My nine-year-old boy Jack and I went to an event launching a new sports program the other week, but it didn’t end well. No physical injuries or anything dramatic, just a few little mental scars and a bad taste in our mouths. It was all very well intended, and these things happen, particularly in sports, where we dance along a fine line between challenge, comfort zones and growth. But long story short, Jack didn’t feel welcomed, no one really spoke to him, he spent most of the time on the bench, didn’t touch the ball, and to be honest the coaches didn’t really care. And it just left us both feeling a bit sad.
“It wasn’t what I hoped it would be.”
Which is a shame as it’s a sport his idols play, and the whole experience didn’t turn out how he dreamt it might.
EXPECTATIONS VS REALITY
The design and the delivery gap
As experience providers our intentions are always good, but what happened here often occurs, that some good intentions were not delivered on. All the planning can be done but ultimately it’s down to our providers, in the coordinators and coaches on the ground that determine the experience we provide.
A powerful tool
As a provider of sport and active experiences, I think we have all seen the influence our events, sessions, and workouts can have. Whether we stop to recognise it or not, your participants, spectators and volunteers have all had an impression left on them from something you provided.
I once saw this influence in a guy called Kurt Fearnley, a legend in Australian sport. Kurt is a wheelchair athlete who has collected gold medals at the Paralympic Games, won over 40 international marathons, been the flag bearer for the national team, and was even a winning member of the infamous Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race, showing us there wasn’t much Kurt couldn’t achieve when he wanted to (for further proof, he even crawled the notorious Kokoda Track, a 96-kilometre single-file trail in Papua New Guinea. On his hands and knees. The trail of rugged and often almost impassable terrain normally takes between four and twelve days. Kurt did it in ten).
Life has been filled with many influential experiences for Kurt, and it's been quite a journey.
He wasn’t expected to live for more than a week when he was born, and grew up with around 800 people in a small town in Carcoar Country, in New South Wales, where as an 8-year-old on his farm many years ago, Kurt was influenced by an experience that set him on that journey. One Australia Day, Kurt’s father sat him down to watch a road race on television, and according to Kurt, that moment set him on a different path, to this incredible and inspiring life.
Speaking at an Australia Day ceremony many years later, Kurt talked about how that event, the OZ Day 10k Wheelchair Road Race, had “provided the platform [he] needed” to change his beliefs about what he was capable of.
“These boys seemed to showcase something even better. To me, they were gladiators, and I had a new dream: I wanted to be one. The athletes I saw that day were racing the Oz Day 10km. A race where the streets of Sydney are closed to allow wheelchair racers to take the stage in one of the most picturesque venues in world sport and on our national day. I knew that I wanted to be on that start line. I had to be in that race”.
And he was. Over 25 times, with Kurt winning almost half the time. And more significantly it provided one of those influential experiences which led to many other things.
“The Oz Day race provided the platform I needed: I met the best in the world, I raced the best in the world, and the experience on the streets of Sydney provided the springboard for my racing career. I’ve been travelling the world racing the best ever since.”
What resonated with me was that we organised this event for many years, and it was so cool to hear the impact it had had on someone's life.
I'm sure your events will be doing the same.
Kurt has gone on to achieve many great things in life, been awarded the ‘Don’ as the Australian sportsperson most likely to inspire the nation, and honoured as an Officer of the Australian Order. And while it would be simplistic to claim one event enabled Kurt to achieve all of this —his immensely impressive personal characteristics have empowered Kurt to become who he is today — and while many other events and people have supported this, his life has become what it has in large part because of that event back in the 1990s.
It's that opportunity we all have
Kurt’s experience gives us an example of the influence of our events, to create significant experiences in people’s lives. As activity and experience providers, we know we can inspire people and create powerful moments and memorable stories. It doesn’t always feel like it, but in doing what we do, providing these activities for people, we are in a fortunate position, and we have a somewhat rare opportunity; a role that allows us to impact people’s lives positively.
New pathways? Or dead ends?
This brings us back to what Jack experienced, Kurt, and millions of others have, something all our events and activities have in common: they have built a platform on which we can provide influential experiences for people.
And while we may not all be involved in life-changing examples, one thing we can surface from these examples is that our sports, events, and sessions should serve people in some way — and just like they ultimately have for Kurt and millions more, we can, and should, have a meaningful impact on them.
What about you?
If you think back to some of your interests and the pathways your life has taken, it’s likely the influential moments in your life have come from experiencing certain events. The experience changed what you did then, and possibly even still what you do now. Just like it has been for Jack and Kurt so many others around the world, these experiences have influenced our interests across our lives, the sports we play, and how active we are. It may have been a sporting event moment that caught your attention and inspired or influenced you in some way. An event you signed up for that acted as a catalyst to train or prepare for something. Or an activity that influenced how you felt, and made you think about doing something again.
Influential experiences are the moments that cut through and connected with you and have created a new attitude or ritual in your life. These experiences probably influenced which sports you play and follow, how often, and how much passion. It may have influenced who your friends are, or be influencing what your family does now. It may have triggered your goals and ignited some beliefs within you. Perhaps your career choices, or more broadly, the way to approach things in life, how you deal with situations, and the aspirations you have. So, in sometimes small ways, and sometimes in more significant ways, these experiences have influenced our lives.
And so, our role (I think) is to be guardians of the influence we can have, for positive influence, and not a negative outcome. You might have these things in place, but if I can help you in creating experiences that will provide positive outcomes - please do let me know. Let's start creating a more active world, together. Getting more people involved in your sport or events - more often, for longer!