ABSTRACT AUTHOR - European Athletics


ABSTRACT AUTHOR - European Athletics

Winning hearts and

minds – A case study in

recruitment to athletics

By William Anderson


William Anderson’s company, The Team-

Works, was commissioned by the organisers

and sponsors of the 2007 European

Athletics Indoor Championships to

deliver an activity that would help the

citizens of the host city Birmingham

become more involved in the event and

recruit new participants to the sport.

Starting from the principle of personalised

communication and working

closely with a local athletics club and

student volunteers, the company created

a unique, multi-sensory experience

called the Athletics SPARK. It attracted

more than 5000 visitors over four days

and demonstrated new ways to engage

young people in athletics. In the exit

survey conducted by the company, more

than 60% of the visitors said they had

been inspired to become involved in

some aspect of athletics. All of the

schools that brought groups to the event

said that they were interested to incorporate

athletics into their curriculum as

a tool to teach and inspire students. The

jury of the 2008 European Athletics

Innovation Awards selected the project

as the winner of its Promotion Category.

In this case study, Anderson gives an

overview of the thinking that went into

the project plus descriptions of its elements

and the experience of the visitors.



New Studies in Athletics • no. 3/2008


© by IAAF

23:3; 27-34, 2008


William Anderson graduated from

Carnegie College of Sport in Leeds, England,

in 1985. In 2005 he founded The

TeamWorks; an eclectic mix of training

professionals, including actors, magicians,

a hypnotherapist, a sports psychologist, a

Minister and a chef, who provide multisensory

training and creative learning

experiences for a variety of clients.

ne size does not fit all. Not in shoes;

not in shopping and not in education.

We are all different, and

whether you are selling prime sausages or

participation in sport you must understand

this. Modern business communication has

the ability to tailor every message to every

individual. Athletics and other sports must

also take time to understand individuals, so

that they can be successful in the battle for

the hearts, and minds of young people.

By making your message personal you

have half a chance of winning over tomorrow’s

athletes; and from here you can ignite

their passion for the sport. If you don’t have a

personalised message, someone else will.

In November 2006, the local organising

committee for the European Athletics Indoor


Winning hearts and minds – A case study in recruitment to athletics

Championships, scheduled to take place in

Birmingham, England, in March 2007,

hatched a plan to use the event to attract new

recruits to the sport of athletics. Following a

successful collaboration for the 2003 IAAF

World Indoor Championships, they

approached my company, The TeamWorks,

and asked us to create an event that would

encourage young people to become involved

and celebrate the fact that a major athletics

event was taking place in their city.

We set out to deliver our message in the

most personal manner possible. We created a

multi-sensory experience that engaged the

eyes, ears, touch and even smell. Over 5000

visitors were able to learn a lot of technical

information about the sport because we delivered

it in sound bites that were supported by

dramatic images and physical activities, to reinforce

each point of learning. It was an emotional

journey full of excitement, amazement and

even disgust. And of course it was remembered.

By the end, people were inspired by the

sport of athletics and wanted to join in. The

event was called The Athletics SPARK.

In this article I will briefly describe of our

event, but before that I want to provide an

overview of the thought process that went

into its design.

Winning new recruits

When we took on the project we knew that

to win and retain new recruits, we had to create

personal and emotional connections with

our target audience; we had to get inside their

heads. The only way to do this is to understand

a little bit about how their ‘heads’ work.

In other words, we had to first tune-in to their

psyche and then deliver information and

activity in a way that ‘works with the brain’.

Of all sports, athletics is one that traditionally

promotes itself firmly from the standpoint

of the sport. “This is the way we do things

around here”. This is a selfish perspective and

it is time we learn something from the world of

advertising and marketing – to start giving our


New Studies in Athletics • no. 3/2008

audiences what they want – by first taking

time to understand how they might want to

be treated; how they might want to be communicated

with. This is a selfless perspective.

For our project, this meant a new approach

to recruitment; one that is different in two

ways. First of all we had to ignore athletics

altogether and delve into the world of communication

and learning psychology. And

then we had to let people explore their role in

the sport from many different angles; not just

as an athlete.

Communication & learning psychology

Consider three important facts about the


1. All human beings have communication

and learning preferences. Some of us

prefer to see or read information; some

prefer to hear it and others need to ‘feel’

it, in order to make it stick in our memory.

Very often we learn best when we use a

combination of these preferences, such

as seeing and hearing together or listening

and then doing (feel).

2. To make your message stick in the long

term memory, and assuming you are talking

sense, the visual appeal and the vocal

journey of your message are much more

important than the actual words you use.

Figure 1: We all have learning and communication

preferences. What’s yours?

Some call this ‘listenability’. (The actual

words you use can and should add to

your vocal journey, but that is another lesson


3. The human brain can not cope with too

much information at once. So, breaking

your message down into bite size chunks

is the best way to help your audience

commit your message to memory.

Figure 2: So you want to be remembered!

This chart suggests the relative importance of

the ‘three elements of communication’, if you

want your message to stick.

