Sunday, 29 November 2015

A dream project, please let's make it happen......

Please donate by clicking here - your help will go a long way

Ever since making the decision to permanently move abroad seven years ago, I've had a dream of helping others accomplish what I was blessed with shortly after turning nineteen; An opportunity to visit and play cricket in England, the place it's believed to have been practised more than 450 years ago. Leaving the shores of Africa in 2008 wasn't easy, nor was it back in 1996. Although some similarities exist - a new adventure and both on the back of cricket - there were two big differences; Not knowing if we'll ever return and leaving everything behind. It's a sacrifice nobody understands unless you've experienced it yourself.

Many days I ask myself whether or not is was the right thing to do, how life would have been had we not made that decision? Not many days go by without me carrying a heavy load of guilt on my back for making a selfish decision - a decision that I thought would offer us a better opportunity, better career, better education for our children and a safer environment. At the time I didn't think about what I took away from others - grandchildren away from their family, children away from their parents, family and friends and the opportunity that the cricket academy I started seven years prior provided to children from all backgrounds. It's sometimes a bitter pill to swallow.

Things may not have turned out the way I'd hoped and although I may never quite understand why, I will always believe things happen for a reason, albeit not always easy to accept, it can often steer you on a different route with unexpected and perhaps better outcomes. Who'd have thought I'd be in full-time education at the age of thirty nine? Who'd have thought I'd be standing pitch side in front of 32,000 singing fans during kick off at an English Football match and that I'd have fallen in love with Wheelchair Basketball, being a Team Liaison for Italy? Who knows the reason we get knocked off our path sometimes, the important thing is to get up and make the best of what we're able to while we can.

It's for that reason I've decided to focus on the dream I mentioned right at the beginning. Being involved in the Academy back in South Africa not only gave me lifelong memories but it provided something to the community which we could all share, enjoy and benefit from. Sport development has improved vastly over the past decade and many young people from all corners of South Africa are given an opportunity to compete on the world stage nowadays. Cricket has also transformed into a very wealthy sport and can be very financially rewarding for those who make it onto provincial level, especially in the IPL. Kids from all backgrounds, no matter how poor, therefore have an opportunity to set themselves up for life through doing something they love.

The project I'm looking to start however, is aimed at those who probably won't make it that far. It's aimed at young people who just aren't quite good enough to represent their country or even province but who have a passion and love for the game like no other, like what I had when all I wanted to do was come to England and play cricket every day. Although I had the passion, the biggest problem standing in the way of relishing my dream was being able to fund it. I was very lucky though - the help I received from the community and years of savings made it possible. Not everyone is that blessed..... I want to help make that possible for some and offer them something they will never forget.

I'm hoping to raise enough money to be able to offer two cricketers a six week visit to England next year, during which they'll receive coaching, play matches, a visit to Lord's and enjoy some British culture. This might well be the only ever time they get such a chance - who knows, it might even jump-start their career in the sport. Although I'm planning a number of fundraising events, this will not be possible without generous support from businesses and individuals. I must therefore ask if you'd please be so kind to support this campaign by clicking on the link to help make someone accomplish a dream and by making even a tiny donation. 

No matter how small, your contribution will go a long way towards making this dream a reality. The biggest challenge is getting every single person reading this to donate something. Too often we think, "Nah, I can't be bothered", "my tiny contribution won't help" or even worse, "I'll do it another time" - then we don't. Please, act now. What is one less £3 spent on something this month or even week? 

By donating something and sharing this with your friends via email, Facebook, Twitter or whichever way you can, could eventually help offer these guys the best six weeks of their lives.

Let's make this possible, together, please. Your help will be gratefully appreciated, thank you.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Are we losing our manners?

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, other than lies and stealing, it’s someone not showing manners. Growing up as a kid there was no option. It was as necessary as the air we needed to breathe. You wouldn't dare show disrespect, not least to your elderly. I remember how it was the norm to call someone around ten years or so older than you “aunt” and “uncle” – not just those related to you. It was called respect.

Many of us change as we get older. Some for the better, some for the worse unfortunately. I know I myself have changed but one thing I've tried really hard to hold on to, is manners. It’s so easy and it doesn't cost anything. Luckily there are millions out there who still have amazing manners and it’s always so pleasing to see.

I've always been very proud of my little girl, Jessie’s, manners and it’s always pleasing for a parent when someone praises her for it. She has a golden heart too and the two often goes hand in hand. Just the other day she illustrated this once again when walking pass a homeless man in the city, she asked if she could give her hot dog which she hadn't even taken a bite of yet, to the man. She stood there watching him from a distance with genuine care and I could see how happy she felt that he had something to eat.

Wouldn't the world be an amazing place if every person in this world showed the same amount of care to others? We quickly forget our purpose on this piece of land. It doesn't even belong to us, yet we’ll fight over it, tell others we have more right on it than what they have. I sometimes think as individuals we give up too easily because we think we can’t make a difference. That there are too many people out there not sharing our beliefs and principles. I think that’s where we go wrong…… I do think there are more well-mannered and caring people on earth than there are baddies. But we’re too caught up in our own thing and worry too much about ourselves. We think we can’t change the world – as individuals I'm sure we can’t, but we can change individuals and as one we can go a long way to changing the world. There’ll always be evil, but it will have little impact if it only makes up for 1% of the globe.

