Episode 32 is an interview about the extraordinary power of sport with – Baroness Sue Campbell. It’s an interview about culture and purpose, how you bring people together and how you create a cadre of individuals who believe in something bigger than themselves.
It’s a conversation which reminds us about what’s important and gives an insight into the passion and purpose which drives one of the most influential women in sport.
Sue Campbell trained as a physical education teacher, taught in Manchester and lectured at Leicester and Loughborough Universities. During this time, Sue represented her country as a player, a coach and a team manager. She then went on to spend four years as a regional officer with the Sports Council (now Sport England) before moving to the National Coaching Foundation (NCF). Following 11 years as the Chief Executive of the NCF, she became Chief Executive of the Youth Sport Trust. In February 2005, Sue became Chair of that organisation until December 2017. Sue was appointed Head of Women’s Football with The Football Association in March 2016, and became Director of Women’s Football in January 2018.
Among many honours, Sue has received 11 honorary doctorates and in June 2003, Sue was awarded a Commander of the British Empire for her services to sport.
In April 2005 she was appointed as Chair for UK Sport, following 18 months as the Reform Chair. Sue held this position for two terms until April 2013, where she presided over Team GB and Paralympic GB’s incredible performance at the London 2012 games.
In December 2008 Sue was appointed to the House of Lords as an independent Crossbench Peer.
Sue was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 11.9.18 – Ep 32. Baroness Sue Campbell – Changing the world through sport
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
I: Welcome to a Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.
Today, I’m talking about the extraordinary power of sport with Baroness Sue Campbell. It’s an interview about culture and purpose and how you bring people together and create a cadre of individuals who believe in something bigger than themselves. It’s a conversation which reminds us about what’s important and gives an insight into the passion and the purpose which drives one of the most influential women in sport. I hope you enjoy the chat as much as I did.
Thanks for talking to me today, Sue. What I’d first like to know, what was your first job?
SC: My first job was a PE teacher in Moss Side, Manchester.
TP: Right, yeah. And since that time you have had some really powerful roles, CEO of Youth Sport Trust for two decades and former Chair of UK Sport. You’re a Baroness Cross Bench Peer, now you’re the new Director of Women’s Football at the FA, has that career path been intentional?
TP: What’s sort of driven you and motivated you to these such powerful roles?
SC: I don’t really think of them as powerful, I think them as significantly influential and I think that is important and different.
SC: I haven’t sought out power, I have had a passion for sport and I sought out places where I can influences things. And if you look at my career it’s kind of followed two very interesting but parallel pathways, one has been sport for performance, excellence, that would include my time as a lecturer at Loughborough in the PE department; my time at the National Coaching Foundation; my time at UK Sport, all of that was my fascination with how do you get the very best out of individuals in the performance sense, what does that look like? How do we achieve that? And a total fascination with how that’s evolved and what that looks like.
And then on the other side, because of the experience in Moss Side, really that was my first experience of sport as a power to change lives. I know the performance side and you can say it changes lives, but I mean sport as an intervention to really change people’s direction of travel and life chances. So that would be time at Moss Side, it would be my time working in the inner city after my Loughborough experience for four years working with unemployed, disadvantaged, people in high-rise buildings [laughs], it would include my time at the Youth Sport Trust. And in a funny sort of way, my role as Director of Women’s Football at the FA combines both, because it is trying to create a vision to use the brand of football to change lives, but it’s the only way I can do that is if I can create excellence which inspires a generation of young people to choose football.
So those two parts of me have driven me at different times, I mean there’s no common sense in the direction of [laughs] my career, it hasn’t followed a logic it’s followed a passion, so I’ve zig-zagged in and out of those two and been incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunities I have had at being asked by Tessa Jowell to be the Chair of UK Sport was both a shock at the time, but an incredibly privilege and I loved it, I was intrigued by it, fascinated by the culture you need to crate that kind of pursuit of excellence whilst remaining – and I know this would be controversial by saying it, but by remaining very athlete centred and athlete focussed.
TP: Mm. What do you see then as the purpose of sport?
SC: Well, it’s been my life so it’s my purpose [laughs]. But I’ve seen it in two, again, really distinct complimentary ways. I’ve seen sport literally change lives, I’ve seen young people either in despair or from disadvantaged backgrounds or with massive human individual challenges, I’ve seen their lives change through sport. And that doesn’t mean they go on to be great sport, but it means sport provides a route way to feel way to feel better themselves, to gain some self-esteem, to feel worthy, to feel they can make a contribution and that in itself changes their life direction.
TP: How has sport changed over the last sort of few decades would you say that you’ve been involved – or has it?
SC: I think pure sport; sport for sport has changed in the sense that our understanding of how you create excellence and winning has just become so much more multidisciplinary. When I played netball for England I thought it was about throwing a ball and catching a ball and dodging – now it’s about physiology, it’s about nutrition, it’s about analysis, it’s about medical cover, it’s about…it’s a multidisciplinary scientific approach to performance with still needing coach who’s the artist.