So what has this got to do with recruitment

to athletics? Everything, because we are selling

to new ‘users’ as much as any other

sport, pastime or brand. Like any brand, we

need to get our message right; we need to

work with the brain to help our target audience

take in our message.

Take the first point above. To engage and

appeal to as many people as possible, our

message must turn everyone on. It must

sound great; it must look good and it must

feel right. All three, all of the time. I am a seer

- feeler. This means that to get me to take in

your message I need to see it and then do

something with the information; write it down,

re-tell it to someone else or discuss it as I try

it out. If you only let me hear your information

it is likely that my brain will not make the necessary

connections that allow me to remember

your message. Someone else who

prefers to hear and feel information may need

to hear a description of an action before trying

it for themselves. In both cases, just telling

Winning hearts and minds – A case study in recruitment to athletics

New Studies in Athletics • no. 3/2008

these people something does not make the

message stick. If that is all you do, you are

wasting your breath.

The second point about the brain is that it

remembers something better if it take us on a

vocal journey that is also visually pleasing; and

the more dramatic the better. When storytellers

use great vocal range, with language and gestures

that paint vivid pictures, their stories stick.

Just imagine if the story of athletics could be

told in this way. People would remember it from

childhood and tell it to their children!

The third and final point speaks for itself;

the human brain cannot cope with too much

information at once. Television news channels

understand this; so do newspapers.

Their techniques include sound bites and

headlines. The brain wants us to provide a

piece of information and then pause while it

sinks in. Provide another piece of information

and then pause again. This is the way we

can commit information to memory. We can

cope with a significant volume of information

and excitement, so long as it is ‘drip fed’ into

our brains.

A role for everyone

Top-level football teams don’t turn up to a

match with only 11 men. They have a manager,

coaches, substitute players, physiotherapists,

media people, dieticians, a psychologist

and so on. In other words, they require people

for a range of roles in addition to the stars

on the pitch. Every team needs to make sure

that the few who perform do so to the very

best of their ability. And for this they need


I myself love to play sport and can’t imagine

life without it. But I will never be great.

However, I am fascinated by the technical

evolution of kit and equipment, by diet and by

psychology. So I use this interest to help others

in my club to improve. I continue to compete

well into my forties but I get just as much

satisfaction from helping youngsters move up

and improve. I have an important role other

than as a competitor.


Winning hearts and minds – A case study in recruitment to athletics

When recruiting to the sport of athletics we

must take a holistic approach. Yes, we want

to find and develop future record breakers,

but we also need to support these record

breakers as they progress through the sport.

So, rather than telling people that the sport

wants medals, we should be asking people

“What do you want from athletics?” Let them

play with the range of opportunities in the

sport – as a scientist, a psychologist or a

sociologist - and then let them tell us where

they want to play a role.

This would be selfless and working with the

hearts and minds of our target audience, to

make a lasting impression that will give rise to

a long service in the sport of Athletics.

The Case Study - The Athletics SPARK:


Convenience retailer SPAR sponsored the

European Indoor Championships. SPAR

had a dream that everyone would share the

company’s passion for athletics. It was this

dream that inspired the title and our own

dream to spark young people’s interest in

athletics. SPAR paid 50% of all costs. The



Media Sponsors




The Sporting Hero

Kit Training




Physio Psych

Officials Competitions Volunteers Spectators Transport

New Studies in Athletics • no. 3/2008


Pastoral Care

Friends Family Finance Mentors

Figure 3: It’s not all about you, because you need all of us. The elite athlete’s family of support.

company also provided equipment and

products that allowed us to build a healthy

eating shopping isle inside The Athletics


Additional support

On behalf of the LOC, The TeamWorks

made a successful application to Sports-

Match (a national lottery funded grant system),

and received the other 50% of the cash

required for the project. We also had valuable

contributions of authentic equipment from

Seiko, Asics and Creative Audio System.


After we had indulged our passion for suitable

and engaging content, we had only a

small promotion budget available. So we

decided to use word of mouth marketing. We

invited local colleges to supply volunteer staff

and local schools to attend the event as visitors.

We also created exclusive stories for

local newspapers and radio stations.


The fourth string to our word of mouth marketing

effort was the venue of the event: an

extra large marquee located in a busy thor-

oughfare in Birmingham city centre near the

National Indoor Arena, where the European

Indoor Championships took place.


Thursday 4 March until Saturday 6 March

2007 from 9.00am until 6.00pm each day.

These dates were chosen to overlap with the

championships. During Thursday and Friday

mornings we gave exclusive access to local

schools and community groups of all abilities

and disabilities. After lunch and all day Saturday

we opened to the public.


The TeamWorks put in a team of five event

professionals to look after health and safety,

traffic flow and volunteer training. The space

inside The Athletics SPARK was divided into

four zones: Hydration & Nutrition; Technology;

Preparation; and Performance. Each

zone was managed by two qualified coaches

from a local athletics club (Birchfield Harriers).