Back to Jessie….. I was struck this morning by a one liner Skype message I received from her in reply to me trying to arrange a time for us to chat. We haven’t been able to talk all week and all of last week neither, and I've sent her a few messages trying to arrange an appropriate time to talk. Of course I was delighted to wake up finding a message of hers on my Skype but unfortunately my mood was dampened straight away when it read “I can’t I'm going to chestifer”. No good morning papa, how are you? Just a one liner. It’s not how I know my little angel so it’s quite deflating. I did manage to quietly laugh about the chestifer which I presume was meant to be Chesterfield, lol.

It’s not the first time and I've spoken to her about the importance of being respectful and to show manners at all times, even on a social chat platform and she listened at the time. She had a very old mobile phone then and she blamed it on the fact that it takes forever for her to write something, which I could sympathise with. One wouldn't normally encourage 9 year old children to communicate via that platform but society is changing, kids are quickly becoming more IT intelligent at a younger age and it provides the best form of communication for us – we just need to stay on top of it with regards to safety as well as the method we communicate in, not forgetting manners.

It then made me think….. Are we living in a time where social media has become so dominant that the speed of which we write to one another is causing us to put things in short, emotionless sentences, if we could even call it a sentence? Are we sending messages across to one another that misinterpret ourselves or is it becoming such a habit that we actually forget how to communicate with each in a proper, well-mannered and respectful way? As technology moves forward, society seems to go backwards. I'm not sure if that’s a good thing.

I've not been able to speak to her since, although I did reply with a very polite message reminding her not to forget her manners even in a message. When there are miles between you and your daughter and she only sees you one or two days a fortnight at most, it becomes even more difficult to be the “bad parent”, nagging, and it’s a risk you take because you want to do everything in your power for her to love you and not give any reason for her to dislike you but hopefully one day she’ll appreciate it and realise you did it because you love her more than anything and just want her to grow up being the beautiful, wonderful and caring person she is. “I hate telling you off my angel as much as you hate being told off, I promise you. Papa loves you to the moon and back my skapie xx”.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Research Study

I'm currently busy with a research project for DCFC on the match day experience for the core fan. Besides the findings hopefully benefiting the club, it also forms part of my Advanced Sport Management in Practice module assignment this year. One of the many amazing things about the course is the opportunity of working with so many great organisations being presented to us. Derbyshire County Cricket Club, Derby City Council (Derby Velodrome), Team Derby, Sporting Futures and Derby County Football Club have all opened their doors to us giving us a chance to run a live project through conducting research for them.

I could easily have chosen every single organisation, but unfortunately we could only pick one, having had to design a research proposal for three of them. Having studied some existent literature I felt I could probably be of most benefit to the marketing department of DCFC, looking at what it is that fans feel could improve their match day experience through both a quantitative and qualitative study. Hopefully the club will take the findings on board and together we could improve the experience of going to the iPro even more! If you haven’t done so already and you attend Derby’s home matches, please help us by completing the short survey which might have popped up on this screen or by clicking here or if your mobile device doesn't support it, click here.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Hosting an International Sport Event - A student's experience

University of Worcester Arena

Those who know me will probably agree that I'm quite a passionate person. One of those passions for a long time has been event organising and from an early age I've been able to put it into action whether it be a local cricket tournament or a school holiday coaching clinic. It's not surprising therefore that it's an area within our Sport Management degree I'm very much looking forward to and my understanding is that during our second semester in Year 2 we'll actually be running our own live event!

Volunteering at the European Wheelchair Basketball Championships recently gave me a great opportunity to experience some of the things it takes to run an international sporting event from the inside. Perhaps the most noticeable thing right from the outset was just what a vital role teamwork and communication play in ensuring the success in hosting an event of this nature.

Just from the logistics side alone, it only takes one break in communication, one delay or something unforeseen to have a knock-on affect on the entire schedule for the rest of the day. It's therefore not surprising that it takes a large team, regular communication and everyone working towards a common goal in order to minimise problems, to ensure a successful event.

Being my first international event, I'm far from being an expert but I still believe it's important to take note of the positive as well as negative aspects and to apply the best practices and improvements into other events one may have involvement with in the future. As mentioned previously, I thought the tournament was an overwhelming success and when pointing out areas of improvement (in my opinion) it's by no means a criticism to the event or the organisers. I thought everyone did an outstanding job and worked excessively long hours throughout the two weeks of the tournament and undoubtedly weeks and even months leading up to it.

As a city, I thought Worcester was a perfect choice. Its central location makes it easily accessible from various airports and it was pretty much a centre point for teams and officials arriving from Heathrow, Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester.

New Road, Worcestershire County Cricket Ground & Cathedral
The actual venue, The University of Worcester Arena, is perfectly located just on the edge of the city and within a mile away, in between both university campuses which provided accommodation and meals to the teams and officials.

Worcester itself of course is a beautiful English city, rich in culture and history and provided a perfect base for visitors. Both the Arena as well as the campuses were wheelchair accessible and purposely built for this kind of event. Located immediately next to the Arena is the Riverside Building which formed the perfect location from wherein the event's operations were run, meetings were held and organisers were based.

Riverside Building next to the Arena
An area I thought could be learned from was the fact that we only had one Team Liaison meeting and it was only a couple of days before the end. I think it would have been much better had we all met at the start of the event, not only to be introduced to one another but also be properly briefed and be given an opportunity to raise immediate questions. Then getting together on a couple of occasions to offer feedback, discuss and address possible issues and concerns and ironing out any issues which may have occurred early on, I think would have been a good idea. This would have been a great help to those who have never done the role before and a perfect opportunity for those who have experience to pass their knowledge, help and suggestions on. A perfect example is Dave, the Liaison of Turkey, who worked at the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics or Sonja (Italy Ladies), Helen (Sweden) and Sibylla (Germany) who were Liaisons at Euro 2013 in Frankfurt. I think it would have been nice for them to have been given an opportunity to share their best practice and perhaps it's something that could be improved on.