If you look at sport for good, as I might call it, sport to change lives, I think there’s been a growing awareness of its ability to do that, and yet in government policy terms, we haven’t always given it the position it could have. It’s been an afterthought sport. Sport for sport, people understand; sport to drive education, sport to improve community cohesion, sport to develop girls’ empowerment, those issues are understood all around the world now and they’re understood here, but they’re not embedded in policy here.
SC: There’s been a realisation of its potential, but not necessarily an embedding of it in policy.
TP: That kind of links to what I to talk about with you next, which is about you drive cultural change across the system. So what do you think needs to change to it in order to move sport forward?
SC: Into mainstream policy?
TP: Yes. Yeah, good question [laughs].
SC: Well it’s a lifetime’s job and you could look back and say I’ve failed. In terms of high performance there’s no question we embedded a culture, and I always said when I left UK Sport after London the test of whether I had embedded the culture and the culture was embedded would be Rio, because that was going to be the test not the home games the following games and, in fact, the culture was so embedded that we actually did even better. And I think people now know in sport what it takes to be the best; I think that’s understood across all sport it’s just whether you can pull all that together in a multidisciplinary way to achieve the results you want. But it’s understood now, it’s part of the cultural mind-set and it’s not ‘Oh well, you know, Britain just takes part.’ No, no, Britain doesn’t now it goes with an intention win and it knows how to win.
TP: So what are the current challenges then, do you think?
SC: It’s embedding this sport for good and its understanding that if you’re doing sport in school it’s raising academic standards. And as a head teacher, you don’t have to choose between maths and literacy and sport – mm mm – sport can drive those things – healthy minds and healthy bodies learn body. You can use sport science to help kids engage with science; you can use sport to build community cohesion, but that’s got to be embedded in policy. And if you look at school sport right now, whilst money is invested, and there is money in the system, it isn’t understood. So we have lots of money but no real understanding, it’s still ‘Oh sport is about somebody coming in with a bag of balls.’ No, sport in education is about education, it’s about helping to empower young people, grow young people, develop young people; help them understand cooperation and competition, help them improve their lifestyle; stop them self-harming, stop all the issues that are very current all the emotional challenges we’ve got are for our youngsters.
And we’re asking ourselves why is this? And it’s all down to social media that’s what’s created all these problems. It is partly, but feeling good about yourself is a physical dimension, it’s not just an intellectual dimension, feeling good about who you are, not worrying whether you’re tall or small or fat or big, thinking, ‘Actually, do you know what, I’m okay.’ It comes to how you feel about yourself physically, and I think we’ve abandoned that, we’ve lost sight of how you embed that into young people’s lives and how you embed it into older people’s lives. I think older people ironically are more aware of fitness and health now, but we’re almost not doing the same for our youngsters, so there’s a huge amount I think where we know and understand its power but, for some reason, have been unable to get the political, the politicians of the day to grasp it and use it. Whether that’s in the Home Office, the Health Department, Education, the potential of sport to change the lives of millions of children is sitting there and it’s almost like they kind of go, ‘Oh yeah, but we’re not doing anything about it.’
TP: When I listen to you speak, I hear the desire for a better system, the drive for this vision of sport. Are you so future focussed or do you look back at your career and think, ‘You know, I’m really proud of that,’ or is it just onto the next? We still have to [over speech]?
SC: I don’t linger backwards, I don’t. I am very very proud of the team that I worked with at UK Sport and that amazing moment in London, no-one who was a part of that can look back at that and feel…and to hit the medal numbers that were predicted in 2006 in 2012 on the button, I would defy anybody to tell you that’s not damn good business planning.
SC: And that was all Peter King it wasn’t me, but we had an amazing team of people – Lizzie’s still there – an amazing group of people. All – we had this expression: one team one mission, we were all joined up, we knew what we were trying to do, and I look back at that and I smile and think, ‘Yeah, I feel good that we not just did it but it carried on.’ There are many things that in my life that I feel good about that I did, but they weren’t sustained, and that feels…not a waste of time I don’t think that for a moment, but because you did affect some lives at that moment in time. But I look back at that era from 2000 to 2010 under the Labour Government, well we transformed school sport in a way that was the envy of people all over the world and people were looking at it and going, ‘Wow, this is really exciting.’ To have that completely removed in 2010 and remove that infrastructure people, that hope, that ambition, that realisation of what we could do, I look back and go, ‘Oh my gosh, was that…was that just a dream? For a moment it was reality.’ So I look back at that and I’m proud of the moment, but I don’t look back with…I look back with a degree of sadness and…
TP: What do you with that sadness, does it drive you onto more or does it make you think, ‘Oh God, what’s the point?’
SC: Well that’s why I’m here really as Director of Women’s Football. Why did I take a job at the age of – what was I – 67/68 in a challenging a culture, a challenging environment, why did I do it? People have asked and like you said, “What on earth were you thinking of?”
SC: And the answer is that the dream has never died in me, the dream that I can change the world through sport [laughs] and if we have a no more powerful brand than football, we don’t. Football is such a powerful brand, it’s as powerful, I think, in effecting change as maybe government or politicians, because it speaks to virtually every household. And I know it’s mostly men’s football that speaks to every household, but it speaks to a household, and if we could make that brand really effect major change in girls’ and women’s attitudes to sport, to activity and to themselves, then it’s worth another mountain to have a go at.
