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I have to make sure things are smooth for staff and players, so I discover any unnecessary strategies that are in place that make things harder for everyone and fix them

Tofa Fakunle

Football Operations Manager

Cavalry FC

× The interview with Tofa Fakunle was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

1Tell us about your role as Football Operations Manager for Cavalry FC. What does a typical day look like for you?

My role as a Football Operations Manager basically consists of a bit of everything.

First, I am responsible for all player and staff administration. This part of the job is unique and very important. You have to put people first. You have to understand who they are, how to get the best out of them, connect with them on a different level that isn’t just about football.

It’s not just about making sure the paperwork is done properly. They have to know you sincerely care about them and that you’re doing your best to make sure they’re comfortable. This is really important for new players coming into the club. It’s really important to make sure you help their transition to be very smooth while also pushing them to grow as professionals.

I know the guys really well and it has been easy to transition into this role because I understand the importance of connecting with people and creating an environment where they can be themselves. No club or organization will ever get the best out of the team if they don’t take the time to understand who the players are, and I try to make sure I do my part in creating relationships that enable just that.

Secondly, I have also had the opportunity to be involved with the scouting and recruiting of players. I had an honest conversation with Tommy, Martin, and Jordan about wanting to be involved in that area and they have been first class.

Scouting and recruiting is a massive area that I am extremely interested in because it’s all about the building of a team that will take the franchise forwards. In this league, it is imperative to find the right pieces that will fit the team while also making sure you work within the budget.

It’s all about building your personal network to find out who those players could be and then doing your homework on them. I’ve noticed everyone has their own individual way of doing it, but finding a recipe that fits the club and its identity is the most important thing.

This club does a great job of doing its homework and I have got to see how a good technical staff operates and that will bode well for me as I continue in this role and in my future.

What does a typical day look like for me? Great question.

I come in and knock on our GM’s door and find out what’s on the menu for the day. We look at the board a lot, move pieces around, and discuss what the strategy is in regard to finding the right players for the team.

I think he’s starting to trust me more and with trust comes more responsibility, so he gives me some homework and I take it away and provide my feedback.

As new signings come in, I check in with them and get started on the process on getting them into the country and getting to know them more through a video call. I can honestly say, I look forward to every day and the challenges each day presents.

2You played for Cavalry FC in the 2019 season. How has your time as a professional athlete helped you develop in your role?

To be honest, 2019 was crazy.

I had a pretty good pre-season with the club, but I had to play more games with the reserve team in the USL League 2. I can openly say I was disappointed with that, but it taught me some good lessons that I believe I had to go through.

I ultimately got signed by the club in August and got to make my professional debut against Pacific. I have barely played professional minutes, but the lessons I’ve learned on this journey have been incredible in helping me develop in this role.

I was planning to be on the pitch in 2020, but I had to pivot and change the direction I was going in. I don’t regret it at all. I wanted to do more and actually make an impact, and I feel like everything I have learned so far in life and while being a part of Cavalry FC can help me make a real impact from the office side. Tommy offered me an opportunity to pivot and for that I am extremely grateful.

From an athlete side of things, one of the biggest things I can testify to is how hard you have to work to be in top shape. I worked really hard on that part of my game and it showed in the pre-season I had with the club. If you think I’m lying…ask our sports science team! It’s on record. I had to change my body and with that improve my eating habits.

I focused on my sleep and making sure I maximized my rest so that I could show up to training and be the best version of myself every day. I also became more organized as I developed a love for paying attention to the details and being proactive.

Every athlete also understands how important it is to look for any edge, tips, or tricks that can elevate you. I dug into that and honestly, I became obsessed with trying to find ways that would make me stand out so that I was ready for whenever my opportunity came.

In order to win in life, it starts with opportunity, hard work, and ambition, but you have to be ready to take your chance. Overall, I have taken that same hard-working, organized, ambitious and proactive attitude into my role in the front office now. Ultimately, learning those skills as an athlete will contribute to my success off the field.

3You have your master’s in Industrial & Organizational Psychology. How has this leveraged you in your department? Tell us about how this program helps the overall operations at Cavalry be more successful.

