Transforming Challenges into Opportunities – Review of the 2017 SA Recreation, Parks and Leisure Conference

Now in it's fifth year, the SA Recreation, Parks and Leisure Conference was held at the recently-completed Campbelltown Leisure Centre (known as The ARC) on Monday, April 3, 2017, where the theme 'Transforming Challenges into Opportunities' was explored by a range of different speakers.

The conference, organised in partnership between Recreation SA and Parks & Leisure Australia (SA/NT), attracted over 150 delegates, trade exhibitors and presenters from a range of different sectors, including local government, aquatic, facility managers, sport and recreation officers and planners, and horticulture and land managers.

The Conference commenced with a breakfast, hosted by local media identity Mark Aiston, and featured the presentation of the 2017 Recreation SA Awards and the revealed the nominees for the 2017 Parks & Leisure Australia Awards (SA/NT Region).  Mark then led an interview with Jane Woodlands-Thompson, who provided an insightful look into the world of professional sport and the establishment and success of the inaugural AFL Women's League.

Jane currently sits on the AFL’s Women’s Football Advisory Group member and is a former Adelaide Thunderbirds ANZ Championship-winning coach and her insights into the life of a public figure were received with great interest.  The success of the inaugural season of the AFL Women's League was also discussed and whilst there is an air of excitement (particularly in Adelaide, home of the newly crowned premiers!), Jane suggested a cautious approach should be taken by the women, who, with a short season, will have a long time to wait for season 2018.

Following the breakfast event, the Conference was formally opened by State MP Katrine Hildyard, Member for Reynell, representing Minister for Sport and Recreation, Leon Bignell. Conference keynote speaker, John Buchanan, former coach of the Australian cricket team and Kolkata Knight Riders (from the Indian Premier League) delivered a presentation focused on success strategies, how to contribute and get the best out of your team.  John remains one of the most successful coaches in Australia, leading the team to a World Record of 16 straight Test match wins and an unbeaten record of 24 one day international victories in two successful World Cups.

John mentioned he was appointed coach of the Australian Cricket team in October 1999, despite considering himself an unlikely candidate given he had not played at the national Test level as his predecessors.  Whilst his methods were sometimes questioned by cricket identities, John revealed that he sometimes saw his doubters as 'his Mount Everest', but with a clear game plan and vision, he steered the team to unprecedented success.

In line with the Conference’s overarching theme of team work and overcoming challenges to create opportunities, a panel discussion on 'The Challenges of Modern Leadership', followed the keynote presentation. The panel comprised former Crows star Tyson Edwards, SA Aquatic & Leisure Centre General Manager, Adam Luscombe, and Programmed Property Services General Manager, Jo Marshall. The three experienced professionals each offered different perspectives relating to managing teams and working through the challenges that this brings.

Key insights included:

  • Organisations need to ‘nimble’, able to adapt, respond and capitalise on change, not only with outputs and daily business, but in the way people are managed;
  • Create a culture of 360-degree feedback, for not only employees but managers as well;
  • Review your vision, values, business plan and culture regularly (every 3 months was suggested); and
  • Don’t under estimate the importance of your brand and take steps to ensure its integrity is protected.

One of the key take home messages of this session was that when mistakes or shortcomings are experienced, “people don’t fail, organisation’s fail their people”. Often, it is a series of events (or actions that do not occur) which result in failure, so organisations should take steps to learn from these and continually evolve and improve, to create a strengthened culture.

Following the keynote sessions, conference delegates moved into a range of plenary sessions under three streams, including ‘Healthy, Active Communities’, ‘Business & Technology’ and ‘Planning & Government’.

Alison Collins, from the SA Government's Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, provided an overview of the 30-year Plan for Greater Adelaide that is currently under review. The plan provides the framework for the State Government in setting planning policy for South Australia and is one of a few key documents shaping the function and form of SA, and the recreation behaviours of the community over the next 20-30 years.  Key comments included:

  • The population growth target for the state has been revised from an additional 565,000 (2010 projection), to 545,000.
  • The plan has a focus on mixed-use development, encouraging developments that cater for residential and business activity, with a focus of creating walkable, healthy neighbourhoods.
  • There are a higher proportion of people over 65 years and an increasing number of single person households in SA.
  • There is a focus on all households having access to useable open space within 400 metres.

Richard Mellon from the SA Government’s Office for Recreation & Sport provided a summary of the AusPlay data, which has replaced the former ERASS and ABS data relating to sport and recreation participation, via funding from the Australian Sports Commission until the end of 2018.   The data is available on the Clearinghouse for Sport website.

The data is updated on a six-monthly basis, and recent findings highlight soccer is the most popular sport in all Australian states except SA and Victoria, where Australian Rules football is most popular. Walking is still the most popular recreational activity, followed by fitness/gym, athletics, cycling, swimming and bush walking.  The data also provides information relating to motivators for participation, most popular venues for participation, and other key findings.

Hayden Zammit OAM presented on new visitor technology being used by Zoos South Australia, including at the Adelaide Zoo. The ibeacon technology enhanced visitor experiences by offering interactive and information through smart phones. Transmitters placed around the zoo enable visitors, via their smart phone, to access information such as animal  profiles, keeper presentations and maps on smart phones as they walk around the zoo.   The zoo has been impressed with the affordability and functionality of the technology, and suggested it could be used for other purposes such as for a history trail around a council area.

This is just a snapshot of a very successful day, with many more presentations offered. The Conference organising committee would like to thank the speakers, delegates, trade exhibitors, venue staff and sponsors for helping to create an informative and memorable event.

John Wilkinson

Regional President

Parks & Leisure Australia (SA/NT)