Professor of Sport Leadership and Governance
Director, AUT Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ)
School of Sport and Recreation
Professor Lesley Ferkins credits her family for her twin passions of sport and education. She grew up in a “sport mad” family sharing a love of tennis and has gone on to compete and participate in multisport and skiing.
She advises up-and-coming researchers to do likewise and follow their passion. “It gives you a sense of contribution to something greater than yourself. When you see the outcome, it is incredibly rewarding.“
Professor Ferkins has held senior roles in the sport and recreation sector, spent a decade at Unitec and three years at Deakin University. Now based at AUT Millennium, she is currently director of the AUT Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ).
A commitment to the organised sport sector has led to a programme of research centred on developing leadership and governance capability with the aim of realising sport’s potential to improve people’s lives. Her approach is founded on action research; partnership, change and learning - working inside sport organisations - to understand their relevance and contribution to a changing world.
A recent example has been Navigating Two Words, in partnership with New Zealand and Auckland Rugby. Given the high contribution of the Pacific community to on-field rugby in New Zealand, N2W looks at Pacific contribution to off-field leadership. It’s been about embedding Pacific concepts of leadership-as-service to enhance the way leadership is done throughout rugby.
“With action research we are very much working within our communities and organisations and focused on the scholarship of understanding ‘how can we’ influence local change in collaboration with participants as we move through the research process."
She says collaborative and developmental efforts have led to re-imagining traditional assumptions about leadership, developing board strategic capability, bringing leadership thinking closer to governance practice and embracing diverse contributions at the top tables of decision-making in sport. Students and colleagues have been central to this research journey and their influence is a fundamental element of this collaboration.
She hopes sport management research continues to tackle issues that affect sport on a global level. Two issues are at the forefront for her mind; how sport organisations can become more inclusive, and secondly the challenge of integrity that is facing sport worldwide (eg drug abuse, match fixing etc), and specifically, leadership and governance responses to such challenges.