Zuzka and Laura at St. John's Campus were always helpful
The staff at St. John's Campus where we were based were amazing as well and more than deserve a mention, in particular Zuzka and Laura. From the moment I arrived waiting to welcome the Italian team who were detailed by more than three hours, I was greeted by cheerful smiles and always quick to offer their help. Like so many campuses, it seemed like a maze in the beginning but nothing seemed to be too much for them and instead of just shown directions or pointed in the right direction, they'd even walk me there. It's service like that, when people go that little extra mile which makes the job all the more enjoyable.

The quantity of food on offer was plenty I thought despite the odd grumble from one or two people. The quality perhaps wasn't always outstanding but then that's not always easy when catering for hundreds of people in a buffet style. The biggest downside in my opinion was the fact that it lacked variety, and after two weeks I think most people got a bit tired of the same breakfast, same vegetables and same carbohydrates. The juice certainly wasn't of excellent standard and if it was my event I'd certainly look at ways of improving the catering element. I never had a problem in clearing my team's table, despite many of the players often refusing that I do, but I do think they often seemed under staffed in the dining area and having someone to clear tables on behalf of the guests, not to forget that most of them are in wheelchairs, would have been an extra bit of service that could have gone a long way.

Talking of saving time earlier on, a huge amount of time was lost all having had to queue up in one line for food. There was definitely enough space to separate the buffet table into two or more sections. I'm thinking in particular during breakfast it would have been much better to have hot food let's say at one table, cereals and continental items at another and maybe even drinks, coffee and tea at another. Too often did people have to join a queue having to wait a long time before they got to a section they actually wanted.

Sibylla, Germany's Liaison worked at Euro2013 in Frankfurt 
I thought transport ran pretty well. The drivers were all friendly and most of them very helpful and it was great that they had their own little marquee on the campus. Perhaps it would have been a good idea if each driver were allocated a specific team or given a notice to put up against the window as to which team he or she was transporting, like the minibuses that carried the wheelchairs. Having said that, it was never really a problem finding out which bus was scheduled for which team and I always made it part of my duty to find out which bus was ours about ten minutes before departure. Although the minibuses followed the team bus in convoy, I also think it might have been better had they left a few minutes earlier in order to try and get the chairs offloaded earlier, ensuring it was always ready for when the players arrived.

All the volunteers at the Arena were amazing and I can't give them enough credit. They were always quick in loading, offloading and moving the wheelchairs and constantly carried a smile on their face! They were a joy to work with and a credit to the event! I guess there wasn't much choice in the matter, but it was a great shame that the goods lift was blocked by the enormous goal construction. Perhaps one of the only noticeable things missing in the design of the arena for a large event is an in and out area. We always felt as if we were up against the time, trying to get the team as much time possible to prepare. It would have saved so much time if there was one area where the wheelchairs of teams who were leaving the Arena were taken through and another area for chairs of teams entering the arena. The fact that there was only one loading area often created "traffic jams". Another idea that would have saved a bit of time is for a schedule to be put on the wall or noticeboard of which changing room was allocated for which team so that it was visible and known immediately on arrival. Again, although this was not a huge problem mainly because I ran ahead and made it my duty to find out as soon as I stepped off the bus, there were occasions where some teams went in to the wrong changing rooms causing the odd problem or two.

These guys were amazing!

With regards to scheduling in particular training, I think it would have been a good idea to allow a ten or fifteen minute gap between teams' training times on a specific court and stated clearly on the time sheet. Although we were told later on that the first fifteen minutes included this "crossover" time, it would have been better if this was written on the time sheet instead of putting one team finishing at say 13:15 and the next team starting at 13:15. Had it read Team 1 finishing at 13:15 (expected to be off the court at 13:20) and Team 2 starting at 13:30 it would have created less confusion and hassle too. This is exactly the kind of issue that could have been discussed at Liaison meetings early in the event. Again, overall it wasn't a major problem and the longer the tournament went on, the smoother things went.

I liked the system that was in place for requesting changes to transport times, training and meal times. We generally had to give 24 hours notice through filling and handing in a request form and was then notified of the changes by text. The text however just stated that your request has been accepted - I think it would have been even better if it included the new time as sometimes you'd have more than one request pending and therefore there was uncertainty sometimes as to which request was granted.

All in all, I think the event was an overwhelming success and the organising committee can be very proud of themselves. From a student's perspective, it was an incredible experience and it's given me a great insight into what it takes to run a global event. As reflected upon within this blog, there are numerous things one can take away from an event like this and apply it next time to make it even better. It's very rare I suppose to have an event without any problems, but I guess it's all about minimising the risks, having plans in place for when things don't go according to plan and applying best practice from previous events, making it even better.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Volunteering at the Euro2015 Wheelchair Basketball Championships - Team Liaison for Italy

What an experience!!

I don't think words can really sum up the amazing two weeks I had in Worcester, working as a Team Liaison for Italy at the European Wheelchair Basketball Championships. Not only for being involved at an international event, but also for being part of a very passionate Italian team! For many players, this was a lifelong dream, an opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Italians made me feel very much part of the team which was illustrated on the second day already when I was handed an Italian shirt. I felt very proud being given this but of course it had to go in the wash at some stage. The moment I was seen not wearing the blu e bianco, I was asked why I'm not wearing it. Replying that it was in the wash wasn't a good enough reason and I was quickly told that washing could be done at night - advise I soon took on board :-) I felt very much embraced in being part of the Azzurri spirit already!

