In the age of digitalization, an informational advantage is no longer a reliable success factor. Information is accessible always and everywhere and the professional world’s demands are changing rapidly. In the training and education of sports managers advanced knowledge is no longer the only priority. Rather, it has become increasingly important to identify the right information and to give it appropriate meaning. This gives the well educated person a competitive advantage as “sense-maker”, understood as someone who creates meaning.
In one of our ongoing research projects, numerous MBA sports management students from the University of Bayreuth were asked about the reasons and motives for starting their studies by means of focus group interviews. An extra-occupational course of studies for which the students sacrifice numerous extended weekends, partially travel long distances to attend on-site classes and willingly accept compromises in their leisure and private lives. Time for family and friends often becomes subordinated in order to manage the workload of in total four semesters. Under these conditions it is necessary to show high commitment, motivation and perseverance.
Evidently, we received numerous answers to our question. These were, among others, more income, hoping for better career opportunities, or the status increase through getting an MBA title from a renowned German university. However, one particular answer was surprising, as it was given strikingly often and reflects an essential social phenomenon that will significantly shape the future of education and work: the desire for self-realization. In other words, the creation of meaning and the awareness of self-esteem.
It is important to do something fulfilling, which makes you happy and is fun - higher education should act as the entrance card into a professional world in which all of this is possible. Compared to other industries, the sports industry’s members are characterized by an above-average degree of identification and have a special spirit. Sport connects, welds together, sport is community, integration, passion. This appears as an attractive work environment in which people, as social beings, enjoy being a part of. Therefore, money and status often play a subordinate role.
In general, it can be stated that the number of available options continues to increase - both in the professional world and in private life. Consequently, people are increasingly concerned with the meaning of their existence, their job or their way of life and strive for something exceptional and unique.
As the basic needs are met in more and more industrial nations, people’s desire for self-fulfilment becomes increasingly important. Symbolical and exemplary for this development of a more complex and digitalized world of work is the internal slogan of the internet giant Google. Especially, as their business model has made a significant contribution to the fact that information is available always and everywhere. The slogan states “Do cool things that matter”. The dictum “Knowledge is power” is outdated, because today anyone who has internet access can use a search engine making knowledge just a click away. The future’s success factor is about the creation of meaning, self-realization and awareness of self-worth?
How does a high level of self-worth develop? Here we can learn from the sports fans. Research has shown that self-esteem is the result of individual and social identification1. While individual identification can be described by the question of whether one’s own talents and abilities correspond to one’s own expectations, social identification implies the question of belonging to a desired social group. Individual success and social affiliation form the sense of self-worth and this, in turn, leads to increased activity and job performance. Thus, the creation of meaning is the initial spark for activities in the future of the super-perfomer.
The sports industry has been growing faster than many other industries, i.e. because of the high degree of identification of its members described above. Therefore, qualified experts with sense-making skills are highly sought after. The sports managers of the future will have an excellent education, extensive experience and the expertise to deal with information appropriately.
That is exactly where the greatest challenge for education providers lies: To what extent does an offer meet the requirements of potential students that consider individual success and social affiliation as crucial in choosing a career? And in which way are students trained to appropriately deal with information that is available abundantly and giving it meaning and significance?
Education providers can support sense-making with engagement platforms to develop individual and social identification and thus increase self-esteem. Thereby creating social groups and giving them social identification. Practiced group affiliation functions as a self-esteem turbo and provides a strong drive among the participants. Obviously, the lecturers and various other actors in the higher education institution’s network also significantly contribute to this.
Does this work solely in a digital way? “Of course!” the digital apologists would confirm. However, in the daily life of further education we experience precisely the opposite. We see that digital learning opportunities are nice to have, acting as”add-on” to gain knowledge. Nevertheless, in practice they are used to get more scope for valuable “face-to-face” time.
Based on our extensive experience in sports management education, we are convinced that the need for sense-making can best be met “live” through exchange on appropriate engagement platforms. That may seem trivial today. In a digital future, however, it will be all the more important to experience education together and on site. Only through a well-balanced and meaningful interaction of live and digital learning opportunities, can the theme of this magazine’s issue be met: a “perfect match”.
This written by Dr Guido Schafmeister and David Wawrzinek This article was originally published in the WFSGI magazine.
Dr. Guido Schafmeister: Managing partner and founder of SMAB. He served as a professor, vice dean, academic director, lecturer, research fellow, and member of decision making bodies at public and private universities in Germany and abroad, including accreditations. As a senior consultant, he worked on strategic marketing projects for global enterprises. Scientific activities in the field of sport management in countries such as USA, Canada, Australia, and many European Countries.
David Wawrzinek: Prior to joining SMAB Education, David worked as program manager, research and teaching assistant, and PR manager. He is working on a doctorate in the field of higher education. He is responsible for operations for the study programs.
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