Setting up Sport for Success

Helen Humphrey presents the wider benefits of sport ahead of the Champion’s League Festival in Cardiff this weekend

This weekend, our nation’s capital will experience one of the biggest sporting events in its history. The Champion’s League Festival is anticipated to draw nearly 180,000 fans to Cardiff over its four days, and will be seen by a 2 million strong global audience.

This is another fantastic opportunity to showcase Wales on the international stage. We know from hosting previous major events such as the Rugby World Cup, the Ashes and the Ryder Cup, that sporting spectaculars in Wales are synonymous with success. As Chair of the Welsh Sport Association (WSA), I am determined that we build on these triumphs to demonstrate the real value that sport and active recreation can bring – not just in health benefits and to tourism, but in helping develop a skilled, resilient and productive workforce.

It is apt that the Champions League Final should fall in Volunteers Week. The event will require the assistance of over 1500 volunteers to make sure that it runs smoothly. With sport volunteering making up the biggest proportion of volunteering across Wales, and over 235,000 people giving their time to their clubs and communities very week, it is important that we recognise the huge contribution that volunteers play in ensuring that grassroots sport exists. But the benefits are wider than improving the wellbeing of the participants they support, or the volunteers themselves. Studies by Volunteering Matters show that 82% of staff look more favourably on their employers if they are supported in their volunteering, and 75% felt that the skills developed during volunteering would be useful in their professional work – so it is easy to see how volunteering in sport can be a win-win for both the volunteer and for business.

As important as these roles are, a healthy and sustainable sports sector needs more than community volunteering, more than help in coaching and running local clubs. From my experience, it needs high level intervention and support to diversify its thinking and redouble efforts to accelerate building capability in the leadership and governance of sport. As the sector body for sport and active recreation, the Welsh Sports Association is committed to supporting our members to be set for success.

There is a great appetite among the national governing bodies of sport in Wales to improve their skills mix, and these boards offer a great opportunity for the strategic thinkers of Wales’ corporate world to share the wealth of their professional expertise. This, in turn helps to build your own networks and strengthen your personal development, and that of your staff – be that current or future employees. Volunteering on boards also allows an individual to challenge themselves beyond corporate boundaries. Workplace culture and constraints can restrict confidence, but external board roles could offer the freedom to try out new ideas – helping to build self-belief in an environment unseen by the scrutiny of daily peers.

Indeed, sport has many lessons for the business environment. Previous experience has shown me that the connection between performance and emotional intelligence that sport requires can certainly help grow a business and develop its employees for little or no cost. In sport, players and coaches alike must control their emotions to work together in high pressure situations, especially in team sports. If you think sitting in a board or a team meeting can put your nerves on edge, consider attempting to take a penalty or needing to net one more goal with 25 seconds on the clock in a netball match.

There is a growing body of research looking at how the strategies of sports psychology can be adapted for business to improve its competitive advantage. The success of Leicester City Football Club is a model that I am sure will be used for many years to come. A team which did not have the best players or the most money to spend, but they did have a plan, and they worked with what they had to develop an exceptional team spirit – making the impossible possible.

True collaboration between sport and business can provide uniquely attractive propositions and deliver hugely successful outcomes. From applying sports practices to business strategy and developing cohesive teams, or encouraging staff to lead their personal development through sports board representation, there are many ways that sport and business can work together to deliver common objectives. Next week the WSA will be launching its Fit for the Future report which highlights the impact of sport and champions the success of the sport sector in Wales. In working with us, you can be a part of that success too.


 Helen Humphrey is Chair of the Welsh Sports Association. In her 29 years at McDonald’s Helen Humphrey progressed from a 16 year-old McDonald’s Crew Member serving and preparing food for customers, to become the company’s first female Vice President for Operations. Helen previously spent two years as Chair of Sport Wales’ Advisory Group, is a Trustee for Torfaen Leisure Trust, and speaks regularly at leadership events

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