Two things I learned about the Italians within the first couple of days is that one, they're very passionate and two, they love their coffee! Not any old coffee though, Italian coffee made from a Moka! It's fair to say I've been converted having been invited for one on numerous occasions throughout the fortnight. I was even given a lesson on how to make it - I think that was the main reason in the end, so that I could serve them :-) Not that I would have had a problem in doing so though - they were some of the most amazing people I've ever had the privilege to meet and work with.

Originally I was appointed as Team Liaison for the Men's team, but on arrival I was informed that the ladies team's liaison wasn't going to arrive until late on Friday night. That meant that I had to work with the ladies team for a few days as well which despite being very challenging and demanding at times, I thoroughly enjoyed! I guess it's fair to say that the expectancy to qualify for Rio wasn't as high for the ladies and as heavy on their shoulders as it was for the men and despite not being one of Europe's strongest nations, they had a great team spirit and never short of a joke or two! It was thanks to them that my Italian got a bit of a kick start as a few of the girls were very quick to teach me some Italian. So much for thinking after the first couple of days that most of them couldn't speak any English!! It was a pleasure working with them, and even after Sonja arrived, they still embraced me as part of their team as well.

It didn't take long to be embraced as being part of the team
Such was the experience that I could probably write a book about it, so I'll rather try and summarise as much as possible on here with a link or two to more stories, experiences and my opinion and views on the event itself and what I thought was well organised as against some improvements that could perhaps be done to make it even better. Overall, I thought it was brilliantly organised though and a lot of credit should go to the organisers and everyone involved. Of course not everything will always run perfectly and improvements can always be done, but in my opinion I thought it went very well and definitely an event we can be proud of.

So, what is a Team Liaison and what was my main role some may be asking? In short and perhaps the easiest way to put it, my main purpose was to be the link between the team and the event organisers. Making sure that the team is always on time, whether it be for meals, boarding the coach, training, matches or anything else scheduled. I was also required to request changes in the schedule with regards to cancelling or changing training times, which of course has a knock-on affect on the rest of the schedule like transport and meal times and therefore we always had to bare in mind what impact this might have before even putting in a request. The biggest challenge would come in when the team doesn't get a request granted - luckily we managed to get over most of the humps but it's often difficult being caught in the middle.
Staying on top of the schedule

The role is very much about always being there for the team, acting promptly when given a request, having an answer at all times and delivering what's expected in order to make things run as smoothly as possible, occasionally going that extra mile like buying a surprise birthday cake or two, arranging unscheduled transport and being on call pretty much 24/7. In the end, it's all worth it!

Dionigi Cappelletti
The most difficult few minutes of the fortnight however, was having to deal with the sudden and unexpected releasing of the coach. Following defeat to Great Britain in the quarter finals, bearing in mind Italy weren't out of the competition yet as the top 5 teams qualify for Rio, Dionigi Cappelletti was ordered to fly back the next morning. There was an uncomfortable mood in the camp, understandably so. Italy lost the lead shortly before the end of the 2nd quarter which they were never able to regain, having lead throughout the match and in the process squandering a chance of automatically qualifying for Rio.

 Ahmed Aaourahi
Word on this wasn't known until breakfast - we all ate together but on my way back I was stopped and asked to arrange transport for Dionigi, immediately. I could see him stand in the distance with his bags. I knew straight away....... As I accompanied him to the minibus, Dionigi stopped and gave me a hug and with a brave smile, turned to me and said, "You're a good man Ben, thank you for everything." I struggled to find the right words to say other than "I'm so, so sorry and you don't deserve this" to which he replied to me as he got into the minibus, "That's sport". Pity though..... but a harsh reality. In the short time I got to know Dionigi, I found he's a great guy and no doubt a wonderful coach too and I wish him all the best.

There was no time to ponder on it though as it was back to business straight away. Italy were playing Israel for a place in the final play-off match for a qualification position in the afternoon. As was the case in the group stages, Italy won comfortably but unfortunately came up second best against Spain and in the process finished 6th, a heartbreaking one position away from qualifying for Rio.

Fillipo Carossino
Nothing could ever describe the emotions that ran through the camp, not to mention the players' who absolutely gave it their all. It was a bitter pill to swallow and for the second time in as many days, it was difficult to find the right words of support. Looking back at it now, I think it makes being a sport fanatic even more special. The fact that we love the thrill it brings but at the same time having to absorb the pain and sorrow that comes with it. I felt terrible..... feel for the players who've worked at least 4 years towards this..... many who'll never have another chance. But in the words of Dionigi Cappelletti, "That's sport". And that I think is what makes being part of it unique.

There was an incredible sadness within the camp - understandably so. During times like these it's hard not to question yourself as to why we choose to have such a passion for sport because not everyone can win. Too often a defeat leaves somebody distraught. The reality however is, every single player is already a winner. I've never worked within disability sport before until this event but it's one of the best things I have ever done.

Interview with Carlo Di Giusto
To see the work these guys put in, how easy they make every day tasks look, the skill they show on the court, all despite various struggles they have all endured through life but not allowing it to hold them back and most importantly almost always carrying a smile on their face. That is special and something I want to be part of a lot more. I've learned a lot through this fortnight. One being the fact that as most human beings, we are very quick to complain - I'll think twice before complaining again about the little things in life such as traffic, the weather or anything else which isn't a touch compared with what some people have had to endure - yet most of them carry a constant smile on their face and are living life to the full.

