Challenges, setbacks and breakthroughs: Working for Lions Sports Academy during a pandemic

By Joe Garner. Photo: Joe in action as a coach at a Lions camp with Teddington RFC.

The last six months have been strange for me. I spent four months, between April and August, on furlough because of Coronavirus.

As the Relationship Manager for Lions Sports Academy, I am the main point of contact for all schools, clubs, and other organisations. I’m usually on the phone or laptop every day talking to someone.

The only time I opened my laptop during furlough was to join the weekly catch up video chats with my colleagues. This mostly consisted of comparing 5k times, what TV series people were watching, and discussing if schools would be back in September.

Fast forward to the end of August and it had been confirmed that schools were back in September. The RFU also confirmed rugby would be returning. It was quickly back to ‘all hands on deck’ contacting schools and clubs.

We are all working remotely now. My office is in my kitchen. You may have heard me say,  “I’m sorry if you can hear my dog barking in the background” if you’ve been on a call with me.  A challenge I never thought I’d have to deal with!

Joe is our Relationship Manager 

The first few weeks back working were met with some challenges and setbacks. In my first week, it was a case of ‘touching base’ with all our relationships. Things were different. Things had changed.

Many clubs we’d worked with prior to the pandemic were in survival mode, they couldn’t even consider working with us. Schools were facing a term without fixtures and stipped-back P.E schedules, they had no need for us. One school we had worked with for over two years sadly had to close. Tough times indeed.

After finding out what situations clubs and schools were in, the conversations moved to the possibility of working with us in the future again. If I had £1 for each time I heard - “We’re not sure what things will look like yet.” - I could have taken the rest of the year off!

When September started we weren’t working with all the schools we’d planned to be. Not to worry. It gave us a chance to develop closer relationships with those who were keen to work with us. We even managed to form new relationships. Brambletye School, in West Sussex, joined the pride. Clubs were back and our coaches were once again coaching on weeknights and weekends again. 

The October half-term quickly snuck upon us., that meant rugby camps. Delivering these camps under COVID restrictions was a real test. Despite the circumstances, we were determined to provide fun and constructive experiences for everyone. The camps all went well and we’re planning more for December.

Lions have had some fantastic successes and breakthroughs over the last few months. Alongside the relationships with schools and clubs, we’ve also managed to recruit new coaches. Olympian and England Rugby Sevens player Tom Bowen joined us in August. 

There are many ideas and plans yet to come to fruition. It’s still an exciting time to be a Lions Sports Academy employee. It has been a crazy year. Despite this, we’re thriving in what is our ‘new normal’ environment. I hope that when we head into Christmas and the New Year we’ll continue to build on the success and grow as a company. 

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