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Getting to Know: Sheldon Rostron

He’s Director of Sport at North West University and a former national women’s hockey team coach, but now has a new challenge on his hands, as the Chairman of the Local Organising Committee for the 2021 FIH Hockey Women’s Junior World Cup, which will be hosted in Potchefstroom in December.

Q: As Director of Sport, how would you describe your job and areas of responsibility?
I like to think of my role as having a responsibility to provide opportunities in life and on the field, shaping and developing students’ abilities and potential, and setting them up for success by strengthening their profiles and networks for future use. These three elements applied to anything in life will bring you success, no matter how big or small! Sport connects us in different ways and is important, not only for a healthy lifestyle, but also healthy relations post-university. Sport allows you to not only express, but also develop fundamental traits that are important in life, and we at NWU express this as ‘Passion, Power and Pride’.

Q: How different is it from being an elite level hockey coach?
Way more paperwork! But, it’s the same, really – coaching others to be better and directing elements to achieve goals. I think coaching and my worldwide experience has set me up in an excellent position to manage well. I like stretching people and making them think differently, and watching as they learn or change over time, and this is not only fun, but rewarding, as I feel I can still make a difference and impact people daily, who in turn change others’ lives. There are many more elements, way more players on the pitch, and my office still looks out onto green fields. What a job!

Q: What does your daily routine look like?
In all honesty, messy! I can start with a clean diary and end with 15 meetings in a day. But I think it is because I want to be hands-on, know my staff, and spend time working with them on problems or challenges. I feed off others’ energy, I feed off the pressure, and a busy routine makes me tick. I don’t like sitting still. A good day starts with a staff meeting, then responses to many mails, meetings with other stakeholders to ensure we have services or planning projects, managing maintenance aspects, or getting things in place for events and matches on weekends. I usually follow all of this up with a walk through our sports campus to see what staff or students are up to, and take notes of things we can do better… it helps clear the mind and clutter it back up with new ideas.

Q: How do you juggle this with being Chairman of the LOC for the upcoming Junior Hockey Women’s World Cup?
Well, I sleep less and do more, I guess! I don’t sleep much, so I use my time to do something constructive. I am, however, my own worst enemy. I like to take many problems on my shoulders to solve them all and help others achieve their goals. This gives me more pleasure than having time for myself or sitting still. I’m studying again whilst doing my day job and running the LOC. Amongst all of this, there is nothing as rewarding as spending time with my wife and son. Sport is a significant part of our lives and we love doing this together.

Q: Give us a sense of how Covid-19 is affecting the organisation of this event, and what do you need to get right?
Firstly, we have put significant pressure on ourselves – we want this to be an incident-free event. It’s virtually impossible, but we can ensure this if everyone plays along and does everything right. This is our number one goal. I think protocols are not the challenge; most of us are well versed in what to do and not to do. I think it’s the coming together of different countries and continents and how, firstly, to convince everyone that we can have a safe event, as well as putting measures in place that will prevent variants or the spread of the virus to take place during or post the event. It’s not only the safety of participants, but it’s also about their families, friends, or any other associates that they will contact post the event that is important too.

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Q: What’s your view on the state of university sport in South Africa?
I do believe that university sport is very strong at the moment. We remain a pillar that maintains our sport and contributes mainly to our national federations and athletes’ success at events like the Olympics. We wish we would see a directive from government that would enhance our abilities (universities) to aid and assist more, and funding that would allow us to develop sports infrastructure and support, and help our national federations and high-performance sport. At the NWU, we have set our sights on France and Los Angeles to produce more Olympians than ever before. However, also focus on crucial sports that we can aid in becoming better and give them the resources and professional environment they need to excel. On the other side of the spectrum, we want to offer more opportunity and exposure for our students through new and exciting initiatives.

Q: Once sport, in general, is back up and running fully, post-Covid-19, do you anticipate change in terms of how sport is run, consumed, commercialised etc.?
I do believe that we will see a change. I think that the sporting sector will boom, and new initiatives and ways to deliver sport to supporters will be critical, ensuring a hybrid of online/broadcast within stadium attendance, and collaborations with sponsors and stakeholders to provide sports entertainment. The digitization of sport is snowballing and I am sure that we will see some exciting things soon. Covid-19 has taught us that we miss sport when it’s not there. Leisure and wellness also are vital elements that need to be focused on to deal not only with Covid-19, but also general aspects in life, and there has been a significant increase in general leisure and wellness activities. Commercialization is an interesting one, and as much as global trends impact South Africa, I think we will see a decline in support and assistance with organizations changing focus and avoiding political or associated risk with federations and national teams. To get support, one will have to focus on real and impactful initiatives, and combining sport with education to uplift our country.

Q: Which sports organisations – either local or international – do you believe are getting it right, in terms of marketing and commercialising their product, and why?
Formula One. They thought outside the box during Covid-19, initiated some excellent plans to get the sport more out there, and the rivalries created in the different teams are starting to create a spectacle. The teams are vocal on social media and there is good interaction with fans, keeping one updated on every move, even if you are not watching. The impact of technology on the sport in terms of racing tactics, pit stops, tyre changes, and how they have gotten this across to the spectator, is fantastic. Entertainment is not about watching; it’s about getting people hooked on every detail of your organization, telling a unique story and overloading us with incredible stats and facts. Formula One is attractive again, because they saw a gap and took it, whilst most sports couldn’t.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Put a shirt on the back of a kid, and you have them hooked for life! Strange, but true! And my other is to learn something new each day… this is my own motto and aspiration, no matter what it is.

Q: How do you cope with stress, and how do you unwind?
I just keep going. I think I get so scared that if I stop, things will fall apart! I like to spend time with my wife and son, as work keeps me busy and often I am away. So, every second I get I like to spend with them. Other than this, the normal – reading, mountain biking, shooting and flyfishing. I take on so much, because I want to help everyone, and I think my coaching traits pop out there, trying to make people better, trying to make a difference.

Dylan Rogers
Dylan Rogers

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