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It's very easy at the surface to look at the profile of sports and get mesmerized by the perceived glamour of working in it, however, like every industry or job, it has its moments that can be not so glamourous. That’s life so do your research.

Johnny Misley


Ontario Soccer

× The interview with Johnny Misley was conducted via a phone conversation and later transcribed. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

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1Tell us about your role as CEO of Ontario Soccer.

I try to keep it as simple as possible because it's a very complex role, as it is with any large organization such as ours.

In simple terms, I'm responsible for the leadership and management of the organization’s strategy, planning and execution, as well as revenue generation, brand management and overall day-to-day operations.

To me, simply put… my job as CEO is to “bring the future into the present”.

2As CEO, how important is workplace culture? How do you go about establishing a strong team environment?

It’s critical to everything you do as an organization. Much of it is based on your organizational values that everyone upholds – in a way, it’s a staff covenant.

While as a CEO you hope you are providing inspiration, your staff culture truly comes from within your team.

Everyone should be encouraged to contribute to your culture – it becomes your organizational identity.

Therefore empowering your staff is important. The staff at Ontario Soccer are outstanding people first and sound practitioners second.

Never is your staff culture more on display and needed than in a time of crisis such as the present global pandemic.

It has been a very challenging time for all of us where unprecedented decisions had to be made.

I truly believe in our case we are managing through these challenging times because of the identity or culture we have established.

3With your past experience as EVP at Hockey Canada, president at Canadian Tire Jumpstart and in your current position, how has your leadership style changed? What has stuck with you and continues to represent your leadership style?

My leadership style has always been one of honesty, transparency and more importantly collaboration.

Our industry is so dynamic with so many moving parts that it takes everyone on board to have a voice and play a key role. There is a real power of collective thinking to solve problems or to develop strategies.

I would say that over time I’ve adapted to know best when I need to lead from behind and when to be out front. I’m not a big believer of hierarchal style leadership.

I believe everyone has the ability to lead regardless of their title or what they earn.

Organizational charts are only important when it comes to accountability.

A flat style of leadership is more important to me than a hierarchical or linear style of leadership because everybody has leadership abilities.

It's just the strength in people in high places to bring that out of people so that the collective sum of your parts is more powerful.

4With over 33 years in the sport industry, working within the national, provincial and the non-profit sectors, what have you learned that might help aspiring sport professionals choose which sector is right for them?

Really research and understand the sport industry. It has really become specialized with so many operational areas and skillsets required.

The sports industry, while it seems small in comparison to other industries out there, is actually quite massive on its own. It has become very specialized over time, especially over the last decade.

Professional and amateur sports are similar in some ways, yet so different in many areas.

Talk to people, find out what it is like to work in a particular area of operation be it the business or technical side, or administration, etc.

Be honest with yourself and first ask the question about what are you most passionate about? If you can’t do that and if sports is not a passion first, then this industry is not for you.

Simply put, if it's a passion, it doesn't feel like a job. It becomes a part of your life.

My mother gave me some staunch advice when I went off to university, she said to me, “whatever you want to study, just make sure that whatever you do for a career, find something that doesn’t just feel like a job, find something where you can make a difference”.

That really meant a lot to me. That's why I chose sports because it was always such a passion to me.

This is a message I share all the time when speaking to college or university students who are the potential future generation of sports management or sports administration leaders.

It's very easy at the surface to look at the profile of sports and get mesmerized by the perceived glamour of working in it, however, like every industry or job, it has its moments that can be not so glamourous. That’s life so do your research.

My time as the Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations at Hockey Canada, I was very fortunate to have travelled around the world with our national teams and worked closely with Team Canada at the annual World Championships and even three Olympic Games and the World Cup of Hockey.

The perception was that oh, it must be nice travelling to France and going to Paris or travelling to Sweden or Finland or to Germany or Switzerland, Italy and going to the Olympics and all that kind of stuff.

Yes, it looks and sounds very cool and believe me it is, but the reality is these trips and events were very long days where an airport, hotel and ice rink is all you have time to see.

In the end, you will have to be prepared to make personal sacrifices. I spent a lot of time away from my family. Your work-life balance is always challenged.

I have seen the demands of this industry for some, really struggle. If it’s not your passion, you will soon find out.

5You’ve mentioned to me before that you love to inspire the next generation and provide advice when you can. What is some of your best advice for aspiring sport professionals? With the pandemic changing the operations of our business... how should they begin to navigate the sports world?

This is a great time for those passionate about a career in sports. The industry has become a massive business today and is changing or modernizing itself very rapidly.

There is a need for young, fresh-minded thinking and leadership.

Because of the pandemic, many sport businesses are rethinking their operation, their way of conducting their business. I can never understate the importance of networking and knowing your fit and the developmental pathway for you.

When I came to Ontario Soccer in my role as CEO, I had to blow up and rebuild our current staffing structure that included a whole new Business Operations department.

I purposely went out and hired a lot of young, new millennials out of university with one or two years of experience, because I needed that freshness of thinking and the all-important energy.

I would go back to networking and trying to figure out your development pathway within your career industry.

6Please list three things you would’ve loved to know prior to getting into a career in sport.

  1. The career opportunities and pathway through the industry. The pros and cons.
  2. The difference between amateur and professional sports operations - It took me a number of years to figure out that while they're in the same industry, there are differences between them. So, when I do a presentation for the future generation of sports leaders, I actually break that out and explain that in greater detail of what that's like.
  3. Opportunities to network, volunteer or have internships.

7Any last advice for aspiring sport professionals?

  • Do your research. Connect with professionals at varying roles within the industry. Ask for advice on what if is like to work within it. – Don’t be scared, be confident.
  • Be patient, yet persistent. It’s a popular industry for many. Like any, it has its ups and downs. There is no clear straight line… there’s ups and downs, so be prepared. As I’ve moved up the ranks, I’ve recognized it's not a clear pathway. As one of my mentors once told me, “sometimes you have to experience the width and depth of your career, it’s not always vertical”.
  • Be willing to travel and make personal sacrifices. This is not a 9-5 job. In the 30 plus years of my career, I moved and lived in nine different cities or towns in Canada or in Europe, and I've moved my family four times. So, that's something you have to understand if you want to advance the sports system.

Emma Greer Emma's Final Thoughts

Johnny Misley, CEO of Ontario Soccer, has over 30 years of experience in the sport industry. He has a clear passion for sport and uses that to inspire innovation in his role. I truly admire the way Johnny views leadership in the workplace and how he believes everyone, no matter how big their role, can contribute to the overall culture. With his lengthy experience, he's able to provide some extremely valuable advice for aspiring sport professionals. He encourages them to reach out to industry professionals and ask questions to gain knowledge and contacts. Johnny also talks about how important it is to research career opportunities and the difference between amateur and professional sport to be able to find your perfect fit. His willingness to give back to the next generation is incredible and truly makes a difference.

Connect With Johnny Misley

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