Marianna is a board member at the British Kickboxing Council who are in place to provide the sport with a profile across the industry. Marianna’s had some illustrious posts in her career including working for the Sport and Recreation Alliance, London Marathon Charitable Trust, the AMOS Business School and more! During this interview, Marianna speaks about the value of having a mentor, the critical values to becoming an influential director and where her sporting passion stemmed from.
Q1) Marianna, it’s excellent to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Let’s kick this off by understanding how your sports career began.
It started when I first watched the NBA when I was 8-9 years old. I was a fan of the intense rivalry, and I was ever so curious about what went on behind the scenes for sport in general. Moving forward, I studied law in Poland and abroad, and I decided to write my masters on doping in sport. Sports law has just started gaining some recognition during my studies, but I still wanted to write about something I’m truly passionate about!
After this, my career was slightly topsy-turvy! I drifted away from sport for a bit when Poland joined the EU, which meant it was more accessible to study abroad, which has always been one of my passions. I then found myself working in France and Belgium. About five years later, I missed sport a lot, and I decided to take a risk and move on from a law career.
In Brussels I specialised in the European affairs and policies, some relating to sport and the Erasmus+ programme known for student exchange and obtaining the most significant European funding pot associated with sport, education, and culture. Being involved with this found me establish myself more in sport. Although, I found it challenging to sustain myself in Brussels’ sports sector as there weren’t many progressive opportunities. After some hard thinking and networking, I learned that the sports sector was growing in the UK, Switzerland, and France. Working with the Erasmus+ programme, I developed good project management skills which served me well on my next venture at Fare Network the organisation is similar to Kick It Out. I was responsible for a pan-European campaign “Football People action weeks“, promoting anti-discrimination and social inclusion in football.
After a fantastic year, I joined the Sport and Recreation Alliance as their Governance Officer. This saw my work with many sports federations as well as grassroots organisations which I thoroughly enjoyed. My legal background and analytical skills were crucial to helping the board of directors improve their governance, board structure, and funding access. I was offered to join the board of the British Kickboxing Council (BKC) with this knowledge. I always wanted to test myself as a board member. With my understanding of governance, law and funding programmes, I could contribute to the BKC restructure and promote diversity and inclusion through kickboxing.
I’m working at the London Marathon Charitable Trust as a Grants Officer where I’m working closely with deprived communities to ensure they’re facilitated to keep physically active. My knowledge of governance and the sports grassroots sector has massively helped pick out organisations who’d be effective at delivering sport in different areas of London and across the UK.
Q2) Looking at your career now, you’re involved in so many ventures! You’re a lecturer at the AMOS Sport Business School, a Volunteer Mentor, Non-Executive Director and a Grants Officer. I’m very keen to know how you manage your time and how beneficial have these diverse experiences influenced your sports career?
I appreciate it looks like I have a lot on my plate; however, all my strands of work are related to each other. At the beginning of my career, I wanted to do everything, but then I became aware not to stretch myself too thin. Also, my mentor helps me stay focused on my short and long-term goals. Getting to where I am today took a while, but it allowed me to do what I am passionate about with the hard graft.
When working in the governance sector, I wanted to keep testing myself, so I joined the board of the BKC. The BKC’s is all about promoting equality and diversity through sport which are two values close to my heart. Then, AMOS Business School approached me to give lectures in sports governance which was a challenge! I’ve been used to running training and presentations ing webinars for directors and corporate staff; however, students were a different playing field.
Being involved in many projects outside of my core work has improved my time management and organisational skills. I plan my evenings and weekends, so if I’m not working, I have time to train, travel and meet my friends. I try to remind myself that there’s a world outside of sport!
Q3) It would be insightful to hear more about your mentor. What impact did they make towards your sports career progression? Plus, how highly would you recommend a sports industry enthusiast to get one?
I strongly recommend getting a mentor. I had my first mentor during the Finnish Olympic Committee project with the support of the International Olympic Committee called “New Leaders in Sport’. I found a mentor myself, and the key to identifying the right one is to understand what type of mentor would help me achieve my goals. For example, is it career progression, a career change, networking support or self-development?
The first mentoring session I had taught me about the essential nature of having a structure. We met occasionally and set goals which were ever so important. This experience has contributed massively to pushing me outside of my comfort zone to reach my potential. With my current mentor, we schedule monthly calls to discuss my progress towards my goals, how do I address challenges, and how do I cope with the pandemic. We have a good relationship, and I know I can contact her anytime I need help, guidance and advice.
