Job search
Job Search

Interview: New Sport Wales chair Paul Thomas plans to get entire nation 'hooked on sport'

Strategic leadership and sport inclusion expert Dr Paul Thomas took over as chair of Sport Wales in May. In his first interview since his appointment, Thomas speaks about the importance of volunteers and the need for a partnership approach to getting people more active

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 27 Jun 2016 issue 123
Read on turning pages | Download PDF of this issue
Paul Thomas was appointed as Sport Wales chair in May 2016
Paul Thomas was appointed as Sport Wales chair in May 2016

Sport Wales’ newly appointed chair, Dr Paul Thomas, has an impressive CV. Perhaps best known by the wider public as the BBC’s ‘Business Doctor’, he is the founder of creative think tank DNA Definitive, a guest speaker at the prestigious TEDx conferences and a former course leader of MBA programmes at the University of Wales.

Within sport, the Welshman has worked closely with Olympic coaches through his work at DNA Definitive and has also headed major projects for UK Sport and Sport England. He has frontline experience too: he began his career as 15 year-old lifeguard and worked as an assistant manager at a leisure centre.

Now Thomas – shortlisted for Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘most influential leader’ award in 2015 – has a fresh challenge: to ensure every child in the country is “hooked on sport for life”, as outlined in Sport Wales’ strategy.

In keeping with his reputation as a high achiever, however, Thomas is keen to push the brief even further. “I know our strapline is to get every child hooked on sport,” he says. “But for me that doesn’t do our mission justice. What we really want to achieve is to get everyone in Wales active on a regular basis.

“That’s not to say we’re not completely focused on getting children more physically active, because of course we are, but the language shift I want to achieve is that we’re very much focused on adults too.”

VOLUNTEER FORCE
While Thomas’ self-imposed target of making every adult active is ambitious, the Welsh people’s famous passion for sport has provided him with a head start. According to figures from Sport Wales’ latest Active Adults Survey, 41 per cent of people aged 15 or older are already “hooked on sport” – meaning that they are regularly involved in sport in some way – either by taking part or by volunteering.

“Sport is incredibly important to Wales,” he says. “You can witness the euphoria in every Welsh town on a Monday morning when there’s been a Welsh sporting success over the weekend – such as a Six Nations rugby win or a podium finish at a major competition.”

It is Thomas’ intention to harness that passion and to convert it into higher participation figures. For help, He will rely on what he describes as Welsh sport’s biggest strength – its army of volunteers.

“The rough estimate last year was that we have 43,000 volunteer coaches,” he says. “I want to build on that. The important thing for us over the next couple of months will be to work out how we get more people engaged, even if it’s in roles such as organising and being stewards at events.”

To help with that engagement, Sport Wales earlier this month launched a new strategy designed to recruit more volunteers. Called Give to Gain, the plan outlines three approaches, to be adopted across all sports. These are telling volunteers exactly what’s expected of them, such as role descriptions or time commitments; making sure volunteers are valued, developed and supported with education and awards; and highlighting the benefits of volunteering, such as improved health, employability and confidence.

As with the target of making every Welsh adult active, Thomas and his Sport Wales colleagues have set the bar high for Give to Gain – to boost the number of sports volunteers to 300,000 by 2019. With a population of 3 million, that’s 10 per cent of the Welsh population.

For Thomas, the new volunteer strategy doesn’t come soon enough. “The problem I think we’ve had in the past has been to place too much emphasis on definition. The traditional way to secure volunteers is to say that there’s a certain role at a certain place and someone needs to commit to it. That’s fine, but what we also need to do is to catch and then support the people who can’t commit to a specific role – but are ready to give an hour or two a week.

“We also need to take away some of the bureaucracy that exists in volunteering. We want people to enjoy sports and not overwhelm those looking to help, which I think might have happened in the past. Filling out forms and conducting risk assessments are all valid and needed, but we’ve got to ensure we make it easier for people to actually get involved and get doing things.”

IMPROVED FACILITIES
As well as implementing a new plan to recruit volunteers, Thomas will also be kept busy delivering Sport Wales’ new sports facilities blueprint. Published in partnership with the Welsh government, Facilities for Future Generations: A Blueprint for Sport and Active Recreation in Wales lays out a framework as a point of reference to “help inform long-term, sustainable decision-making” on the design, provision and maintenance of facilities.

The report outlines a 25-year plan and a long-term approach to facilities provision, recommending a local government review for all current and planned provisions – including schools, colleges/universities, private and voluntary sector facilities. Thomas says it’s an important document which will add clarity to the way sports facilities are planned and delivered in Wales – as well as ensuring every effort is made to create sustainable venues at every level.

“The new strategy is about making sure we plan every penny we spend and that we have a proper infrastructure and the right facilities in the right places,” Thomas explains. “It will also help us make sure we’ve got the right number of facilities for our needs – enough pools, for example.

“What I really like about it is that it’s not a short-term vision. It will be in place for the next 25 years. It’s part of our work to move Sport Wales from short-term strategies to long-term ones – to come up with solutions for the next five, 10 and even 25 years.”

PARTNERSHIP APPROACH
Thomas describes his role as a strategic one and says one of his key responsibilities will be to ensure the voice of sport is heard whenever policy decisions are made in any of the areas affecting physical activity. “I want to make sure Sport Wales is part of every conversation in every meeting about education and health,” he says. “We need to be seen as a real, true partner, who wants to listen and help facilitate towards an even better future for sport and physical activity here in Wales.”

