Let's get over that hurdle

As part of my board appointment to Australian University Sport I recently attended a two day university sport sector conference. I knew I would learn a lot about the sports education environment, gain valuable perspective on the organisation’s challenges and opportunities, meet some interesting folk across the sector and get to know my board colleagues. I didn’t anticipate, though, how stimulating, refreshing, strategic and more broadly relevant (to my other board roles and for purpose sector interest) the conference would be.

Macquarie University Deputy Vice Chancellor (Students & Registrar) Deirdre Anderson reminded us about Aussie inventions from the household refrigerator to lifesaving pacemakers to transformative Wi-Fi technology, inspired us with the need to continue on the sector’s change agenda, and concluded with contemporary leadership themes (Saj-Nicole Joni) of personal trust, expertise trust and structural trust.

From Australia’s pillowfication to the Pumcins/Nettels/Kippers quandary to potentially renaming the Barrier Highway to Highway of Love inspired by matching low female with high male density outback population hubs, social commentator Bernard Salt gave an entertaining, comprehensive and eye opening picture on the economy, socio-politico/demographic/lifestyle trends, participation and sport. Comparing major US and Australian businesses’ start date, sector and capitalisation and claiming an Aussie focus on comfortable prosperity, Salt insisted we must learn from our US counterparts, “Our future relies on innovation, creativity and collaboration. We value these things on the sporting field. Americans value them in the business world.” As we individually tried to decide whether we were Pumcins (Professional urban middleclass in nice suburbs), Nettels (Not enough time to enjoy life) or Kippers (Kids in parents pockets eroding retirement savings), Salt impressed us with the rapid rise of China’s urban middleclass, shone light on our portfolio lifecycles, explained we are in the midst of a structural shift towards knowledge work and highlighted the need to expand our stakeholder perspective suggesting youth sport/education participation, adults coach/sponsor involvement and active retirees volunteers/supporters exposure.

Sports and technology intersected in Sports Geek Sean Callanan’s fascinating presentation on how to develop brand advocates in the contemporary digital world. Getting the room’s attention with some clever name dropping and eye-catching selfies, Callanan showed us his sports’ passion, digital nous, determined spirit and innovation in gaining a Mark Cuban introduction and Dallas Mavericks’ game VIP attendance by social media stalking. Claiming “digital is the face paint of a sports fan generation”, outlining the content/data/engagement digital campaign trifecta approach and illustrating his experience of transitioning fans into advocates, Callanan proved that with the right strategy, tools, organisation buy in and regular monitoring, engaging with multiple stakeholders no longer needs to reside only at the physical event level.

Paralympian Bridie Kean spoke of her early determination to break boundaries, desire to both excel and enjoy life to the full, importance of family support and lifelong interest in activity, people and ideas. These characteristics come together in her successful wheelchair basketball career, University of Illinois combined studies/elite sports participation and current University of Sunshine Coast PhD candidacy. A role model of perseverance, humility and zest for life, Kean spoke knowledgeably about the opportunity to translate international dual academic/athletic pathway programs’ success to the Australian tertiary education sector.

One of the conference highlights for me was Griffith University Debating Society arguing ‘Computer Gaming is a Real Sport’. With great hilarity and audience engagement, the debate showed our impressive student capability, technology’s impact on all sectors, and value of thinking outside the box blended with informed analysis and Aussie larrikinism. This entertaining and thought provoking session provided a wonderful respite from the potentially overwhelming sessions ranging from managing complex student behaviour to navigating intricate policy setting frameworks to operating huge public events within a geographically spread multi-partner framework.

The conference presentations mirrored the themes keeping many not-for-profit leaders awake at night. The challenges of regulation and compliance, long-term planning, stakeholder engagement, transparency and accountability, technology trends and organisation sustainability are just as real in the community services, international development, knowledge management, healthcare, disability and cultural affairs worlds as in the sports education arena. While I went to the conference to support my Australian University Sport role, I came away better equipped for my other board roles in advocacy/education, indigenous health, public asset management and community services.

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