I never thought I could have a career in sport but luckily for me, I unintentionally stumbled into one. I was working at a recruitment firm while pursuing a graduate degree in Human Resource Management but realized this was not the career path I wanted to follow.
National Events Director
×This interview was completed before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
The interview with Amanda Zevnik was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as the National Events Director of the Gymnastics Canada.
I started in my role this January and personally handle all of Gymnastics Canada’s national and international events hosted in Canada. This includes establishing and overseeing the implementation of GymCan’s national events strategy to ensure it aligns with the strategic and fiscal goals of the organization, selecting locations and venues, working with different organizing committee across the country in the various cities we are hosting events in and consulting with High-Performance staff.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Working in events, I don’t think there ever a ‘typical’ day. There is always something new and different happening especially for someone like me who is usually working on multiple events simultaneously. However, all events usually include lots of conversations with the local organizing committees, consulting with the High-Performance team at Gymnastics Canada about technical matters, and connecting with funding, tourism and corporate partners for various event-related items.
When was the point you realized that you were meant to do this career? Take us through that realization.
I cannot remember a time where I was not involved in sports. Before I could even walk, I was in the pool or had skates laced onto my feet and was being pushed around a rink. Sports have played a major role in all stages of my life and the lessons learnt as an athlete have carried over and helped shape me into the woman I am today. No athletes story is one of only successes and that is the beauty of sports. During my swimming career, it was not only the highs but also the lows that taught me strength, courage and humility. It gave me the opportunity to travel, make lifelong friendships, forced me out of my comfort zone and helped turn a passion into a career.
I never thought I could have a career in sport but luckily for me, I unintentionally stumbled into one. I was working at a recruitment firm while pursuing a graduate degree in Human Resource Management but realized this was not the career path I wanted to follow. I applied for a position at Swimming Canada and went through the whole hiring process but didn’t end up getting selected. However, a few weeks later, I received a call asking if I would be interested in a different position. I grew up swimming competitively and the prospect of reconnecting with the sport and contributing to it in a new way made my decision easy, I agreed and haven’t looked back since. I started working in marketing and just under a year later took on the role of Events Manager. I did that for 5 years until I decided it was time for my next challenge and moved to Gymnastics Canada in January of this year.
What surprised you the most about starting a career in the sport industry?
I was surprised at how close-knit the community is. Everyone has been welcoming and helpful and you truly feel like part of the family. I know that I can pick up the phone and call a number of people from different organizations who have helped shaped my career in sport any time I need advice or to discuss industry best practices before making a difficult decision. For an industry with competition at its core, it is both moving and encouraging to see different groups and organizations working together to make sport in Canada better as a whole.
While working in events, how have you been able to manage the stress of meeting deadlines and what are some tips you would have for young professionals starting in similar positions?
From the outside, it may look like a chaotic colour coded mess of post-its, calendars and notebooks but I have found a system that works for me. Any event I am working on gets broken down so that I have smaller projects with deadlines and check-ins along to the way to ensure everything is on track and meeting the expected standards and budgets.
My advice would be to develop a system that works for you and don’t get discouraged if this takes a few attempts and fine-tuning to get there. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it or let people know when things aren’t coming together as planned. It has been my experience that doing so goes over so much better than waiting until the 11th hour when there are few options or alternatives to remedy the situation.
Planning for events is a long process. Often, situations occur causing the event plan to be changed on the spot. How do you maintain a positive mindset through such tough situations?
It’s extremely important at the start of any event to run through the event plan you have laid out and assess the readiness and potential risks in all areas so you are able to react quickly should any situations occur. I try to always have multiple backup plans and knowing that I have different options available to me definitely helps mediate stress and stay positive.
Previous to your current role in Events with Gymnastics Canada, you worked in Marketing and Promotions with Swimming Canada. How important is it for people working in marketing within sport to be able to write? What level of writing is expected? How much writing is required for a role in the sport industry?
I think it’s extremely important to be able to write and communicate effectively if you are in a marketing role. We live in a world where everything is only a click away so being able to put something together that will capture the attention of your fans or potential and existing partners and sponsors is a must. If not, they will be on to the next new shiny thing. Even though you and your team know how great your sport is, assume others do not. You need to be able to articulate how remarkable and unique your sport is and get people excited and wanting to be a part of it.
I oversee all the funding and grant application related to events. In respect to those, writing is vital. They ask lots of questions and usually require business plans, legacy plans etc. Being able to write effectively in order to communicate the important aspects and impact of your sport, team, and/or event can be the deciding factor in securing that funding or partnership.
What are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of your role?
The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to curate an event that everyone: athletes, coaches, spectators, officials and volunteers, will remember for years to come. Everyone has a sporting moment that they remember whether they were a participant or fan. To know I have a hand in making that special lifelong memory is extremely gratifying.
Some of the more challenging things are managing expectations. All these different groups have their own needs and wants and it can be difficult to please everyone. Additionally, at times, I have found it challenging to manage some of the different personalities in the sports industry.
What would you say are the top 3 biggest moments or accomplishments in your sport management career?
Competition Manager at the 13th FINA World Swimming Championships (25 m) – This was my first large international event I got to be a part of and it will always be special to me. It was one of the coolest (we built a pool on an ice hockey rink) and most difficult events I have ever worked on. I learnt so much about event planning and myself that I can’t imagine being where I am today without having lived through it.
2016 Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials – This way my first Olympic/Paralympic qualifier event and the showcase of that Olympic and Paralympic quad. Because of this, I had what I like to call “fun money” to do some really exciting, new stuff at that event which added a wow-factor and made the event more memorable to everyone in attendance. This was also my first event to get broadcasted nationally which was a surreal moment for me.
Making it through my first event season – there were many ups and downs, smiles, tears and sleepless nights. I questioned whether I made the right move professionally multiple times that year but there was a light at the end of the tunnel and that first year gave me the opportunity to put together the right events strategy and build relationships with stakeholders in the community to ensure success for the following years.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Amanda is living proof that if you can dream it, you can achieve it. Although her university studies did not directly apply to the sports industry, she took a chance and applied for a job with Swimming Canada. Ultimately, her passion and lifelong connection to swimming led to securing a job with the organization. Amanda continues to challenge herself, now taking on a role within Gymnastics Canada. Every day presents a different challenge that she is committed to overcoming. Her career is just taking off and I can’t wait to see the events she coordinates with GymCan in the future!