Sporting success owes a lot to timing, flexibility and the vision to see what’s happening around you.
A similar approach helped Australian Rugby Union officials streamline, update and extend the education they provide to players and officials about the plethora of modern-day policies and guidelines covering everything from sports science to integrity issues and drug testing requirement.
Investing in an online workforce management system not commonly associated with sports administration—even in high-profile professional sports—allowed for self-paced, online delivery of training and information that was both flexible and efficient.
In late 2014, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) and the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) jointly purchased e3Learning’s LearnForce platform, including both the SitePass contractor management feature and a self‑authoring education tool, the Learning Activity Builder.
At the time both organisations were thinking it was time to move into the 21st century, but this was reinforced when a sports science scandal engulfing two other major sports in Australia led to big changes for all sports.
“We had a renewed focus on improving policies, some by choice and some by necessity, and it would have been difficult to get all this information across to a broad range of people if we were still trying to do it face to face or via written bulletins,” said ARU’s Legal Counsel (Regulatory & Integrity), Stephen Schmidhofer.
“We were able to move to a platform that allows people to do it online and do it in their own time, allows us to oversee and monitor what they had done, and allows players to talk about it. Often they do it at the team’s office; there’ll be a bunch of computers and they’ll actually sit there and talk through the questions as a group and that’s better than we could ever achieve by doing the death by PowerPoint.”
Importantly, it’s not just players. The 500 people with log-in access to the system include doctors, trainers, dietitians and front-office staff. This is also extended to 3rd parties including groups like the player’s agents.
Not everyone needs to know everything, but most need to know more than they might expect.
“Office staff sometimes wonder why it applies to them but they do talk with players and officials and have access to inside information so they need to understand the issues around things like betting and corruption,” Schmidhofer said. “They might not otherwise be aware that they can’t bet on rugby.”
For management, LearnForce allowed instant access to any individual’s training history and if and when refreshers may be needed. Schmidhofer believes its strengths are that it can be adapted to suit organisations of various sizes and it offers “a really good balance between compliance and education”.
“I was taken aback one day when a player told me in confidence that it was possible to cheat because you could just go to the policy and check the answers,” he said. “We quickly made some changes to make it clear that is exactly what we want them to do. It’s not a memory test. It’s about having access to what you need to know and understanding how and when to use it.”
The branded portal is intuitive to use and can be accessed on different devices, including tablets. The fact that feedback is provided (something people don’t tend to do after sitting through a lecture) is a bonus in itself.
Beyond that is the potential to make even better use of the built-in functionality and actually create better material through greater use of video and other new media.
His advice to others is to “invest the time up front because you’ll save it down the track”. Once the system is operating as you want it to, it brings numerous benefits.
For rugby union, the close working relationship between ARU and RUPA also has been an advantage in terms of getting things rolling and getting buy in. “We’re not overly adversarial and we certainly are on the same page with integrity issues,” Schmidhofer said.
“We know that if we get this stuff wrong it can have an extremely damaging impact on the game, on the players and on the bottom line for the sport.”