What is a leader and how do you become one in the sporting sphere?
There are no hard and fast rules. Ask across the industry and the nuggets of advice differ: experience, passion, flexibility, understanding, communication. The list goes on but the certainty in a market that is rapidly evolving is that you need to move with the times.

British Olympic Association CEO Bill Sweeney says: “Things are changing so quickly that being wedded to one way of doing things you’ll become obsolete quickly. An ability to adapt and change and have resilience to see it through are pretty key traits.”

Hussein Fahmy, formerly with Team Sky and now looking after playing contracts at Arsenal, counters: “A leader has to have a head-up, collaborative view. He or she is someone who sets that agenda at the top and makes sure that flows through…with the strength of character to pivot when you need to.”

So, what can you do to get yourself from your current position to a leadership role in the workplace?

Keep learning
Further learning is one pathway to take, whether through formal education and training or through a more personal quest, the importance of continually building your knowledge, expertise and credentials is vitally important in a rapidly evolving industry.

Karl Oliver, chairman of GlobalSportsJobs, believes the key from the outset is to identify the areas that need to be strengthened and developed.

He explains: “This may include reviewing additional educational qualifications or opportunities, workshops, webinars or industry training programmes to strengthen particular specialist skills as dictated by the needs of the market.”

By simply reviewing job descriptions on specialist sports industry talent platforms for the sort of roles they aspire to and the requirements of those roles can help you identify what opportunities you need take to gain such skills in a formal or informal setting. The wide-ranging online training platforms, many flexible for working professionals, are a great way of building your skills and expertise.

Surrey Sports Park CEO Karen Rothery previously worked in the clothing industry and went back to education to climb the sporting leadership ladder.

“I did a master's degree in sport and leisure management helped me get into England Netball and was their commercial director for three years,” she explains before heading up British University and Colleges Sport and then onto her current role.

Build your industry understanding
The importance of gaining a clear understanding of the industry cannot be emphasised enough, from changes to its structure and dynamics to the way it’s financed and the trends in skill sets that are in demand now and in the future.

This information may be best found through published research, industry news and attendance at events and conferences. Be mindful to also make personal connections along the way, as they will likely prove a powerful asset in gaining the knowledge and credibility you need to succeed in the long run.

Simon Dent, a sports agent who set up the sports marketing agency Dark Horses two years ago, whose clients include Wiggle, Southampton and Manchester City football clubs.

Training for an ultra-marathon, he uses such time to better himself with leadership in min dialling into the podcasts of Tim Ferriss, Gary Vee, Jocko Willink and Ryan Holiday.

“I love podcasts as it’s like you’re having conversations with or dipping into the minds of CEOs and the like,” adds Dent.

Meanwhile, GlobalSportsJobs is the go-to platform for career insights from within the industry while useful sport business sites include Sports Business, Sportcal and SportsPro. For federations, production and sporting goods respectively, Inside the Games, SVG and SGI should be on your radar for news, analysis and insight.

Hard work
It’s perhaps an obvious point but the harder you graft, potentially the quicker you’ll progress up the ladder.

Dent leans on Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule in his book Outliers for this.

He says: “For me, it’s 20,000 hours before you really find a breakthrough. Every day I challenge myself to get better. On the sports field, Tom Brady [the NFL quarter-back] is perhaps the best example of tenacity over talent. He didn’t necessarily have the best physical attributes but he worked his butt off and look at him now.”

Dent has “a tenacity over talent” mindset. As he puts it: “I’ve never been a grade A student but I’ll outwork anyone. I’m not the brains of business but I can launch a business, organise a new business pipeline and can get the right people in the right roles.”

Planning the long term

It is a proven fact, that those who proactively managing their careers by setting formal goals that support their career objectives have a greater chance of achieving success. 

Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into reality.

Start by defining what you want to achieve in the long term and then commit to it. Next, set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals that motivate you and write them down to make them feel tangible. Then plan the steps you must take to realize your goal in the short, medium term and cross off each one as you work through them.

Ask any business leader and you will find they all set goals. It will focus your acquisition of knowledge, and help you to organise your time and your resources so that you can concentrate on what’s important for your professional development.

Route to success
The reality is that there is no clear-cut path to grow within the sports industry and to become a leader, every route trodden a little differently.

It’s all about having the right attitude and gaining the right knowledge, to set appropriate and attainable goals – in the short, mid and long-term.

And find out what you enjoy. If you’re passionate, you will be motivated and that pathway to the top opens up.


This article was produced by the GlobalSportsJobs Editorial Team.

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