Real-world experience underscores the curriculum at the #1 sport university in the world

By Mim Haigh, Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments

Sport IndustryWriting ranked #1 in the world next to your name is a rare honor. Writing it 2 years in a row means that you understand how to get it right, you’re an innovator and you stay at the forefront of your field. Loughborough University, the #1 University in the World for Sports Related Subjects, gets teaching the business of sport right. Dr Steve Swanson, Director of the Sport Business and Leadership program at Loughborough University London is an author, former professional basketball coach, industry professional and sport business academic. In this article he shares his thoughts on the impact of the number one ranking, the importance of industry experience, leadership and the similarities between coaching and the classroom.

Sport IndustryThe postgraduate Sport Business and Leadership course sits within the Institute for Sport Business at Loughborough University London and is internationally renowned for its exceptional research and industry collaborations.

The campus is located in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a facility that was purpose-built for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and remains home to some of the world’s most iconic sporting venues. Venues which have hosted the Rugby World Cup, UCI Track Cycling World Championships and the LEN European Aquatics Championships. Here East, as the precinct is now known, is also home to Premier League West Ham Football Club, neighbors the financial district and is situated just 6 minutes from the center of London. 

Because of the University location, opportunities for industry experience and collaboration are abundant and are fundamental to any study in the sport business faculty.

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In 2017 and 2018, Loughborough University was named the world’s premier university for sports related subjects according to the QS World University Rankings by Subject. Swanson explains the impact this ranking has on the student cohort in the Sport Business and Leadership program at Loughborough London. He said, “delivering a program at the top university in the world for sport continues to have a large positive impact on the quality and international diversity of our students. Each year we have the best students from the UK and around the world who want to develop both their sport business acumen and leadership capacity. They are a pleasure to be around on a daily basis, and the group synergy this provides is truly remarkable.”

“Teaching this program (Masters in Sport Business and Leadership) has been highly rewarding. It has provided me the opportunity to be at the forefront of leadership thought in the global sport industry, and work with some of the most innovative students in the world.”

Swanson’s caliber of teaching is also fueled by the industry collaborations he facilitates for students, like the one with profile Premier League Football Club, Chelsea. Together, students in the Sport Business stream and the Club as an organization, work together to improve the way that players transition away from the game and engage in learning. Other initiatives and collaborations include an annual Executive Leadership workshop for aspiring sport leaders as identified within the Sport Industry Group’s NextGen Leaders program. The workshops are held in conjunction with Barclays. 

Sport IndustryCreating a culture that’s conducive to success is of crucial importance to Swanson and lies behind all of the university’s collaborations. As a leader in sport business thinking, Swanson along with Professor James Skinner, Director of the Institute of Sport Business and Aaron Smith, Professor of Sport Business, also of Loughborough University London, authored ‘Fostering Innovative Cultures in Sport’, published in June 2018.  

Swanson continues his involvement with innovative sport cultures, recently attending the training camp for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors held in Vancouver, Canada.

Swanson explains just how important it is for students to build relationships within the sport business industry. He said, while the sport business industry is truly global, the sector in many ways is becoming increasingly connected through collaboration, consideration of best practice, and project development with an increased international perspective. The relationships that students and professionals make within the sport industry are invaluable for career development and moving sports projects forward.

As a result of its curriculum direction, Loughborough University London underscores the importance of real-world skill application in its program, often delivering teachings grounded in the theory of leadership and applied to a real-world problem. He says, “some of the primary reasons students choose our program is to understand leadership in the real world. We have a large emphasis on building the bridge between theory and practice and developing an understanding of how leadership ideas translate to behaviors in different contexts.”

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Swanson has developed a unique understanding of the individual nature of leadership and as a result Loughborough University’s Master of Sport Business and Leadership use Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles. The learning that surrounds DISC creates an understanding of the individual nature of leadership and the way that individuals can use their behavioral traits in a leadership capacity.

At a workshop targeting future leaders, Swanson was quoted as saying, “leadership is complex; it means different things to different people and there’s no one-size-fits-all model. To understand leadership, individuals need to reflect on who they are, identify their strengths, and discover the right response to any given situation. It requires a great deal of adaptability.”

Swanson has been using Athlete Assessments in his program for a number of years now and says, “working with Athlete Assessments has contributed a great deal to our class in terms of understanding key aspects of leadership and group dynamics. Having such an accomplished athlete and individual like Bo Hanson provide straightforward insight directly to our students has been a huge asset.”

Further, he said, “working with Athlete Assessments has been a tremendous experience. The attention to detail and personal approach by the entire staff has been fantastic, and I would highly recommend them to universities, teams, and any other organizations in the sport industry.”

Swanson’s diverse experience means that he understands the way that sport business is conducted in different environments and different contexts. He is a member of the European, North American, Australia – New Zealand and World Associations for Sport Management. Given this international experience, we asked him whether practices and operational protocols in sport management vary internationally?

He said, “while there are many business protocols which remain generally consistent across geographical regions, context continues to be an extremely important factor in the sport industry. A keen understanding of the nuanced differences of managing in the sport context, and managing within different national cultures, are vital considerations for strategy and decision making.”

Increasingly, sport, business and academics are conducted on the world stage and Loughborough University measures itself internationally, Swanson says, “students in our program have some of the highest satisfaction rates in the world. The feedback has been extraordinary, with students strongly valuing the emphasis on practical application and the in-depth exposure to multiple leadership environments both in and out of sport.”

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In fact, when we asked Swanson what advice he would give to someone just starting out in their academic or teaching career, he said, “the best advice I could offer to someone starting out in their academic career, is to go and get some industry experience first. The insight this provides for understanding theoretical perspectives and effectively communicating to students is extremely useful.  

Swanson brings over a decade of managerial experience in a variety of dynamic sporting organizations plus, his research and life interests to position as Program Director at Loughborough University.

He is also an accomplished basketball coach and coached in the British Basketball League. He explained that “there is a great deal of similarity between coaching a team and teaching in the classroom. Identifying the interests and motivations of individuals, developing open lines of communication, and conveying concepts in the most straightforward manner are some of the ways which coaching has really been useful for higher education.”

Swanson has outstanding academic and industry experience, but drive is always crucial to success, both on and off the court. He says, “the most important factors in my own career path have probably been in relation to determination, work-ethic, and flexibility. When changing careers a few times, you need to adapt to different roles and environments, and have mental toughness to persevere through times of difficulty which will certainly arise.” 

Swanson combines his academic, industry and sporting experience to be successful in his role as Program Director of Sport Business and Leadership at Loughborough University. He says, “I think my previous experience is well suited for my current role. Having a PhD from a business school, research interests in leadership and team dynamics, and an extensive coaching and managerial background in sport aligns extremely well with this position.”

Steve Swanson has a Bachelor of Arts from Monmouth College, a Master of Science from Georgia Southern University and a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Temple University. His current research and collaboration interests lie in ‘leadership, innovative cultures, identification, employee well-being and engagement, workplace passion as a tool for strengthening employee commitment, and conceptualizing leadership for professional sports referees. In addition to his industry experience, Swanson taught in the Sport Management programs at the University of Worcester and Temple University. 

Where to from here?

Dr Steve Swanson uses Athlete Assessments’ Sports ManagerDISC Profile as part of their Sport Business and Leadership program at Loughborough University.

Whether you teach Sport Management, Sport Coaching, Sport and Health Sciences or Sports Psychology, provide your students with the skills which differentiate them when they enter the competitive sports industry. The success of your students reflects the success of your University Academic Program and we want to help you achieve success on all fronts.

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