Edition number 14; dateline 30 January 2008
In the oft-quoted words of Private James Frazer, “We’re all doooomed”. Not only are we headed to financial meltdown, we have yet another nasty war in the Middle East, it’s the most depressing time of year and we are all cold or wet or both! Why do we bother getting out of bed never mind entering the world of leisure? Well, if you are thinking like that, I’m not having any of it. Tthe view as I poke my head over the top of the tub is looking good.
So what has brought on this feeling, which could turn into a gushing attack of optimism? Why has your sceptical friend taken a turn for the better? Well I got to thinking about this ‘place’ in which we all work or volunteer (or both!). Whenever I say to anyone that I work in sport or leisure their guaranteed response is, ‘Oooh that must be exciting!’ As you would expect, I soon put them straight by bombarding them with all the woes of our industry, how awful the funding structures are, people always moaning at us, child protection issues and let’s not forget the hours we work… does it never end? But then I got to thinking...
Why did I get into this thing called leisure in the first place? In my case it was because I loved sport, mainly horse-riding, but yes, sport across the board. I am sure that is the same for many of you reading this now although it may not have been sport you loved; perhaps drama, singing, drawing, painting, working with plants, being around old buildings or history in general, cooking, being in the outdoors, perhaps even caravanning as a child. The bottom line is that you have chosen to go into an industry that you initially started off with a passion for, something you probably did as a hobby.
As a bit of an active type, I found myself heading into the sport and leisure industry for a career and I must admit they were heady times. These were the early days of sports development with Action Sport and a whole five sports development professionals working in the East Midlands (never mind in each county or district). I then worked with a little-known woman who had made the leap from a regional Sports Council office to become the chief executive of the National Coaching Foundation called Sue Campbell (now Baroness!). And I had a thick enough skin not to worry what other people thought about what I was doing. It was great. I was out there doing ‘stuff’ which enabled people to get involved in sport. You remember those annoying folks with a minibus full of kit who bounced into your life and insisted on activity? I was one of them. I was coaching, talking to people about sport, organising events; doing all the things I would have done for free. I then moved on to coach development and education and, oh boy, did I love that (still do, but more of that later). I loved sport, I loved teaching and I certainly loved working with coaches, even the grumpy ones. The only thing I didn’t love was that horrible red mini metro in which, as one of Sue’s disciples, I was sent out to spread the word of the gospel – ‘coaches deserve the best education and support’.
But then the decline set in as I moved back to ‘local authority land’ where management and bureaucracy began to creep into my life. Although perhaps still wearing a tracksuit as a token gesture, my time was largely spent in the office, going to meetings, sorting out safety issues, child protection, strategy development, working with councillors and senior managers – municipal Dementors. Actually that’s a little unfair as not all of them actually sucked the lifeblood out of you, although joyless, grey men-in-suits had started to become uppermost. Sport and healthy activity was something I talked about a lot but my direct involvement sport started to become more distant. I did get to play a little in the world of sport at this time; I moved into being a director of a governing body which led to, yes you’ve guessed it, going to very long meetings, hiring and firing staff, disciplinary hearings, strategic planning, etc.
I moved from being someone who could answer most of the questions correctly on a Question of Sport to someone who was too preoccupied even to switch it on. I didn’t have time to do sport (my knees had given up anyway) but I actually enjoyed the strategy work and the funding applications. I had started to turn into a Dementor. For me sport and physical activity wasn’t about fun. It was about strategy, procedure, KPIs, marketing… I must admit, these things are important if what we all passionately believe in is to remain well-funded and supported. However, one of the things we all have that isn’t always as noticeable in other industries is a genuine love of the area in which we work. When we become immersed in the ‘bean counting’ we don’t always communicate that passion.
If like me, you recognise that you are perhaps beginning to go through the motions, what can you do? My advice is to go back and do ‘it’ again, whatever ‘it’ was that you used to love doing, and remember why you found it fun before. You might not go back to do an exact replica of what you did before. I have gone from horse-riding to the sedate hobby of triathlon – I think my logic was I needed a challenge – but what is important is finding the fun again. Another friend of mine, a boy rugby player who became an Olympic cyclist but who had moved away from sport because of the administration and politics, was recently describing to me how much he is enjoying watching rugby union at club level again. He has remembered why sport was so important to him. I guess what this little tale tells me as that ‘doing it’ could be spectating as well as taking part in the activity directly.
I have started competing again and I have started coaching again. And I am loving it! As well as feeling better, I am sure that the passion I feel for my industry is starting to filter back into what I do on a day-to-day basis. When I am working with coach educators and assessors I can bring to life much more easily the issues they will face with UKCC and dealing with new coaches. When I am working on volunteer programmes I can explain much more vividly the issues grass-roots volunteers are facing because I am facing them too. And when I am working on community projects I can put myself much more easily in the role of the participant (the customer) because I am one; this definitely helps with design of programmes. I am not saying you can’t work effectively without being a participant, a coach, a volunteer or a spectator but it has certainly helped me become more positive and more excited about what I do again. Why don’t you give it a go?
Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a community sports network and a board member of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd and has a room reserved for her at the Baroness Campbell Home for the Unremittingly Cheerful. Don’t let her sit next to you on the bus.
Tales from a tub
the last word in contemplative comment on the leisure industry