Hamish Adams on the hardest thing in Irish sport: Getting everyone on the same page

'Ireland is often benchmarked against the likes of New Zealand and Denmark when it comes to sport — similar-sized countries. And New Zealand often benchmarks itself against Ireland'
Hamish Adams on the hardest thing in Irish sport: Getting everyone on the same page

Athletics Ireland CEO Hamish Adams: 'The key to success is bringing people together and bringing them along with you in the same direction'

In his years in Ireland, New Zealand native Hamish Adams has become familiar with the Irish sporting psyche.

Now CEO of Athletics Ireland, Adams’ background with Rowing Ireland and in professional rugby here has exposed him to a variety of experiences.

“Reading Dave Matthews here a few weeks back, I thought he made a good point about trying to get promising juniors to become successful seniors,” says Adams.

“That transition is a challenge for any sport, obviously.

“One of the hardest things in sport here in Ireland, to me, is getting everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction, whether that’s with a strategic plan for an organisation, or with a major decision. Speaking as someone working in sports administration, that the key to success is bringing people together and bringing them along with you in the same direction. Because if there are people pulling in different directions, as you do, then that can slow the direction to a goal.”

Drawing on his own background offers a point of comparison.

“Something that I think people in New Zealand can be better at is simplifying things. We keep things very simple, and the end goal is simple, and we try to get there as quickly as possible.

“The approach is a bit like driving from Cork to Dublin — the fastest way, obviously, is to take the motorway directly, it’s not by taking the back roads, getting lost going through Tipperary, and then rejoining the main road.”

Know where you want to go and get there in as straight a line as is possible, then?

“In my experience it’s one of the biggest challenges all the time, simplifying things. I’m a great believer in the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) generally and it’s one that’s served me well.

It’s a skill all of us need to work on all the time. Don’t be going down too many different roads — take the short, simple road and make the right decision.

This is one that needs careful phrasing, but even allowing for the gross generalisation, when it comes to being direct, aren’t New Zealanders a little blunter than Irish people?

“Definitely, there’s a major cultural difference. New Zealanders are definitely more blunt. That’s something I’ve learned, and certainly Irish people have a command of the art of conversation which New Zealanders don’t have.

“It’s not that one way is better than the other — a middle way might be the best between the New Zealanders who can be a little too blunt and the Irish people who can do too much talking.”

Whether expressed directly or indirectly, the ambitions of those driving sports need to be realistic, he adds.

“The nature of sport is that every sport wants to be involved in every aspect, whether that’s participation or elite performance. You can only match that ambition with the resources you have and you have to be realistic with what you can deliver with those resources.

“I think sometimes it’s the nature of the beast that you want to be bigger and better, and performing at the best all the time, and you can get caught up in that, losing perspective.” Adams points out that comparisons aren’t always helpful either. The hardest thing(s) in Irish sport may not have an equivalent in other countries, for instance.

“Ireland is often benchmarked against the likes of New Zealand and Denmark when it comes to sport — similar-sized countries. And New Zealand often benchmarks itself against Ireland and Denmark as well.

“But that’s not taking into account a lot of nuance, and sometimes those comparisons can be apples and oranges — an obvious one here would be the GAA and the way it has such a huge influence on the sporting landscape. That isn’t the case in most other countries, that indigenous sports occupy such a large place in that landscape.

I think the key is being open-minded at all times and knowing your own limitations.

“Sport is like a lot of businesses in that it’s about working with people, at the most basic level. Whether that’s a coach working with players, an administrator working with other administrators.

“And those are often skills that can only be developed over time. In coaching you can do all the online courses and degrees you want, but the only real way to learn how to coach is to coach and to gain that experience.

“The perspective of dealing with people is the same. To get back to the point Dave Matthews made, about how difficult it is to get young sportspeople from promising youths to good seniors, this is exactly the same point.

“You’re talking about putting an old, or experienced, head on young shoulders, and that’s as hard for administrators as it is for sportspeople themselves.

“What are you doing? Trying to get the best out of people.”

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