Showing their appreciation
Some players will unfortunately never have an opportunity to compete at the Paralympic Games again and some of them already announced their retirement. On the Saturday afternoon after the game Galliano Marchionni called me to his room and presented me with his playing kit as a thank you saying he doesn't know if he'll play for Italy again. I hope that's not the case! Matteo Cavagnini, the captain, also gave me a fine bottle of Italian wine as a thank you, both being very special moments!

That evening was the first time they were allowed to socialise and Galliano, who also have his own restaurant, treated us to some wonderful steak. We all gathered around the kitchen and with a cold beverage or two for the first time, everyone were relaxing and enjoying a laugh, yet carrying inside the hurt of narrowly missing out on a trip of a lifetime by one narrow result.

Incredible memories & friendships were made

Commiserations Italy for not making it to Rio but congratulations for not only the fighting spirit you've shown on the court but also off it. Thank you for making me feel part of your team and the new friendships we've built. Until we meet again.......


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Summer Job - Research Assistant

I've just started contracted work as a research assistant for Professor Paul Weller. The job involves fairly basic duties in conducting a mail out to 3,300 people, updating a database, formatting address labels, cross checking surveys and scanning them, but it's a great opportunity and I'm really looking forward to it.

Professor Weller has previously done extensive research on discrimination on religion in the UK over a period of ten years and recently published a book, "Religion Or Belief, Discrimination and Equality: Britain in Global Contexts"
which he is currently marketing. I've been very fortunate to have been presented my own hardback copy by the author himself!

My colleague Anita and I have until the end of the month to complete this project and I hope everything runs smoothly. So far so good except for the fact that Professor Weller unfortunately just had a family beriefment and will be leaving for Germany ASAP before his holiday commences, meaning we'll be on our own for the duration of the contract. I'm confident we'll manage though and luckily we've been left in the good hands of his PA, Helen, who'll be there to call on if we're stuck, so fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Assignments, Exams, Interviews, PDP's & Pridmore's Pen!

I trust you've all had a great Easter and enjoyed a break. Mine was predominantly filled up by getting everything ready for the last couple of Academic weeks of Year 1. How exciting does that sound! Also rather stressful I may add.

I know there is a certain group of students with the view that Year 1 isn't that important, but I find it difficult to share that point of view. I think by getting into a good habit of working hard and being organised lays a solid foundation going forward.

I was absolutely over the moon when I received my grade for Introduction to Sport Management CW1 a couple of weeks ago and found I got 87%! I always say we have two choices in life; we could either be positive or negative. It applies to almost every single second of one's life. I've chosen to stick to the positive side of the grade instead of allowing myself to think it's only Year 1. As my grades have increased with every assignment, I've set my own bars quite high and now the challenge is to maintain that level of standard.

I wrote about the importance of affective Time Management a few weeks ago and it's being truly put the test at the moment. It's having to juggle things between doing an assignment, studying for an exam, attending interviews, completing PDP's and preparing for Pridmore's Pen, our 10 minute group sales pitch we have to deliver as part of Introduction to Sport Management and CW2. All of which have a deadline within the next two weeks!

So far, so good, I'm happy to report. The theory of planning and prioritising has come in handy and I feel I'm on track to deliver what's required and finish the year strongly. My written assignment is done and I've made adjustments I felt were needed according to the feedback and advice I've been given midway through it and from my previous assignment. I've attended a successful interview for the role of Social Media Officer for our programme, and my PDP's are all completed and submitted. I'm fortunate to be in a group with two great team members for Pridmore's Pen and having done an excellent 2 minute elevator pitch, we're in the process of rehearsing for the main event, the sales pitch on Monday.

The one area of concern I have is the Academic & Applied Skills and Research Methods exam! Having done a reasonable amount of preparation by going through each week's slides, familiarising myself with terminology and theories, I found the mock exam on Monday quite hard to be honest. I managed to get myself the fifth edition of Research Methods in Physical Activity which will hopefully help me develop a better understanding of the topic. I have ten days!

Without affective time management, I think I would have been in a real spin at the moment, but as it is I feel quite confident that I'm pretty well organised and equipped to finish the year well, ready to take on Year 2! At least Year 1 has taught me a valuable in skill - Time Management! But of course, a lot more also!

Friday, 20 March 2015

87% for Introduction to Sport Management CW1!

There are two ways to look at this:
  1. "It's only the first year and the grade doesn't count for much."
  2. "It's a great foundation to build on and I'm really proud of it!"
I'm opting for the second one! I was really chuffed and could hardly believe my eyes at first. I know it's only Year 1 and the thought briefly entered my mind, but I quickly decided that I'd much rather take pride out of the grade and use it as a foundation going forward, rather than being disappointed that it's only Year 1 and what I'd give to get that mark in Years 2 and 3 and maybe beyond! Of course I'd want it then, but who's to say I can't? Getting a good grade now should be an ideal foundation to build upon and I'm keen to do so! That's why I believe it's best to give just as much attention to Year 1 as any other ear going forward - certainly in my case. Yes, the work load will undoubtedly get bigger, which makes putting in the effort in the first year, and gradually climbing the steps, even more advisable.