TP: Do you think that’s possible?
SC: I think these things take a long time, but, you know what, the skill that…the most important thing is that you build a team of people who share you belief and you can take it forward. And what I’m most pleased about here at the FA is we are building an incredibly experienced but also young team of people with the same ambition. And so my job isn’t to do it now [laughs], my job is to create the vision and that belief and share that with people and hope that they take it on longer after I’ve gone to the golf course or wherever I’ve gone.
SC: The culture shift in British sport at the elite end took probably three to four years to embed, and then another four years to realise its ambition. This is an even bigger job than that, so it will take some time, but I think we’ve made massive progress and we’re on a journey and that’s we keep on saying. In my one review I said we’re in the foothills and we still have a mountain to climb and that’s how I feel, we’ve come from sort of sea level to the foothills I do think we have thanks to an enormous of people who have pioneered the possibility of even starting. I didn’t start this thing I got hold of it after a lot of people had sacrificed an awful lot to get it to where it is. But I’ve hopefully created enough momentum we’re now in the foothills, but we’ve still got a damn great big mountain in front of us and we know it, but we’re excited about it.
TP: I just want to bring this pack to you personally, this podcast is about performance, it’s about different people’s views on success, so I want to ask you a personal question as far as what is success to you and do you feel successful?
SC: [Pause] For me, success is not really…I’ve said this many times to people and people are always sort near enough laugh at me. Sue Campbell, the person I live with…[Laughter]
…can be quite happy walking the dog, living in the outdoors and I don’t have the ambition for me, so it isn’t…I have an ambition for sport and people have always confused that’s me having an ambition, but I’m completely contented with my life and who I am and I’ve been very blessed and lucky to have had the life I’ve got. But my ambition is for sport, so my definition of success is not what I can do but what, through coaching, support, the times, provocation, facilitation, all the different words [laughs] you have to use, what can I encourage “the system” others to do to help realise sport’s potential to make a difference in this society that we live in, and that’s what drives me and it will always drive me to the day I stop working.
TP: And that’s something – I’ve interviewed a number of people and often people say, “Well I used to think success was this and now I think it’s something else,” has that feeling about what success is for you is that been consistent?
SC: No, I think when I was a youngster playing for England being in the England team being selected to play for your country that was success in my head, because when you’re young you’re very goal orientated. And I think it was more that I always go back to the experience of teaching in Moss Side, I am so grateful, I mean it was harrowing, it was personally very challenging; I found it at times deeply disturbing, but my gosh did it change me! And it was the kids that changed me, it was the realisation that I thought sport was about winning a netball match and they showed me that sport was about living a better life. And that stayed with me and it hasn’t left me, and I think – I don’t know whether you’d call up one of those sort of biblical moments in your life where you have someone turn a page in the book for you that you didn’t even know, and that’s certainly what those kids in Moss Side.
So I’m grateful that from that experience – I haven’t always been and don’t get me wrong, I’m not…I don’t not sell it at that – that’s terrible English isn’t it – I love to celebrate the achievements of people and obviously you feel part of that and that’s wonderful, so I don’t…I’m not trying to pretend I’m some sort of person in sacks and ash cloth. But I do get my joy out of watching others be successful. I think I’m fundamentally a coach and I think that’s what I’ve been all my life. If you said to me, “Well how do you summarise what you do?” I’d say I’m a coach. And I think the Moss Side experience showed me the difference between your role and your purpose, and your role is often a set of tasks, but your moral purpose lies deep inside you and is much more about your humanity and what you’re trying to do for the world. And at the toughest moments, and like everybody else, I’ve had some shockers, it’s that moral purpose , that understanding of this is more important than me, this is bigger than me, this requires me to step up here because this is a much bigger cause than just me, that moral purpose has driven me all the way through my life.
TP: I’m just going to wrap things up with some quick-fire questions.
TP: What did you eat for breakfast?
SC: I’m going to brag here, I ate with the Senior England Women’s team and I had a beautiful omelette made for me by the chef over there.
TP: Fantastic. Favourite piece of kit?
TP: Sporting hero?
SC: Katherine Grainger.
SC: She epitomises that pursuit of excellence. The pursuit for perfection, you know, silver, silver, silver, gold – or, was there one more silver in there? Do you know that epitomises what greatness is, it’s never being satisfied with second best it’s pursuing the very limit your ability.
TP: Most useless piece of advice that you have been given or given to somebody else?
SC: Try not to worry about it.
TP: [Laughs] Try not to worry about.
SC: And I worry all the time about it.[Laughter]
TP: Greatest passion outside of sport?
TP: And last one, best performance enhancer?
SC: Mm. Sleep.
TP: I would agree with you on that. Well, thank you very much Sue it’s brilliant talking to you today.
SC: Pleasure, thank you.[Music]
TP: Thanks for listening. You can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to “aquestionofperformance.com.”
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