Manchester, England
Saturday 2nd May 2015

I arrived back in the UK on Monday night with a busy week in store.  

Lunch meetings with Andy & Rich, the co-founders of Headspace, as well as my former British Athletics colleague & good friend, John Rogers, were lined up.  

Visits to both Manchester United & Manchester City’s training complexes to meet old friends & former colleagues in both medical services & performance science teams were also penned in the diary.

In the middle of the week, I had an invite to the inaugural Sporting Director Summit at the Etihad Stadium, which was the latest venture involving the collaboration between VSI & the Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School.

Given that the list of attendees included Tony Strudwick, Rob Price & Les Reed, colleagues from my days at the Football Association & Craig Levein, the “gaffer” that gave me my first lead physiotherapy role during his first football management role, the event just added to my week of interesting reunions.

The Summit was opened with a presentation by Kevin Roberts, the Executive Chairman of advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi.  Kevin is no shrinking violet & given his sporting involvement with the All Blacks & US Rugby, his opinions are both impactful & well worth listening to.

Kevin’s most pertinent message was the importance of dreaming big, developing a vision from the dream, underpinning the vision with strong, clear values & using those to build a culture of performance to drive change.

Kevin identified the All Blacks, US Swimming & British Cycling as organisations that, in his opinion, are shining examples of having developed a robust performance culture.

Kevin was followed on to the stage by a three man panel of Rick Parry (former CEO of the English Premier League & later Liverpool FC), Derek Bowden (CEO of Essex County Cricket Club) & Les Reed (Executive Director at Southampton FC).

The discussion surrounded the role of the Sporting Director in British sport, with an emphasis on football.  

The first take home message that I gleaned from this debate was the importance of communicating a clear & transparent message in relation to the vision of the organisation.  This enables both employees at all levels of the club, as well as supporters to buy-in & work together towards achieving the desired outcome.

Secondly, there was an emphasis on developing a simple organisational structure, with each member of the team having clear parameters to work towards.  Each highlighted how critical it was that the remits & limitations of each role must be set from the outset.

Brian Marwood (Sporting Director for the City Group), Adrian Bevington (former MD of Team England) & Frank Arnesen (former Sporting Director at Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur FC & SV Hamburg) were next in the hot seats.

Brian commenced the session talking about the challenges he faced in changing the culture of an organisation that had previously tolerated mediocrity, in order to build a legacy.

Echoing the messages of the previous triumvirate, the group expanded upon how important the communication of an organisation's message was.  Not only should the vision be clear & transparent but it must be frequently referred to, with each employee being held accountable to it, thus ensuring a consistency of action throughout the organisation. 

Reflecting on the trials & tribulations of their early roles, each agreed that ambiguity regarding the remit & responsibilities of their respective posts from the outset was the most significant factor in limiting their efficacy & overall achievements.

The day closed with presentations from Darren Royle (VSI) & Sara Ward (Head of the MMU Business School), each outlining the intentions of their collaboration in promoting & developing the education of a future generation of sporting directors in the UK.

I really enjoyed the day & it was a pleasure to speak to the first cohort of MSc Sporting Director students, as well as catching up with some former colleagues that have been instrumental in inspiring me at various stages in my developmental pathway.  I'm already looking forward to next year's summit & to taking up my place in the second cohort of students this September.



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