I love the feedback structure the university follows. There'll always be three good points and three suggested areas that need improving. the feedback given to me on this assignment is that it's pleasing to see that I've taken the advice from previous assignments and applied it well, which is pleasing in return. The structure also makes it possible to be aware of further areas I can improve on, which, providing I carry on doing the things I do well, should continuously develop my writing and improve me as an academic student going forward. I think there's a certain element of evidence in the fact that my grades so far has increased on each occasion (64%, 65%, 74% & 87%). Long may this trend continue or at the very least be maintained!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Marketing Photos

The university's marketing team decided to take some photos of a few students in action at the iPro Stadium last night, and Grace and I were asked to assist in showing them around. Apart from the honour of being asked after being recommended by DCFC, it ended up being great fun!

Grace and I met up with Sarah and Angela from the Marketing team as well as Matt Jones, the photographer, at the stadium a couple of hours before kick-off. After collecting our all access passes we first visited the ticketing office where Matt captured Soren in action as a few last minute tickets were being sold.

We then made our way up to the Pedigree Suite where Josh was welcoming guests and I got the feeling that Sarah and Angela would have been quite happy to settle down in the comfort of the suite with a beverage or two but we had to stick to the schedule!

Leaving Josh to keep his customers satisfied we went pitch side and on the way showed Matt where Lukas was positioned as a steward. Lukas also works in the ticketing office but on match day he enjoys the extra responsibility which comes with being a match steward.

By now, most of the stadium was filled up and while both Derby and Middlesbrough were out in the middle warming up, we watched Jonny, who normally would take on the massive responsibility of putting on the Rammie suit, helped co-ordinate the children accompanying the players as they walk out on to the pitch for the start of the match.

Being part of the action and working pitch side when the stadium is packed and the crowd singing away always gives me a shiver down the spine! I keep having to pinch myself thinking just how fortunate we are to be getting this experience from the outset. I remember watching English football from a young age back in South Africa and never in my wildest imagination did I ever think that one day I'll be standing pitch side and being part of it!

Derby unfortunately lost 2-0 and the fight for an automatic promotion place is becoming an uphill struggle. Let's hope they pick up the form they've shown for most of the season and clinch that Premier League spot!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Applicant Day

It doesn't feel all that long ago I visited the University of Derby on an Open Day. In fact it was only a year ago! Now I have the pleasure of helping other students make that decision. I guess my circumstances was a little bit different to most other students but I was pretty certain that the University of Derby was the best choice for me. The biggest decision I had was to choose between Journalism and Sport Management. Less than a year later, I have no doubt I made the right decision! Nothing against journalism, in fact I think the UOD offers an amazing course, but Sport Management has not only offered me a wonderful experience and opportunities, but has already developed me personally. And I've made some great friends already along the way!
Lukas sharing his experience

Sharing this experience with others is a privilege of being an ambassador of the Sport Management degree. Today we took 5 candidates to the iPro stadium on a tour followed by a presentation and small group task. I think it is a great added bonus to hear the experience directly from the current students, who themselves were in the candidates shoes less than a year ago.

I thought Lukas did a great job as well. The beauty about it is that we don't have to cold sell the course - the passion and experiences we're sharing speaks for itself!
It was great talking to potential new colleagues and I'm sure they'll have an equally amazing experience should they be accepted and decide to join us. Thank you Sid for doing a great job showing the applicants around and Emily for offering up her time and hosting us.

Back at Kedleston Road, an enjoyable day was topped off with a bit of lunch and mingling with the students and their parents answering some questions.

Would be great to have these candidates on the course next year!
Good luck to you all in your decision making!

Friday, 13 March 2015

52 Academic weeks to go!

It is hard to believe there are only 52 weeks of academic lecturing left! It feels like only a few weeks ago I stepped onto Kedleston Road Campus and registering as a first year student. I guess the old saying "time flies when you're having fun" certainly applies to the Sport Management degree - at least at this stage!

Although the time has flown by there is no doubt the experience so far has been nothing short of incredible. The teaching has been great, the support endless and the opportunities provided through work placement have been amazing.

As I'm halfway through our final assignment for the year, I have to pinch myself to realise the first year is nearly complete and that it's not a dream. University is nothing what I expected - It's a million times better! I've made some great friends along the way, hopefully lifelong ones and let's hope the remaining few weeks of the year and the last couple of years are just as great.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Where do we find the time?

Time Management

I guess we all struggle at times to fit everything we want and need to do into our day. Perhaps one of the keys to managing it are two words in the opening sentence. "Want" and "Need". If we can differentiate our tasks between those that "need" to be done as against those we "want" to get done, it might be easier to prioritise things and plan your day.

"Prioritise" and "Plan" are two other important elements forming part of successful time management. No matter what sport we play, we'll go out there with a game plan. The same should apply to our day to day routines. Without a plan, there can be no sense of direction or purpose, which is a recipe for disaster. Remember, "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail".

Once we've established what we need and what we want - and it's important to find a balance between the two because we all have wants and want to enjoy ourselves - we need to plan our day by prioritising those tasks we feel need to be completed first or those which are most important.

Some tasks will have a deadline. This makes it a bit easier but sometimes it's hard to differentiate between the importance levels of some. Sometimes we're faced with a heavy load and we find ourselves jumping from one thing to another without completing anything.

I read a very good article the other day suggesting that a good way to tackle a problem of that nature, is to break the list down. Find the most important 3 things on the list and focus only on those until they're completed. Then move on to the next 3 things you feel are most important and so on.

I've already applied that to my weekly schedule and it certainly seems to be working. It's amazing how much time can be freed up to do the things we want once effective planning and prioritising has lead to the successful completion of those tasks that need to be done.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Ticketing Department - Derby vs Birmingham City

Soren working in the ticket office
Today I was given an opportunity to spend the day behind the scenes of operations in the ticketing department on match day. Customer service and good communication is vital within the department and it was good to see the likes of Soren, Daveids and Sam engage very well with the customers.

