Sport Experience Immersive Workshop

Published 7 July, 2022.

Vicsport has collaborated with the Centre for Sport and Social Impact, Sports Experience Design and VicHealth to create an immersive workshop which demonstrated the value of providing participants the best possible experience.

Around 20 sport administrators from a range of sport and recreation organisations were invited to take part in the experience and, for one afternoon, walk in the shoes of a participant. The caveat was that attendees would encounter both good and bad practices throughout the day but would not know when they would occur.

“The experience we provide in our sport and recreation offerings plays a very significant role in whether we have a positive impact in our work,” said Andrew O’Loughlin, Sport Experience Design founder.

“From the outset, the experience we offer decides whether people will want to sign up and then influences what they think, do and feel as well as what they remember, what they say about us afterwards and whether they want to return.

“Sport is about people and we need to understand what they need and want. Being involved in a learning experience from the participant’s point of view helps discover best practices and actionable items that our workshop attendees can use moving forward. As the saying goes, ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’.”

The experience was born out of conversations between Andrew and Vicsport, with the initial concept intending to assist sport and recreation personnel who had interests in driving change.

“We realised that there are many of us within this industry who are like-minded in the way we approach our work and recognise that the experience we provide is paramount. However, we don’t necessarily know how to design and then deliver those experiences in the best way possible.”

After indicating their interest in the experience, attendees were randomly divided into two groups. The experience began with an initial email, where the “good experience” group received information outlining the features of the workshop, the location and details on how to get there, an FAQ with additional information, videos on how to access the venue and details on who to contact. The other half of registrants (the “bad experience” group) only received the bare minimum details (date, time and location) with some people’s names being spelled incorrectly in the email and follow-up questions going ignored.

Upon arrival at The Hangar, the “good experience” group were provided a goodie bag and ushered through to a basketball court where coaches were ready to run through a wheelchair basketball activity.

Meanwhile, the “bad experience” group were given vague directions towards a room where they were forced to wait for over 15 minutes without any guidance. When an instructor did retrieve them, they struggled to find their way to the basketball court and once they arrived, the “bad experience” group saw the other half already fitted in chairs and enjoying activities. Not enough chairs were provided while basketballs were flat, tyres needed changing and coaches acted unhelpful and disinterested.

After 45 minutes, both groups were brought together and the exact nature of the workshop was revealed. All attendees were then able to take part in a proper, well-run wheelchair basketball session, before heading into a workshop to discuss their feelings before, during and after the experience.

“What stood out for me is the way that attendees embraced the idea of being a participant,” said Andrew. “They were willing to get out of their comfort zone, whether that meant attending an event without many details or, even for those in the “good experience” group, being placed into an activity that most had not experienced before.

“We are not able to change if we are not of a growth mindset so that was really pleasing to see. It was a reality check to witness a bad experience, see the annoyance and frustration on the faces of not only our participants but the coaches as well, and realise that this does, unfortunately, happen regularly at sporting events.

“It wasn’t much easier for us behind the scenes either as we found it quite confronting to intentionally provide a bad experience. It wasn’t nice to ignore people and leave them waiting so it was a great reminder of the things we don’t want to see happening within our industry.

“During the workshop, we saw attendees come to this realisation too and understand that, by being more empathic towards our participants, we can improve their experience.”

Coaching Director at Pony Club Victoria, Kathleen Kindler was placed into the “bad experience” group but by the end of the day, found herself grateful for the workshop.

“I actually feel I was really lucky to be in the “bad experience” group,” she said. “It allowed me to actively feel the lows and then the highs when we finally got to have a great wheelchair basketball coaching session.

“The networking at the end to debrief was invaluable too and I have already been sharing my takeaways with the team at Pony Club Victoria.”

Following the success of the workshop, Andrew is keen to increase the scope of the audience to the likes of clubs as well as CEOs and board members.

“The feedback we received was that it was a valuable experience so we would love to run it again. If others can see the value of it, we would love to talk to them because it feels like we’ve found something.”

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