Rugby has always been a big part of Chantal Bakersmith’s life. From playing to teaching to rugby development, she now works at a more strategic level – helping Auckland clubs deliver the best possible experience for their players.
As Club Capability Manager for Auckland Rugby, Chantal looks after 16 rugby clubs across the region. She works with committee members on governance, management and strategy planning, and says it’s a very diverse role.
“Our clubs are based in very different areas, so I deal with different demographics and varying amounts of resources. The structure of each club is unique, but all are essentially run by volunteers, which can make things difficult as they try to grow. My role is to support them to run effectively, and to create some sustainable, consistent frameworks – so that regardless of volunteer turnover there’s a solid structure in place to help people understand their roles.”
While it’s an ‘off the field’ job, Chantal says it has a big impact on how things are done ‘on the grass’.
“Part of my role is about delivery and leadership – you’re leading a volunteer committee, helping them understand how to manage their ‘business’ and what content to provide their members. It’s also about helping them find the money they need to run effectively. The sponsorship dollar has decreased, so clubs need to leverage off other things like partnerships and contra. That’s really where any community-level operation is at.”
Chantal says she particularly enjoys the innovation and variation her role offers.
“Some people might think that developing a framework is boring, but it’s important! I’m enjoying creating something new, trying new things. I also enjoy the flexibility of how I work – it’s not a 9-5 office job. Working in sports and recreation can really fit with your lifestyle, but you need to manage your time carefully. It’s a balance between flexibility and keeping on top of your workload.”
A career in rugby
Chantal’s career began while she was completing her Bachelor of Sport (Coaching Major) degree at Unitec. At the time, she was playing rugby for Ponsonby and went on to play for Auckland.
“Rugby was always part of my studies. I got a placement role at Auckland Rugby while I was studying and it turned into a six-year stint as a Women’s Rugby Development Officer after I graduated. It was a tough role physically, I was out delivering in all weather, but it was so rewarding. This was back at the time when the Black Ferns began to be profiled and you started viewing women’s rugby as something you could do. To see how far it’s come today, with professional contracts and players, it’s really exciting to have been part of that groundwork.”
A highlight for Chantal was working in the Rugby World Cup operations team in 2011. It taught her a lot about the ‘business’ side of rugby, and spurred her to head back to Unitec and complete a Masters of Business.
“At the end of the day, everything is about business. Sport is so diverse – you can work in the industry and be involved in events, accounts, marketing, sponsorship. My business degree really armed me with the skills I needed to get to the next level in my career.”
Chantal says her two stints at Unitec were invaluable not only for the skills she learnt but for other aspects of the institution itself. In particular, she credits Unitec’s focus on Te Noho Kotahitanga with shaping how she has approached her career.
“Te Noho Kotahitanga invites everyone at Unitec to work together as a whānau and community of staff and students. It’s based on principles that guide behaviour and the way in which Unitec staff engage with you as a student – respecting who you are and what you bring to the learning experience. I’ve certainly taken those philosophies with me to Auckland Rugby.”
Chantal also continues to enjoy the diversity and physical environment of Unitec’s Mount Albert campus.
“I still go to Unitec to do my work because of the feeling of the campus: the green, open spaces and the diversity. Auckland Rugby is still quite a male-dominated area. We’ve got to work to shift that to become more inclusive and engage other parts of the community.”
A perfect combination of theory and practice
After completing her Master of Business degree, Chantal started lecturing at Unitec – covering coaching and ‘active leisure’ papers among others.
“My relationship with Unitec is quite extensive – I’ve been a student, a tutorial assistant, back to a student, to a lecturer. I like teaching because it keeps me fresh, exposes me to new innovations and connects me with the latest thinking. For me, it’s about pulling together all those aspects of business and community; combining the practical elements with the theory.
“That’s the value of what we do here at Unitec – we offer that ‘real-life learning’ along with the theory. Out in the industry, you need both, but it’s the practical element that’s really valuable. It’s where I think some universities fall short – they can be too theoretical, which is particularly noticeable in a practical industry like this.”
As someone who now works in the industry, Chantal sees first-hand the value of real-life experience when students come in on placements.
“At Auckland Rugby, I really value the more practical aspects over how well a student can read and write. That’s still important, but I want to know if they have initiative, whether they can go and facilitate a kids’ game or come up with a new activity. Putting together games involves a lot of planning and strategy – you need to learn the method as well as the theory behind it to be a great coach or deliverer.”
For Chantal, her roles as lecturer and Club Capability Manager both bring together her love of people and learning.
“I’m happiest when I’m with people – working with a committee or running workshops. That’s also what I love about teaching – that one-on-one connection where you’re all learning together. That’s the best bit.”
Networking, research and integrity
Having sat on both sides of the table, as student and employer (as well as a lecturer), Chantal has three key pieces of advice for anyone looking to start their career.
“Firstly, I’d say be conscious and deliberate about your networking. It might feel like you’re just thinking ‘what can I get out of you’, but it’s also about what you can offer. Networking is essentially creating a partnership, so it’s give and take. When I was at Unitec I developed good relationships with many of my lecturers, which is how I ended up teaching here.
“Secondly, no matter what industry you’re in, keep your eye on what jobs are out there. Check the roles available on Seek, work out what employers are looking for and what skills are required. And look outside the areas you’re interested in – you’ll find your skills are so transferable. We’re in an age where we don’t stay in the same job for 10 years, so think outside the box.
“Finally, I’d say make sure you always follow through on what you say you’ll do. It sounds cliché, but you’ve got to have integrity and a good work ethic. I always tell my students it’s hard to get a job because you’re graduating with thousands of others around the country. It’s a small world, so if you start with a bad reputation it’s going to follow you.”
While the Bachelor of Sport (Coaching) is no longer open to new applicants, Unitec has recently launched a brand-new contemporary and industry-focused New Zealand Diploma in Sport, Recreation and Exercise (Coaching pathway), as well as the New Zealand Certificate in Sport Coaching, which can be completed part-time around full-time work.