The actual game was only about 500 short of a sell-out but the majority of sales were season ticket renewals. I managed to get a good insight on how the system works as well as the communication needed between various departments and other staff within the department as well as customers.

Unfortunately Derby conceded two goals in stoppage time, finishing 2-2 which has left 4 teams tied at the top of the league, Derby 2nd on goal difference.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

An Evening with Sam Rush

Sam Rush at a Q&A event with students from the University of Derby

Sport Management and Business students were treated with a question and answer session with Sam Rush, CEO of Derby County Football Club, at the university yesterday. The event gave us a great insight into what it takes to be a successful leader and I managed to take quite a few handy tips away with me. It was hosted by Ian Roberts, Head of Derby's Business School, done in a very relaxed atmosphere as if they were chilling in the lounge.

Having met and listened to Sam Rush on a few occasions now, I get struck each time by how humble and down to earth he seems. In many ways he's no different to the ordinary guy on the street, your friend, one who enjoys a good laugh, but behind all of that is someone who has already achieved a great deal and a highly respected leader.

Mr Rush was voted as the FA's Chief Executive Officer of the Year recently by his fellow peers, quite a remarkable achievement! He put his success down to a few things, one of which is hard work! I think it's no secret that success and hard work go hand in hand. During a recent  talk by Keith Loring, ex-CEO of DCFC and consultant of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, emphasis was also put on hard work being the key to his success.

Mr Rush also mentioned what an important role his team around him plays. He believes much of his success is down to them and the fact that it's vitally important to have the right people for the right jobs. Everyone focussed on achieving the best results possible and all have a positive attitude in reaching the same goal.

Another key to his success is the fact that he listens to others. In his first 100 days as CEO of DCFC, Mr Rush said he focussed on meeting as many people in the business possible and listened to what they had to say.

Sport Management students and Lee with Sam Rush
I think those three points in itself serve as a great foundation to be a successful leader going forward. Hard work, employing the right people and listening to others are three attributes I certainly want to adopt which will hopefully help me become a successful leader too.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Your90 with Sam Rush

Your90 with DCFC
CEO and fans.
What an incredible experience I had today!! Shortly after arriving, Faye gave me another research task, this time to look at senior membership and what we could do to improve ours. We then went in to a meeting to discuss our Ram Squad membership package and how we could improve on what we offer our junior members in their welcoming pack based on some of the research I've done.

At 6pm I accompanied Faye and DCFC’s CEO, Sam Rush in a fan’s forum called Your 90, where 10 fans were given the opportunity to sit in the boardroom, give feedback on their experience and ask the CEO questions. Not many people get that opportunity and it was brilliant to be involved. Some of the research I did on what other clubs offer in the way of senior membership was discussed and all in all it was an amazing experience!

Thank you DCFC and University of Derby for offering all of us on this course such great opportunities! 

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Marketing Department – Derby vs Charlton Athletic

Another match day experience for me today but this time from a marketing perspective. Faye Nixon, head of Marketing for DCFC presented me with a list of tasks that needed completing by 6pm, in time for kick-off against Charlton Athletic at 19:45.

Tasks included doing research on what other clubs offer in the way of membership for juniors and writing a report on how we could improve our scheme and what we offer our juniors. Various admin duties had to be completed also including the events team’s schedule and writing out birthday messages which needed to be displayed on the big screen during half time. A simple but yet scary process thinking that if I get it wrong it will be witnessed by 30,000 people!

Alex was also in the Marketing department last week, doing his last today and together we set up the tuck-shop in the family area before joining in the 6pm meeting with the events team. The entire time schedule for music, the big screen display, the entertainment on the field, etc. was read out to the minute and everyone was made aware of exactly what their duties were, which in itself was very interesting.

A great save by Lee Grant as Alex and I watch
proceedings closely from behind the goal.

Our role was a little less stressful as we were given the task to assist Megan with the kids’ tuck-shop until kick-off, before we took our seats right behind the goal on the south stand where I took a great catch after a deflected shot just to discover mud all over my suit! I don’t think I’ve very been that cold at a match before but another enjoyable day. Derby won 2-0 which always helps!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Commercial Department Work placement DCFC – 19th & 20th February 2015

After doing a match day in the commercial department during the Derby vs Forest match, I had an opportunity to experience the work that goes on in building up to a match day on this occasion. The commercial team plays an important role in the success of DCFC as it is up to them to secure sponsorship and sell corporate hospitality.

My day in the office started doing research on what other football clubs have to offer in the way of match day hospitality and how we could improve on our branding. I then looked at social media in particular our twitter feed in order to archive pictures and tweets showing the exposure our sponsors receive and I also took photos of each sponsor displayed on the LED screen outside.

My last task for the day was to replace posters for advertising purposes in all the bathrooms around the stadium. While doing that it occurred to me that strategic planning on where to place certain ones, targeted at a certain clientele should have a bigger impact and is something I’m looking to explore.

All in all my experience in the department under the leadership of Samantha Wilkinson was an enjoyable one and I’m looking forward to being more involved in the future.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Preparing for Student Presentation

Derby County hosted Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday which offered us with a great opportunity to capture some of our students in action at the match in order for us to use towards our talk and presentation on Saturday to potential new students for next year.

