Delivering success together

Delivering success together

Phil Smith, Director of Sport, Sport England


Phil Smith, Director of Sport at Sport England, stepped in at the last minute to deputise for Jenny Price, CEO of Sport England.

Phil kicked off the session by congratulating Tara and the CIMSPA team on the outstanding progress they have made in the last year acknowledging how their hard work was yielding results.

Physical activity is key

He then explained how, following the launch of the Sport England strategy in 2016, the organisation is now focused on physical activity as well as sport and how it was attempting to reverse long term trends such as the stark gap in physical activity between the rich and poor.

To change the nation’s activity levels requires a more productive, sustainable and responsible sports sector, said Phil.

“Supporting hundreds of thousands of people in changing their behaviour is only going to be possible with a sector that focuses on the needs of the customers, a sector that is led by people with a variety of experiences and perspectives and a sector that represents the diversity of the populations it is trying to reach and represent.  Above all, we need a sector that is customer focused and that puts people and their needs at the heart of decisions and the provision of sport and activity.

“I can say with confidence, but with some shame, that this is not the way our industry currently works. There are some brilliant examples of it, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule.”

He said the sector needed to be honest about how much of a transformation being truly customer focused really is – “It’s hard for us at Sport England and it will be hard for you. I think it’s the biggest challenge we face today.”

With CIMSPA as our partners, we are going from strength to strength and 2018 will be even better.
— Phil Smith

Meeting challenges with insight

To illustrate the challenges, Phil described one of several pilot schemes launched by Sport England in conjunction with the sector to stem the decline in swimming, traditionally one of the country’s most popular forms of activity. This particular project targeted women aged 35-55. Sport England spoke to its online This Girl Can community to learn what put them off swimming.

It discovered a range of practical and emotional barriers across the customer journey.

  • The first important lesson learned from the pilot was the need to talk to customers to find out what they want, the problems they face and how we can fix them.
  • The second was the real difference that various members of the workforce could make throughout that customer journey, from marketing teams to reception staff to the poolside team.

Talking to operators, it was clear that most were unfamiliar with the emotional barriers cited by women such as fear, lack of confidence and embarrassment.  Sport England designed customer service training with operators to help staff to spot issues and then help overcome these emotional barriers to swimming. The training was delivered to all members of staff who came into contact with women on that journey.

Phil Smith, Director of Sport, Sport England 

Phil Smith, Director of Sport, Sport England 

The results? Nearly one in three women taking part in the This Girl Can sessions hadn’t swum in the last year and was completely inactive before taking part. These sessions positively impacted levels of swimming and physical activity across the board with women who took part. Average audiences and attendance increased, and in the places where this was done well, it reversed a long term national trend.

“The overwhelming conclusion was that your people, our colleagues, were one of the most important factors in that success. It was the same pool, the same centre, but the way the staff behaved was different.”

CIMSPA at the centre of workforce development

Phil went on to explain how, working with CIMSPA, Sport England was making great strides in its commitments to professional workforce development in sport and physical activity.

“With CIMSPA as our partners, we are going from strength to strength and 2018 will be even better.”

Phil spoke of the appointment of Sport England’s new workforce director, Caroline Fraser, someone deliberately appointed from outside the sector to ask difficult questions about why we do what we do.

“We have over three million coaches and almost six million volunteers in sport and activity, which is a massive opportunity to shape and utilise the workforce across the board to reach our participation targets.  Sadly, but unsurprisingly, despite those big numbers its heavily skewed to pale, male and stale, like me, so equality and diversity has to be a constant theme in our work – not for its own sake but for improved performance.”

Workforce strategy coming in April

Following the launch of Coaching in an Active Nation and Volunteering in Active Nation, Phil confirmed that Sport England’s strategy for the professional workforce will be published in April and he shared a few common themes:

Insights – we need to know more: what are key touch points with customer, where are the skills gaps, where do we struggle to recruit and retain staff?

Culture – if we are going to tackle inactivity, we need a flexible workforce to help people manage a range of emotional and practical barriers to activity.

Diversity – if we are going to attract more diverse customers, more diversity in the workforce and in leadership is necessary

“Ultimately, this is about proving our worth. We want to be better for the customers we serve and those we are seeking to influence; the medical and health industry – places where we think some of our future resource might come from. That’s why the work of CIMSPA is so vital: establishing robust professional standards, clear occupational maps, a high standard of quality assurance and professional development.

“These are the cornerstones of the work and we are right behind it. CIMSPA has Sport England’s complete backing. It’s a belief that our industry is coming of age and that in doing so we can make a real and positive difference to lives on a national scale.”