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The agony and the ecstasy

It’s the last week in September – one of the most eagerly awaited weeks in the Australian sports calendar… AFL finals fever is palpable! Recently Slade Group and the Interchange Bench were fortunate enough to get our own Aussie Rules footy fix, hosting well-known football journalist Caroline Wilson, CEO of Geelong Football Club, Brian Cook and Marc Murphy, Captain of Carlton FC at our annual Footy Lunch.

Our panel (with me as MC) rapidly covered off: Who can beat Richmond this year? (Collingwood); Can the West Coast Eagles win at the MCG? (I think so); How long will it take Carlton FC to make the final eight? (About 3-4 years!); And why are players leaving the Suns? (Global warming??)

Seriously though, what was most interesting about our panel discussion was Marc Murphy’s take on the current state of player welfare.

Back in the 80s, when I was playing, the big question was how do we get into Chasers nightclub and the Underground (without queuing, and a drink card would be nice too, thanks)? Innocent times in comparison.

Seriously though, Marc got everyone’s attention when he identified health and wellbeing as the top issue facing current AFL players. As someone who works in the people capital business, I was really interested.  Let’s talk about them here:

Mental Health

This is a massive issue, so much so that the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) has established a specialised in house Mental Health and Wellbeing team to provide counselling to current and past players. Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal that up to one in five Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime – AFL players are no different.

Stress

All of us have work pressures – present stressors that can lead to mental health issues. However as AFLPA Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing Brent Hedley wrote, the current stressors for players include: performance anxiety, public scrutiny, media attention, injury and being away from the family. The public spotlight simply magnifies these stressors.

General Health and Wellbeing

Other common health issues amongst AFL players may include: depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol problems, eating disorders and gambling, side effects from injuries such as concussion, not to mention a whole range of other physical injuries related to contact sport. They may appear to be super human on the field, but often spend more time off field recovering.

Social Media

Social media can be a frenemy, especially for high profile footballers. Hedley’s advice is “Social media can be a confronting environment for players and cause significant stress, but it can also be one that gives players a chance to express themselves and show their human side.” This highlights the importance for players in having a strong network away from their sporting identities, which can support them when football is causing them stress.

Our Footy Lunch was a great event – we even picked a winner for Saturday (that’s right, your tip’s the one)! Yet Marc’s comments really hit a nerve with me. Footy players are like you and me (well, perhaps a bit more like me)… They win, they lose, they struggle, they laugh and they cry. The major difference is for a sports star, it’s all played out on an open stage for everyone to see. Players need help in the workplace from time to time, just like us. I think it’s great to see through the AFLPA that they’re getting it.

How do you manage stress and other pressures in your workplace? What are some of the strategies you have used to help improve the health and wellbeing of others @work?

 

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Posted in Slade Executive

A man’s world would be nothing without a woman or a girl

Celebrated journalist and high profile media personality Caroline Wilson says, “Sometimes it’s an asset not being part of the boy’s club.”

Last week I ventured out on a bleak, cold Melbourne night to Deakin Edge at Federation Square to hear Wilson talk about Tackling the Sport of Men. Unsurprisingly, the auditorium was packed. In light of recent comments from those water challenge incident commentators, Collingwood FC President Eddie McGuire, his Triple M co-hosts James Brayshaw and Danny Frawley, and Footy Show presenter Sam Newman, Wilson’s appearance at the David Parkin Oration for Sport and Social Change was highly anticipated…the event was booked out!

Hearing Wilson recall the old days of the AFL in the 1980s (then known as the VFL) when she was the first woman to cover footy full time as a young reporter (now almost 35 years ago), reminded me of my time as a player. Wilson describes the environment at the time as “a bastion of masculinity” – a sport for men, run by men, reported on by men, where what happened on the field stayed on the field. Sounds about right.

Speaking about her career as a sports journalist, Wilson noted she’d covered athletics, golf, even three Olympics, but was unaware her appointment by a maverick editor at The Herald would be controversial. It’s one that paid off, which would see her become Chief Football Writer at The Age, as well as many other newspaper, TV, radio and current affairs gigs and recognition though multiple Walkley Awards.

If sending a young female reporter to cover the footy was, in Wilson’s words, a “social experiment”, she certainly challenged it. Undeterred by being marched out of the players’ change rooms, being mistaken for a waitress back of house or seated with footballer’s wives at events, Wilson not only wrote about the game, but had a hand in changing attitudes. She says she learned more from the women in football who gave her the best stories, sharing their insights and analysis when none of the men were listening.

Wilson has paved the way for other women in the sports media and can now cite many more female colleagues reporting the game: Sam Lane, Chloe Saltau, Emma Quayle and Linda Pearce. She’s seen a slow changing of the guard over her time in football, culminating in the advent of the AFL Women’s League, to premiere next year. Wilson spruiked a genuine possibility that the next AFL Chair could be a woman. In a global context, she highlighted opportunities for women in critical leadership positions – Theresa May post Brexit and I’d wager Clinton over Trump.

As David Parkin reminded us, sport has a unique ability to cross barriers, influence communities and be a positive agent for change. Over the course of its evolution from a part-time localised sporting competition to a national league of full-time elite athletes, the AFL has also helped increase awareness and change attitudes on a range of social issues, such as violence against women, mental illness, same-sex marriage and diversity.

The business landscape in Australia has similarly undergone significant change over the past three decades. It would have been hard for me to imagine what the AFL would look like today as young recruit at Fitzroy in the 1980s. I’ve found being open to awareness, developing an understanding and mindfulness is a great start.

What mechanisms for change have you engaged in your world @work?

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Posted in Slade Executive, The world @work

A President, a CEO and a journalist were in a room together…

On the last Wednesday in August, Slade Group hosted its annual Footy Lunch. As usual there were meaty titbits from Caroline Wilson and plenty of differences of opinions about teams most likely, players least likely and coaches unlikely.

As MC, Laurie Serafini fuelled some good natured debate, but when it came to matters of football governance, the guest speakers were in heated agreement. This year’s panel comprised Caroline Wilson, Chief Football writer for The Age, radio and TV commentator, and Walkley Award winning journalist; Peggy O’Neal, Richmond Club President; and David Stevenson, the Western Bulldogs’ newly appointed CEO.

It didn’t take long for the audience of senior business leaders to join the dots: the best performing football clubs are no different from the best performing organisations.

Just like non-sporting organisations, AFL clubs are taking a good hard look at themselves.

  • The panel sent packing the idea that old football stars make the best coaches. Plenty of us in business have found that star performers in the field or on the floor don’t necessarily make the best leaders and managers.
  • The panel laid down the fact that gender diversity leads to better performance – in clubs and non-sporting organisations alike. Taking the lead from David Stevenson, ex Senior Nike Executive now boss of the Bulldogs, there were some sighs from both men and women in the audience when David said he couldn’t believe, on returning to Australia, that gender inequity is still so evident Down Under.
  • And whilst there aren’t any teams with elephant or gazelle mascots, it’s these two animals that are often cited as being reflective of the two ends of the corporate spectrum; large global giants and smaller nimble organisations. There is a prevailing view that perhaps AFL House has become a bit of a lumbering elephant, whereas AFL clubs are responding to new ways of thinking much more quickly than the ‘parent company’ and in turn have much closer community alignment.

Our panel concluded the clubs are better champions for change than the AFL itself on a range of current issues. It seems the gazelle has trumped the elephant and those old bulls are a little slow when it comes to learning new tricks.

That’s our world@sport this week. What are the similarities and differences you see?  We’d love to hear.

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Posted in The world @work