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12 Months at Sport England

I was going to start this blog by saying over the past year I’ve experienced both sides of the coin whilst working for Sport England but a coin doesn’t do it justice. Sport England is a Rubik’s Cube but I’ll come back to that.

Even though I’ve had the best working year of my life, this isn’t going to be an everything is perfect reflection. You must have had enough of those in my weekly LinkedIn updates. I’ve had an incredible year, meeting many amazing organisations, their staff, and participants (travelling across all four corners of the country) as well as meeting a lot of amazing colleagues. If I were to pick from a bunch of stand-out moments, it would be on set filming the Child-First Coaching campaign that the Children’s Coaching Collaborative have created. What we are trying to achieve as a group won’t be easy and learning about how we can embed the rights of a child within coaching has been complex, but the impact it can have on a child’s experience in sport is huge. Being on the set and seeing the hours of work come to life was the best I’ve felt in the role. I truly felt like we were creating something transformative.

Now back to the Rubik’s Cube analogy. Sport England (SE) is a complex structure that has everything a complete organisation needs and my reflection is that we are in a phase where we are learning a whole new algorithm. To successfully Unite a Movement and see increased activity, if that is what our complete cube looks like, here are my reflections to supplement our efforts towards cracking that algorithm. These will be no surprise if you know me as they are all around engagement and connection.

We have a great team that is looking at how we can engage partners whilst also having another that is looking at new relationships but I’d like to see us invest in innovative infrastructures to bring together the movement. You can clearly see the impact our place-based working is having on uniting communities to increase activity but can we expand this in a way that unites more places both physically and online. I would like to see an exciting online platform that aids our sector and encourages collaboration whilst at the same time creates a web of how every-one links around themes that they create. The dream is also to see us replicate the amazing BUCS conference by providing a week-long conference for the sector – could be one of our 5 big issues a day… Convened by us, delivered and developed by the sector.

Tackling inequalities. A phrase I like but feel it’s a bit safe – I prefer the term removing inequalities. Something impossible to do alone, yes, but more than possible with a united movement. Should inequalities be the thread through all we do or should it be everything we do? If something we are or a funded partner is working on that isn’t removing inequalities in sport, should we be brave and pivot, together? After a long break from my podcast, reflecting on this topic has given me an idea for a new series. I’m really looking forward to developing this idea and sharing it with you as soon as possible.

We are putting time and energy into creating a culture of learning and sharing and it is highly commendable to start changing our ways of working internally and externally at the same time. It’s also extremely hard to create a new culture whilst most roles are either moving to working from home or new people are being recruited as home workers. With this in mind, I’d like to see us develop our strategy to include a strong remote culture that embraces fun. I was also surprised that our organisation doesn’t encourage, and I mean heavily encourage in a strategic way, our staff to move more. Whilst at King’s College London I came across Kings Move which is an app that rewards you for being active. Whether you’re walking, running, cycling or swimming you can earn points just for being active. You can then redeem your points for rewards such as food, hot drinks, gym passes or stash and it’s completely free to join. We need something like this that also has space for colleagues to connect. Or maybe for those who don’t need encouraging to be active, how about some cross-business online games – I’d enjoy nothing more than beating Tom from the Health Team at Words with Friends.

This isn’t just about my thoughts on SE though. This is also a reflection of myself.

Before I joined, I have worked for four different organisations in the sector, three were recipients of SE funding and I didn’t engage with SE as much as I hoped I would. When starting here I wanted to be present, a lot. Now here’s some nerdy stats… I’ve averaged one meeting per day with partners and one in-person trip a week to meet them. This is on top of an average of 1.5 meetings a day and 1 in-person meeting a fortnight with internal colleagues. But this is where I have to give SE huge props – I could not believe how frequent SE colleagues meet with the sector. They’re all doing it and it’s every hour of the working day! Maybe my perception was wrong but I think it’s because of the new strategy and a relationship built around learning.

My efforts may sound positive but here’s where I need to improve. In previous roles, I rated myself in the art to partnership management, whether that be new or existing partners. But in year one I’ve got a tad carried away. I’ve said yes to every meeting, every time, straight away with no prioritisation. Whilst I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say no to meeting someone wanting to engage with SE about their work, I acknowledge the strong need to prioritise and say not right now to some with clear reasons why.

I have been learning every day in our amazing People and Leadership team but only scratched the surface. Whilst I’ve been on a Business Writing Skills Course, I need to allocate more time to learning. Whether that be an hour a week reading or something more formal, I plan to continue to build my understanding for how we can better support the people within our sector. I’m also excited to see the thematic analysis from our partners People Plans. My plea to our partners is for this to be treated as more than a governance code compliance activity. If taken seriously, the insight we will gather we enable us to learn how we can accurately support the sector.

Finally, I’ve also learnt that my role is a game of balance. Balance between leading, convening and staying out of the way. Balance between trusting in partners and being more in the know. Balance between working with projects you are passionate about and projects you know will have the most impact. Balance between being a friend and a partnership manager. Balance between autonomy in your work and more in-depth management. Balance between evidence based and gut instinct. Balance between working hours and social life. The balancing game is incredibly hard to get right and takes special individuals to do so.

If you have made it this far, thank you. I would love to hear your thoughts and I can’t wait to attack year two.

Listen to series one of the Working it Out Podcast here.