There are different types of mentoring beside the most “classic“one when a mentor is older and more experienced. Some mentees are younger, with less knowledge, e.g. reverse mentoring, co-mentoring, speed mentoring, and group mentoring sessions. Mentors also learn from this relationship and value insights of their mentees. If you choose to search for a mentor, think of someone that’s in a position you aspire towards and who knows, it could be a colleague of yours! You can also ask your boss to be introduced to someone or join mentoring programmes.
Whatever way you choose, make sure you think carefully what you expect from the mentor, why you want them to be your mentor, and clearly define goals you want to accomplish.
Q4) I’m fascinated with your role at the British Kickboxing Council. Could you share what you’re responsible for and how you contribute to the bigger picture of Kickboxing in the UK?
I’ve been lucky to join the BKC at an exciting time. Honestly, I haven’t got a strong knowledge about kickboxing, but my understanding of governance was fundamental to receiving my position at the board. Plus, being an advocate for gender equality and diversity was a game-changer as the organisation was restructuring, which was a significant element of their remit.
As a Non-executive Board Director, I sit on Nominations and Audit & Risk Committees. I am involved in expanding and restructuring our board and executive team. I drafted an induction programme for new directors to gain a robust understanding of what we do, and I ensure governance is maintained on the highest level. I’m often sitting on committee meetings discussing the strategy and activities to ensure the long-term sustainability of the BKC.
Q5) I can imagine there’s an immense amount of pressure with your role which has required hard work, commitment and passion. From your journey, what makes an influential director in the sports industry?
Being aware that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. An organisation can have a robust and well-thought strategy plan, but it is down to people to implement it. While governance principles are essential and having a defined mission, vision, and values are critical; you need a dedicated group of individuals across your organisation to make things happen. My governance experience helped generate an inside understanding of how things operate, and how vital soft governance skills (behaviour, communication, leadership) are. Many people with vast knowledge about the sport want to join an organisation but find it tricky as they lack knowledge about operating an organisation and the board’s role. They focus too much on sports performance or operational issues instead of guiding an organisation and ensuring its long-term sustainability.
It takes a year to establish your involvement as a Director, although, never be afraid to ask questions, share your opinions and challenge others. It can be challenging for less seasoned board members but don’t forget that bringing diverse perspectives contribute a lot to board discussions and often lead to better decisions being made as you don’t fall into the groupthink pattern.
It is also essential to make sure you have a balanced mindset which embeds a good atmosphere for the board members as you won’t see them regularly.
Ensure you share your views with confidence. Flag issues that require discussion and appreciate others speaking up. Practice good communication skills as you may only meet with your other members sporadically. Remember that board members should lead by example. If you want to implement change, it should come from the top. If the most influential members got the will to change things, how will your employees follow that?
Q6) As we both know, any successful career journey in sport comes with an array of challenges. What are some of the difficulties you’ve faced in your career, and how have these adversities enhanced yourself?
I enjoy challenges as they put me outside my comfort zone and open opportunity to develop personal and professional skills. Working in the elite and sports grassroots sector was a diverse experience which influenced my passion for promoting gender equality to help others through sport. Gender equality in sport has been a significant issue for women, which deprives females of securing leadership roles. This justifies why I’m working closely on this topic and why I’m involved in managing a project aiming to facilitate and support aspiring women sport leaders in achieving a change-making position in sport governing bodies.
Usually, you’ll find women in sport working in HR, head of coms but seldom in the most influential leadership roles. Women still face a glass ceiling and glass cliff barriers when trying to access leadership positions in sport. There was never a woman leading the IOC or FIFA, although both organisations exist for over 115 years. In 2016, women chaired only 7% of international sports federations (5 of 70). According to this year statistics, there are only 9% of females presidents of National Olympic Committees. It’s 18 of 206! I want to be someone who changes things for the next generation, to be the voice of youth leadership and challenge the status quo. I’ve seen colleagues in their 20’s who have enough insight to accomplish great things despite their young age; this is what I want to champion.
Q7) Marianna, reflecting on this discussion and your career, what is your killer piece of advice for someone wanting to pursue a career in sport?
Success has many faces, and it is crucial that you feel happy and fulfilled about what you do. ’I am a true believer that if you’re open-minded, determined and willing to learn, you’ll eventually get what you want. Following a plan helped me massively, I know what I should focus on and my next steps to progress. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Despite the number of rejections, you may get when networking, applying for jobs, etc., it only takes one yes to make a difference. Join network groups on social media, participate in programmes and projects out there and continuously look out for the right opportunities.
Wow, what a fascinating chat with Marianna. Despite her career in sport being unorthodox, that is how the most exciting conversations unfold. It’s interesting to see how proactive she’s been in allowing her multiple projects to connect to enhance productivity, the impact a mentor made towards getting her to where she is today and the importance of a director having a robust understanding about culture.