“Who better to serve the best interests of sport than someone who has the heart of an athlete?”
When the Johan Cruyff Institute started off fifteen years ago, many people were very critical about my idea that athletes could study and that achieving success after sport was possible. We started with 35 athletes in Amsterdam and I feel very proud to say that since then we have established a network of six Johan Cruyff Institutes around the world, and our network partners, the Johan Cruyff Academies and Johan Cruyff Colleges which provides education in sport management, football business, sport marketing, sponsorship and coaching to more than 7.000 athletes, former athletes, sport managers and people with a strong passion for sport who wanted to pursue a career in the industry.
Some find it odd to think that I would start sport business schools considering I did not finish my own education. But I thought it was unfair that athletes never get the opportunity to enter a business school or university that could help them.
At the Johan Cruyff Institute we look at the situation differently than most academic institutions. We are 100% sports’ oriented. We welcome athletes to our campus and virtual classrooms taking into account their professional sport career when they apply to our programs. Let’s say that we embrace them rather than “punish” them for not having pursued formal studies.
In my days, we had very few opportunities to combine sport with study, but that was long ago. Athletes today can commit to their sport and build a productive future through education at the same time and I am pleased athletes are taking steps to become leaders in the sport industry. Most athletes compete for their club or country and they have to make sacrifices to train. They compete because they love the sport, not because they are going to make money off of it.
We have on campus programs and some years ago developed an elearning model with a broad online portfolio. The online modality offers those who cannot attend classes due to their schedules the possibility to study. Our tutors are more like coaches who guide small teams of students and accompany them with personalized attention throughout the entire program(s). It’s amazing to see the relationship that tutors and students develop during the program; when they see each other at the study trips and graduations they are so happy to finally meet. Our vast, growing international community is, in this sense, a large network of personal, social and professional relationships, and its’ influence expands in both the sports and business sectors.
Athletes managing sport
I believe that athletes possess the right skills to succeed on and off the field. They will always have the heart of an athlete, but they must work hard and combine that passion with new skills and knowledge. With additional education, they will be better prepared to be leaders in the sports business sector.
My vision on the management of sport is really quite simple. I think sports people should lead sport organizations. Athletes respect sport and they never forget their experiences from competing. I believe that athletes think differently because they know sport from the inside out. So the best scenario is to have educated athletes managing sport. And the unique mix of students in our classes enables sport minded people from various backgrounds to share their sport and business experiences and learn from each other.
Education is about having more options. I would say that I am one of the lucky coaches because most coaches do not earn a living as I have from football. Coaches work hard but they are vulnerable. The next coach will come along to replace them and they will be left without options. An educated individual always has more opportunities available to him; that is the reality of this world.
Good businesses invest in their own people, so why should sport be any different? We are working with some clubs now and have proven that educating athletes is well worth the effort. I truly believe that sport clubs need to invest in the athletic, intellectual, and character development of individuals within their organization.
I guess I measure success by the students we have seen graduate. I see now that they are working in leading sport organizations and adding value to them. Isn’t that the best test for any institution? It is nice to see our former students have so much success in business. I just remind them that being successful now, also means having an obligation to help others.
I am thrilled with what the future holds and proud to be a part of it along with everyone that’s behind the Johan Cruyff network.