I managed to arrange a press pass for myself and Alex, a friend of Lukas, who had the duty of being cameraman, through Colin Gibson, Head of Media at DCFC. Having previously spent a week on work placement with Colin in the Media department certainly helped not only getting permission to gain access to areas around the stadium normally not accessible on match day, but certainly with putting together a little promotional video we'll be showing the guests on Saturday.

Alex took some pictures of Soren, Lukas and other Alex in action as stewards and working in the ticket office as well as around the stadium and the match. He also recorded interviews I conducted with Alex and Lukas before getting me to say a few words with the match in the background! It hasn't actually come out too badly and I'm hoping to link it to my next post.

Derby ended up winning 2-0 and regained 2nd position in their fight for promotion! Go you Rams!!
Stewards getting pre-match briefing
Alex in action!
Soren in the ticket office

SMART Objectives

It's hard to believe another week has gone! It's actually been quite an eventful one leading up to being a student ambassador tomorrow, hosting potential new students with Alex, Alison and Lukas and talking to them about our experiences thus far.

Monday's Introduction to Sport Management covered Strategy, in particular the setting of objectives within an organisation or department. One needs to bare in mind several factors when setting these objectives though and an easy way to remember some of them is to think of the acronym SMART.

Whether an organisation is brand new or have been in existence for a long time, financial success is one of the main goals for most of them. Therefore, when setting objectives, it need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time constraint. An example of this is a Football Club wanting to increase its season ticket holders by 10% by the start of the following season.

Not all objectives are aimed at financial gain though. An example may be a leisure centre wanting to introduce a fitness class, aimed at 16-18 year old girls from a specific area, and to have at least 10 of them regularly participate on a weekly basis by the end of the month. The main objective in this example focusses on introducing and developing community participation in leisure activities.

Our task on this subject for the week is to address the theory behind the formulation of objectives by writing a 200 word report which will form part of our essay required for our assignment at the end of the term.

It's proving quite a challenge to fit it all in to 200 words it seems!!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Commercial Department - Derby County vs Nottingham Forest - 19th January 2015

On Saturday I had the privilege to work alongside the commercial team during one the biggest derbies in England. It doesn't come much bigger than Derby County vs Nottingham Forest and to be working behind the scenes on match day is something special.

I could feel the atmosphere from the moment I arrived at the iPro stadium shortly before 8am. There was excitement hanging in the air, but in a way overshadowed by quietness, perhaps giving a sense of respect and the importance of this fixture. On this day the position in the league table doesn't matter, it’s meaningless. So too the 5-0 drubbing the Rams gave their neighbours last year or beating them with 10 men in 2011. Today all the pressure is on the men wearing black and white!

Meanwhile behind the scenes, pressure of a different nature had to be absorbed. Entertaining corporate guests and ensuring they have an unforgettable and trouble free day, is what’s top of the agenda for the commercial team on match day. Personally, my duties today didn't require much brain activity, but having experience in customer service in the food and beverage came in handy as I welcomed guests at accompanied them to their tables in the Pedigree Suite.

Much of the morning was spent putting a match programme on every seat of every corporate box and suite as well as the home and away changing rooms and match officials rooms. Today also offered an opportunity for one of DCFC’s partners, Purpose Media, to run a competition by gathering guests’ data and I helped their team collect the competition entry forms. Three lucky winners received an iPad, signed shirt and set of golf clubs handed out by Jake Buxton, DCFC’s man of the match, in the Toyota Suite after the game where he was also interviewed by ex-player Marc Edworthy. 

Unfortunately Derby conceded a last minute goal, handing Nottingham Forest a 2-1 victory, leaving the 30,000 home supporters in shock and disbelief after having had a half time lead.
Despite the result, albeit a bitter pill to swallow, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Although it didn’t require or involve any management skills, it still gave a great insight into what it takes to entertain guests and the process that’s involved in laying on an event of this nature. I also think it’s important for any manager to have an understanding of all the departments and how it operates at all levels throughout an organisation. And I managed to watch the game for free!! #Bonus

I’m having another couple of days in the commercial department in a few weeks’ time and I’m looking forward to see and be involved in the work that goes on away from match days.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Joining Uni at the tender age of 37!

Being asked for ID on a night out I guess doesn't normally occur in the life of your normal middle aged bloke, but when most of your class mates are half your age and you're joining them at a students only event, it's hardly surprising the doorman stops you and says "Sorry mate, students only"!

Becoming a full time student at the age of 37 isn't an easy decision and I was pre warned about the commitment it takes. Throw in to the mix fatherhood and doing a job on top of it, I never thought it would be a walk in the park and party time every night either, but it was a risk I was prepared to take.

It certainly wasn't a decision taken lightly and it is a commitment I'm willing to offer up, hoping to reap the rewards further down the line, hopefully making those who've given me the support, proud one day. Of that I can be very grateful for, the support of not only my friends and family, but tutor and lecturers too have been incredible.

It's early days of course, and we've only just finished our first semester, but I can confidently say I think it's one of the best decisions I've made! If making the decision to put my career on hold and take on full time education in pursuit of a degree wasn't difficult enough, I was then left with deciding between journalism, hotel & resort management and business management, having been offered a space on them all. After the 1st semester though, I have no doubt I made the right decision.

The practical experience we've gained from working within an organisation like Derby County Football Club since the first couple of weeks already, have been second to none and is what sets this particular course aside from the rest. I'm hoping to share my experiences on a regular basis and I hope to be able to give you an insight in to just how valuable this partnership with DCFC and other sport organisations are to us as students and ultimately the industry later on in our careers.

For now, let's get behind the Rams as they're taking on neighbours Chesterfield in the FA Cup fourth round.