“The biggest challenge we face in achieving our goals – from producing better facilities to getting everyone active – is to somehow find a way to stop people working in isolation. The more we can sit down together with those who plan education, health and town planning the better.”

Three months into the part-time role, Thomas has already gone above and beyond in order to familiarise himself with the challenge ahead. “While my role is officially for two days each week, I’m working seven days a week at the moment,” he says. “I’m visiting clubs and going to events because I want to make sure that I’m there for anyone who needs a little bit of help and support in their delivery of sport.”

And it’s not just the days he spends thinking about his new job. “The people involved in sport in Wales are incredibly driven,” he says. “I’m literally having sleepless nights for fear of letting these people down – I’ve not had that during my 30-year career.”

Army of volunteers

The number of volunteers in Welsh sport has grown from 110,000 in 2008 to 235,000 in 2015, contributing £300m (US$433.9m, €388.8m) to the Welsh economy.

Sign up for FREE ezines & magazines
Sports jobs
Everyone Active
featured job

Swimming Teachers

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive hourly rate
Job location: Nationwide

Assistant General Manager

The Gym Group
Salary: Fantastic Benefits
Location: Hampshire, England

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Nuneaton, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Alton, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Stratford Upon Avon, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: West Lindsey, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Watford, United Kingdom

Duty Manager

Lex Leisure
Salary: Competitive
Location: Sidcup, UK

Regional Account Manager to the South

Legend Club Management Systems
Salary: Commensurate with Experience
Location: York, UK

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Middlesbrough, United Kingdom
recruiting with sports management

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: St Albans, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Fleet, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Washington, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Rossmore, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Plymouth, United Kingdom

Compliance Manager

Parkwood Leisure
Salary: Competitive
Location: Bristol, UK

Recreation Assistant (Lifeguard)

GLL
Salary: Up to £22,008 pa
Location: Shadwell, London, UK
recruiting with sports management

Sales Manager

Lex Leisure
Salary: £25,000 per annum plus OTE
Location: Bexleyheath, UK

Duty Manager

GLL
Salary: Up to £25,655 pa
Location: Wimbledon, London, UK

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Bishop's Stortford, United Kingdom

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Leicester, United Kingdom

Duty Manager

GLL
Salary: Up To £25,655 Per Annum
Location: London, UK

Duty Manager

GLL
Salary: Up To £25,655 PA
Location: Croydon, UK

Regional Sales Manager

Parkwood Leisure
Salary: £30,000 and OTE
Location: Bristol, UK
training with sports management

Regional Sales Manager

Parkwood Leisure
Salary: £30,000 and OTE
Location: Exeter, UK

Regional Sales Manager

Parkwood Leisure
Salary: £30,000 and OTE
Location: Cardiff, UK

Health and Fitness Supervisor

GLL
Salary: Up To £22,124
Location: London, UK

Customer Services Advisor

Circadian Leisure Trust
Salary: £8.21 - £8.70 per hour
Location: Yate, Bristol, UK

Duty Manager

Lex Leisure
Salary: Competitive
Location: Barnstaple, UK

Team Leader

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: North Wembley, Wembley, UK

Gymnastics Coach

Everyone Active
Salary: Competitive
Location: Bordon, United Kingdom
lifeguard jobs  personal trainer jobs  Swimming Teacher jobs  recreation assistant jobs  Gymnastics Coach jobs  apprenticeships jobs  duty manager jobs  Swimming instructor jobs  assistant manager jobs  Swim Teacher jobs  Regional Sales Manager jobs  Team Leader jobs  Catering Supervisor jobs  Customer Services Advisor jobs  Centre Manager jobs 
More jobs

Catalogue Gallery

BSW: BSW is a manufacturer of sports floorings, sports mats, gym flooring, elastomer products for impact sound insulation and vibration isolation, anti-slip mats for securing loads as well as protective and separating layers.
BSW
JP Lennard: Leading supplier to Commercial Swimming Pools, Leisure Centres, Health & Fitness Clubs, Hotels, Holiday Parks, Schools and Universities, supplying thousands of products directly into these sectors.
JPL
More catalogues

Video Gallery

TVS Sports Surfaces
Established in 2009 as a specialist supplier of noise and vibration solutions, The TVS Group has successfully evolved into four key strategic divisions; TVS Sports Surfaces, TVS Gym Flooring, TVS Play Surfaces and TVS Acoustics.
Visit website
More videos

Company profile

Company profile: EZ-Runner Systems Ltd
With over 600 clients worldwide in Spa, Golf, Health Club, Hotel and Kids Play Leisure, we have a proven track record endorsed by a diverse range of industry leaders.
View full profile >
More company profiles

Featured Supplier

Myzone vs. wrist trackers
According to ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, wearables trumped the top spot for trends in 2019. However, the question between Myzone or wrist trackers still stands.
View full details >
More featured suppliers

Property & Tenders

Location:
Company: Will to Win
Location:
Company: Savills
More properties & tenders

Diary dates

26-27 Jun 2019
Villa Park, Birmingham, United Kingdom
06-07 Jul 2019
Monte-Carlo, Monaco
23-25 Jul 2019
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, Australia
05-06 Sep 2019
TagusPark, Oeiras, Portugal
More diary dates