their own.
Are there any mistakes specific to HR?
The key one here is relevant to any business and is probably the most important thing in business as it’s about getting the right people on board. You can’t scale any business doing everything yourself so you need to recruit, train, retain & motivate your team as they will define how well you do as they are implementing all of the ideas.
I think it’s one of the hardest things in business and FTSE 100 companies, with all their resources, get it wrong some of the time, so what chance do SME’s have.
Get the right people on board & it’s much easier. Get the wrong people on board & you may never achieve your goals
I’m a believer in you ‘Change The People’, so the first port of call is to try and make them better through, training, mentoring, coaching and development and all good HR practice.
I’ve often had panicked emails or calls from clients over the years that a staff member is leaving or they need to get rid of someone and are scared they’ll never find anyone as good. Unfortunately, most of us are replaceable as much as we might think we’re not and if an organisation is set up right it should be easier for the new person to hit the ground running. In most cases, as hard as it was at the time to lose a staff member, the replacement was better or the business moved on as it figured out another solution. You just have to keep moving forward.
I’m an acolyte of Gerber and his principles. He’s all about replicable systems, processes etc which means that you don’t have to rely on the individual having all the knowledge inside their head which means when they move on you lose all that. I try & follow these and advise others on using them too.
Are there any growth areas we should look out for – by sport, activity?
To be honest it’s not a part of the sector but the whole sector as a whole that is growing and growing as our society and our needs/habits are changing.
Our society has changed in that kids don’t play in the street anymore; they don’t organise themselves into games at the parks as much anymore; as parents are less willing than older generations to let their kids just roam about on their own and organise impromptu play, activities and sport due to less spaces to play, perceived threats and also kids are finding lots of other things to take their attention like consoles, iPads and more and more TV channels specifically for kids.
I saw it when I first lived in America and didn’t think it would come here but more and more kids are sedentary for long parts of the day. Consequently parents are now beginning to wake up to the threat posed by inactivity and doing something about it, like investing more energy into getting their kids involved in sports.
This is one of the main reasons the whole sector is growing and growing and lots of people are making a business out of this growth.
The average parent is spending £2500 a year on their child’s activities – £600 alone in the summer holidays to keep them entertained. Both parents work now in a lot of cases compared to our parents when there was usually one bread winner, so they rely on holiday courses to look after their kids while they are off school.
On my database there are 20,000 businesses in this sector and I don’t think I’ve even got the half of it. They range hugely from the big leisure providers turning over hundreds of millions each year down to micro businesses just treating it as a life-style business.
There’s new businesses appearing all the time and lots of them are franchising as their way to growth which is obviously an area I help them on having run a franchisor. Is the future more independent sports companies or consolidation with the big companies?
At the moment, there are lots of small companies, some of whom will grow to be much bigger ones over time. Even the big ones in the sector are still SME’s in attitude, staff numbers and turnover really
I’m not an economist and to be honest my job isn’t to predict that far in the future. I try and make businesses adaptable and scalable for now, playing for the future but working on the here and now. We work on a goal-setting staircase, which has the ultimate goals of the individual or the organisation in quantifiable terms, but that’s many steps away and what we actually work on is the next step – all the unquantifiable things, all the processes, actions, systems, processes and efforts that will get them to that next step
I think the principle that sports people use in terms of not looking too far ahead and getting ahead of yourself are applicable to business as if you get this micro level right working towards the macro, then the macro follows. Sports people don’t focus too heavily on 5 year plans, they don’t tend to plan beyond the year as it can be so changeable and there’s so many variables. They deal with each match as it comes or each ball and just focus on winning the next point and keep doing that. When they look too far ahead or dream too much, then it tends to bring them back down to earth with a bang and I think business can learn from that personally.