These coaches then had a further 35

volunteers working with them, most of them

Sports Science undergraduates keen to

experience work on a professional sports


Winning hearts and minds – A case study in recruitment to athletics

New Studies in Athletics • no. 3/2008

Personal Record Card

One way to make information sink in is to

make people write it down and then test them

on it. So this is what we did. All visitors

received a Personal Record Card. They were

encouraged to record their scores and

answers to athletics questions and to take it

home or back to school to remind them of

their visit and inspire others to visit.

The Experience

Schools were required to book arrival slots

to visit The Athletics SPARK. This ‘diary’ controlled

traffic flow and allowed us to guarantee

the venue was full when media and sponsors

were in attendance! Attending school students

proved to be the most effective catalyst

for word of mouth marketing, telling friends

and family about the good time they had and

generating more interest.

School groups were invited to march to the

event behind a school banner that they could

make in the days leading up to their visit.

These banners were displayed at the

entrance to The Athletics SPARK. Thus,

every arrival was a celebration. As schools

wheeled or walked through the doors, all our


Winning hearts and minds – A case study in recruitment to athletics

staff gave out a huge cheer. This cheer was

important because we wanted the kids to

know that they were the heroes at this event.

When visitors arrived at the event, staff and

volunteers took them on a journey through

many areas that are important to elite athletes;

what they eat, what they wear, how they

prepare. This logical and sequential journey

made it very clear that many aspects and disciplines

contribute to athletic success.

Zone 1 - Hydration & Nutrition: Visitors

started by understanding hydration & nutrition

for peak performance; body composition,

how much fluid to consume, during the

school day as well as during training, and the

differing healthy diets of aerobic and anaerobic


In this zone there were many highlights. The

drama of the Body Composition Test Tubes

certainly grabbed attention. Three giant test

tubes stuffed with fat, muscle and fluid from

the human body (actually pigs’ fat, beef joints

and offal and water with red dye). The lesson

was clear; humans are made up of 60%+ fluid

and you must hydrate after exercise to keep


New Studies in Athletics • no. 3/2008

this test tube topped up. An important lesson

communicated in a dramatic way.

Next we had to tell them how much they

should drink. We used a game show

favourite; filling a shopping basket with the

right amount of bottled water. The “host” celebrated

the contestants that got it right; and

then everyone was encouraged to write the

correct answer on their Personal Score Card.

We now had everyone’s attention and we

were able to drop much more information into

their long term memory.

Zone 2 – Technology: Here visitors explored

the technical evolution of kit and equipment

that help athletes stay healthy and perform at

their very best. The evolutions of tracks,

footwear and clothing were presented from the

position of ‘athlete care’ as well as performance.

In this zone we also considered means

of injury prevention and sports massage.

The Asics ‘egg drop’ was a highlight of the

zone. Dropping a raw egg from nearly two

metres should have the inevitable outcome,

but the egg did not break. Why? Because it

landed on a tile of cushioning material from

the heel of a running shoe. If this material can

protect something as delicate as an egg, it will

help protect your joints when pounding

around track or on the road.

Winning hearts and minds – A case study in recruitment to athletics

New Studies in Athletics • no. 3/2008

Zone 3 - Preparation: All good athletes

warm-up their mind and their body. In this

zone visitors took part in simple tests and

drills, where technique was paramount, to

help them get ready for the final zone.


Winning hearts and minds – A case study in recruitment to athletics

Here we recreated a classic grip strength

test to demonstrate that you can throw further,

jump higher and run faster with the help

of the right music to focus and motivate the

mind. We also timed visitors as they performed

hand-eye and speed-of-feet tests.

Zone 4 – Performance: Finally, it was time

to have a go at a selection of running, jumping

and throwing challenges under the guidance

of our qualified coaches.

The highlight was lining up in the blocks, on

a section of Mondo track, and waiting for the

gun before bursting through the line with

speed and even reaction times recorded.

Authentic Seiko blocks and timing devices

added to the reality and the excitement of this


The Results

The Athletics SPARK engaged more than

5000 people in a innovative, personal manner.

With its team of qualified coaches on hand,

the local athletics club had a fantastic opportunity

to recruit new members and identify

desire, as well as talent. Importantly, our exit

survey showed 61% of the visitors to the

event said that they had been inspired to take

part in athletics in some way. And a post

event survey showed that every single school

that visited said they would happily do more

athletics-based curriculum work to teach and

inspire their pupils, if only athletics could provide

the necessary materials.


The Athletics SPARK presented many different

aspects of athletics. Visitors had the

opportunity to see the information, hear a

knowledgeable staff member reiterate the key

points and then try out a test or challenge to

cement the learning in their long-term memory.

In every case, the key learning was presented

in a dramatic way but at a gentle pace

without overloading the brain with too much

information. The Personal Score Card

ensured visitors paused to record fascinating

facts and took the message about athletics


New Studies in Athletics • no. 3/2008

Figure 4: Who were our 5000 visitors?

Figure 5: Which zone offered the greatest

educational benefit for the pupils attending

from your school?

Figure 6: Did your pupils keep their Personal

Score Card?

back home and into the classroom. We had

created the material and a new athletics

experience. We hope that the sport will be

able to learn from The Athletics SPARK.

Please send all correspondence to:

William Anderson


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