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AFL Players hold first sport symposium

Be persistent. Get out there and network. Develop your transferable skills.

These were the key messages from sport industry experts offering words of wisdom at the first Sport Symposium presented by AFL Players’ in partnership with La Trobe University last week.

It’s not every day you get the opportunity to pick the brilliant brains of Geelong CEO Brian Cook, Age Journalist Emma Quayle and leading AFL Player Agent, Paul Connors, but 100 lucky guests did just that, asking searching questions to gain valuable insights into building a career in sport.

The Symposium was an informal opportunity to join like-minded sport industry employees and those interested in a career in sport to hear from the best and network, with a sell-out number of guests enjoying the experience and La Trobe University’s hospitality.

“Work the extra yard, and you might find some opportunity and luck” – Geelong CEO Brian Cook

Cook spoke of his philosophy of building a values-based organisation through the aligning of organisational and staff values and providing strong leadership, believing these are elements critical to achieving success both on and off the field. He told guests that when recruiting he looks for people who have a balance of talent and character, specifically those who ‘fit’ with the organisation – adding that being prepared to walk the extra mile and take a unified approach were particularly important.

Flexibility is also key according to Cook, who said, “It’s important to develop an organisation that is nimble and can change quickly. You must pick up on trends and adapt to them quickly.”

Quayle’s experience of ‘chipping away’ and constantly hassling her superiors to allow her to move over from general news into sport after she landed her role at The Age was reflected in her advice to young journalism hopefuls. She encouraged them to not be afraid to cover other stories, and learn from broader experiences. Quayle suggested building good contacts and maintaining their respect was also key, as is developing the trust of players and other industry stakeholders such that they feel comfortable sharing their stories with her.

Quayle has been highly commended for her work and says it’s all about sticking to the truth.

“Sometimes you have to write stories that people aren’t going to be happy with – a huge interest story that you know you have to write,” she said.

“It’s really important to be factually accurate and treat people as you would want to be treated.”

Connors believes knocking on doors to develop relationships, and using networks and experts to support you is important if you want to succeed in any aspect of sport business. He shared his early experiences of connecting with the football industry, firstly through organising Hawthorn’s end-of-season-trip fundraising and later as the book keeper to then Player Agent, Ricky Nixon.

Seeing great benefit in developing skills and experience outside of paid employment, Connors told the group, “I like to see what [a potential employee] has put into the community – have they helped out at the local footy club or netball club, and what skills does that develop,” he said. He also added that sometimes it’s about being the right place at the right time.

“Work the extra yard, and you might find some opportunity and luck.”

In wrapping up, the panel were asked their thoughts on what the best aspect of working in the sport industry is. For Quayle, its nailing her coverage of the annual AFL National Draft and all the people she meets along the way, for Connors dealing with the diverse nature of AFL players and for Cook it’s the enjoyment of seeing how much an AFL Footy Club can make a difference in the community.

Following the hour-long panel discussion, guests had a further hour to mingle and spend some one-on-one time with Cook, Quayle and Connors.  For those considering further study in a sport-related discipline, La Trobe Professor Russel Hoye was also on hand, as were a number of AFL Players’ staff to provide an insight into the work of the ‘PA.

AFL Players’ and La Trobe University will present further Sport Symposiums focused on various aspects of the sport industry – keep an eye out for details of the next event at