This weeks interview found me chatting with Júlia Pimenta Salazar from Street Child United. Júlia is a professional in sport for development where her passions lie with using sport as a tool involved with making a life-changing impact across deprived communities. Throughout this blog, Júlia speaks on where her passion began, the value of branching out your skill sets and the essential lessons to becoming a successful team manager in the sports industry.
Q1) Julia, it’s an honour to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Could you kick this off by sharing how your sports career began?
Thanks for the kind introduction, Ash. I am delighted to be part of your blog.
I have always been passionate about football. When I was a child, I had the dream to become a footballer, and it was going well (I played two youth World Cups for Brazil) until I suffered an injury that kept me out of the field, at least as a player. I got so disappointed and frustrated that I decided to study something else and tried Law. However, I realised soon enough that I would never be fulfilled if I wasn’t connected with sport. Therefore, I decided to study Physical Education, and I quite liked it, I was very driven in the course, participating in several study groups in distinct areas. At the university, I was very interested in neurophysiology, and my first research project was ’Analysis of brain structures in football players under seventeen years old’. It aimed to compare the brain of footballers from different tactical positions and understand what the impact the training sessions were having on brain’s modulation and also if there was a neuro profile according to the tactical situation. Although I still like the topic, during the course, I got captured by something else, sport management.
Still, in my undergraduate studies, I was awarded a scholarship by the Brazilian Government under the ‘’Science without Borders’’ programme that provided me with the opportunity to study Sports Science abroad for one year at Dublin City University (DCU). I was delighted by studying and learning sport management that I decided to do that for a living. Therefore, I applied for my first Master’s at Universidade de Sao Paulo (Brazil) in Sport Management (which I finished last year). However, I concluded that although I had acquired knowledge of the Brazilian and South American sports market, I still had a lot to learn about the international one. Because I could not afford a Master’s in the UK, I applied for the Chevening scholarship, a British programme that aims to develop future leaders and people of influence. I faced more than 65,000 candidates, and I successfully had the opportunity to do my second Master’s in Sport Business and Innovation at Loughborough University.
Q2) I appreciate you’ve had a variety of experiences in sport, from marketing, market research and programme management. What impact have these diverse experience brought upon your skill-set to help you stand out in the sports industry?
As I mentioned above, while in university, I had the habit of participating in different study groups, and that’s because my interests were continually changing. Once I got a certain level of knowledge in a specific subject, I started to get bored and feel curious about another one. Studying different topics and also experiencing various universities and distinct countries helped me a lot to have a big picture of the area.
Furthermore, I recognise myself as a multipotentialite. I am the person who knows a bit about various areas and somehow what I always thought this was a weakness (lack of focus) became my main strength as I can circulate well and jump into conversations about different themes.
Q3) Your work at Street Child United looks inspiring. Could you share more about what the organisation represent, your role within the project and what part you play in the bigger picture?
Street Child United (SCU) is a UK charity that uses the power of sport, specifically international sports events, to change the negative perceptions and treatment of street-connected children everywhere. Our HQ is in London, but we act globally. As a Team Manager, I coordinate the relationship with global and local NGOs and manage our legacy programme, monitoring and evaluating the impact our partners and we create. I also provide support for governance issues and advocacy strategies. Moreover, one of my main tasks at SCU is the coordination of our alumni programme, which consists of investing in the personal and professional development of our former participants. Therefore, the young people who wish to keep campaigning for the rights of the street-connected children and speak on their behalf can keep connected and supported by us.
Q4) Street Child United does some excellent work to provide as many equal opportunities as possible for deprived communities. From your experience, what further support do you believe similar organisation like Street Child United could benefit from to optimise impact through sport?
Sports won’t necessarily cause an impact. It is not a relationship of cause and consequence; there is a lot of work around it to use sport as a vehicle for change. To optimise the impact, firstly is essential to understand the purpose behind it (why you are doing what you are doing) and for who you are delivering a project or a programme. The leadership and directions should always come from the community you are supporting; they know better what they need, as well as their assets, resources and demands. Therefore, to optimise impact thought sport, it is necessary to comprehend the environment and what is your role there.
Q5) While you’ve been the Team and Programmes Manager for just over two years at Street Child United, what essential lessons have you learnt about being an effective manager in a sports industry setup?
One of the most important lessons that I got so far came from my boss, a very inspiring person who is the CEO and co-founder of the organisation. For him, nothing is impossible, and many times in these two years at SCU while undertaking different challenges, I thought that we wouldn’t make it, or we wouldn’t be able to deliver something. But we always do. Sometimes it takes a bit longer, maybe not exactly how we planned, but other times, even better than we previously thought. I learnt from him that you have to believe in what you are doing and cease the possibilities before giving up on anything.
He also taught me to be bold. Sometimes I come up with logical, structured and safe plans and when presenting it, I feel it doesn’t reach him properly, and that’s usually because we could deliver something more audacious or with a higher impact. Thus, we do team meetings to get everyone’s input, and for many times I had to start from scratch again, combining the best of everyone. Therefore, I guess, there are three main lessons and it can sound very cliché, but it is real: Be bold, trust your team and don’t be lazy if you need to star everything again.
Q6) In your current role and from previous sports industry experiences, what have been some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced? And, how have these adversities moulded your character to become a more resilient individual to thrive in competitive environments?
One of my core tasks is to take the teams to the events (places hosting World Cups, for example). The projects we work with (that becomes the teams) deal with street-connected young people, and many children with this background don’t have passports either birth certificates. Therefore, taking the teams to the host country and securing all documentation needed on time is a considerable challenge. That’s a combined effort from our organisations, projects, lawyers, sponsors and other key players.
However, this type of challenge is nothing compared to the challenge that the people we work with have or had. I am not sure how it has moulded my character but working in the development sector makes you see things differently, especially working with vulnerable young people. You learn so much from them. Some young people have the toughest stories, faced extremely challenging situations, and still, they have so much love to give, and they do it, freely. Listening to what they have to say encourages me to keep fighting for what I believe and inspires me to be more resilient with my own adversities.
Q7) Julia, reflecting from this discussion and your sports career, what would be your killer piece of advice for someone wanting to pursue a career in sport?
Despite the essential lessons I wrote above, I would say that you can never miss an opportunity. I am where I am now (and still very far from what want to be) because I took all the changes I had so far. You don’t need to know exactly where your destination is, we will all get there eventually, but in order to get somewhere, you need to take the winds. Even if it will take a lot from you or you don’t see the immediate outcome, it is important to keep an eye open for the opportunities. So, my recommendation would be, talk to people, attend events, share your ideas, keep moving, things may move around accordantly.
Now that’s what I call a powerful interview! The work Júlia is doing is absolutely amazing and so important to showcase the power of sport. The more support the sports industry can provide towards organisations like Street Child United, we will begin to see more and more new leaders from deprived communities shine under the leadership and guidance of people like Júlia. A key lesson I’ve learnt from her is how she recognised that her strength was the passion for trying various trades in sport. Despite the importance of establishing your niche and owning it, testing the waters and dipping your hand into different roles and responsibilities can also serve you very well for your sports industry dream.