Great question. It’s a program that focuses on making organizations effective, organized and run smoothly.

It ties in well with sport and creating/building the structure that will enable a team to be successful. It also enables one to be able to fix things that are not working the way they are supposed to.

I learned from a fantastic coach Steve Simonson on how to build the right structure with good culture that enabled success. As a newer program, we made the playoffs in year 5 and started to beat teams like UBC and TWU.

We closed the gap on our competitors, and how? Simply because he understood what it took to build the right culture and implement it within the team that we had which was less talented than the bigger schools. That is basically what my master's is all about.

Creating the right environment that will enable a team or organization to function effectively and achieve its business targets/goals. It fits perfectly with sport and the path I am on with my front office career.

This program equips me with the knowledge to see where things are not going well and implement steps to be changing that. It also equips me with the tools to build a culture or environment that I believe will get the best out of everyone involved in the organization.

How does it help the overall Operations at the club? My eyes are opened to a lot of different things that can be updated so that we become more effective as a club. I have to make sure things are smooth for staff and players, so I discover any unnecessary strategies that are in place that make things harder for everyone and fix them. Overall, I play a part in making sure the club functions at a level that it is supposed to function at.

Furthermore, in regard to culture, I’ve been blessed to see where things are not going well and when they do need to be changed in order to put us on the right direction.

A lot of people think culture is not a big talking point, but if you get your culture wrong, your organization/team fails.

Steve Kerr, Bob Myers, and Pete Carroll are some of the best coaches and executives around and doing homework on how they operate only reassured the important information I learned during my masters.

Listen to Steve and Pete’s podcast “The Flying Coach”. You don’t have to be a coach to learn as you can learn from anyone. Steve Kerr was the president of basketball operations and GM with the Phoenix Suns before becoming a coach. He learned great lessons that I am still digging into in order to understand how I can be better in my job and career.

4You have many responsibilities within the club, including player and staff registration, budgeting and recruiting. How do you stay organized and efficient? Share some of your tips with us!

The best tip I can share with anyone is to have a notebook where you track daily tasks, plan your days, and check things off after completing them.

Also…use your phone calendar and reminder apps. That is a big life saver as you will be able to track when you have meetings and not double book. I learned this lesson the hard way before I got into this job. I had reached out to an executive who made time to chat with me, but I had to cancel because I double booked.

Use your calendar people, it is a great tool. Always go into a new day with goals to achieve. If it is to finish off a section of a project, then strive to do that.

Sleep, eat well, exercise. Those 3 are massive to keep my mind clear and gives me a break from overthinking.

All of the above makes me organized which enables me to be efficient.  

5The sport industry is extremely competitive. What skills do you think aspiring sport professionals need to possess to be successful?

You have to be hard-working, proactive, relatable, fun to work with, have character, and last but not least you must be willing to put yourself out there by networking.

Hard work for anything in life is a must. It is pretty clear that anything worth having or doing doesn’t come without hard work. You have to do more than the minimum that is being required of you.

Be proactive. So, if you are in school right now, don’t wait till you’re just about to graduate to get into the field you want to get into. Go and seek out internships or volunteer hours within the industry to get experience. Be relatable and a person of character. It is easy to see people who are trying to be someone that they are not.

Don’t change who you are to try and impress anybody, I think most high-level executives can see through that easily. Embrace your God given personality and run with it.

Be kind to the people you interact with within the industry, you never know who is watching and kindness matters. It leads to opportunities that you wouldn’t even think of. I learned this valuable lesson at the Island Games our club just competed in.

Lastly, you must network. Send emails to people and ask to learn about what they do and how they have enjoyed doing it. Get them to mentor you and teach you the tips that have got them to where they are at now. I have sent countless emails and it has allowed me to learn more and more about the industry by expanding my personal network.

Side note…I should also add that you must find where you can make a real impact so that you are a blessing to whatever organization you work with. All of the above enables you to make a real impact which makes you more valuable.

Emma Greer Emma's Final Thoughts

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