Boxer AC – helping South African athletes to grow
07 January 2016
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Brad Brown: This is Old Mutual Live, it’s good to have you with us, thank you so much for listening and downloading this podcast. We love having you here and we love just chatting running. We’re going to be doing that again today, but we’re talking about the front end today. What it’s like to have to manage an elite running team.
We’re joined on the podcast today by a man who is no stranger to running in SA, he’s doing an amazing job with the team that he’s managing at the moment. Rhyn Swanepoel, welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thanks for joining us today, it’s good to have you on.
Rhyn Swanepoel: Thank you very much Brad, it’s nice to be on.
BB: You’re the team manager of the Boxer Athletic Club Elite Team, you’re based down in KZN, talk to me about managing an elite athletics club? I get the feeling it must be a bit like herding cats, it can’t be the easiest job on the planet.
RS: Ja, it is not as tough as what people make it, I think it all depends on the athletes that you take on. You know, we’re fortunate, I’ve assembled a team of athletes with very good individuals, quite easy to manage. Although they’re spread all over the country. But I think it’s all about recruiting the correct and the right person for your club, that suits the clubs profile. It’s pretty much an easy job.
Every good club has a committed backer
BB: Before we get into some of the athletes that you work with, let’s talk about Boxer as a club and as a sponsor. They’ve been in the sport for a while now, they’re doing some amazing things and it’s important to have corporate sponsors like Boxer putting money into a sport we all love so much.
RS: Absolutely. I’ve been very fortunate, I was a national buyer in the company for many years, and the club was formed in 2005 as a social club. We then turned that into a much more professional club towards 2008. I had a very small budget when we started off.
We pride ourselves in that we recruit South African athletes, which is something that I’ve been very passionate about. To give the SA athletes the opportunity to achieve their dreams. Boxer Superstores, now known as Boxo, and he has come on board and they’ve supported us for the last, professionally for the last eight years.
BB: I love the fact that you worked in the business prior to doing what you’re doing with the club now. So you obviously understand the philosophy and the thinking behind the business and from a marketing perspective. Because let’s be honest, as much as a company wants to plough money into a sport, they need to get some return on that investment and you understand both sides of it.
RS: Absolutely. I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve been with the Boxer group and still involved with them on the athletics side, for well over 22 years now. I know the MD of the company, the marketing director, I know what their expectations are, what they want in return. So yes, there’s very few people that can say that being on both sides of, I’ve been on the business side and now on the athletics side. So I understand it much easier than I think most other people would.
BB: Does that make it easier or more difficult when it comes to negotiating higher contracts and higher budgets?
RS: You know, when we started off, the budgets were small. As the elite profile, if I can call it that, the elite profile starts changing. You start getting high profile athletes, then the budget goes higher. But they’ve been standing with us and I’ve got a very good relationship with the board of Boxer. I think that makes it a little easier for me than normal, so they’ve been very supportive.
Having the Phalula sisters in your camp
BB: You’ve got some incredible athletes. You mentioned that you’re proudly South African, you support SA athletes. Let’s talk about a couple of them. It helps, it’s all good and well having a corporate sponsor, but if your athletes don’t get the results that they’re looking for, it’s not going to continue for long.
You’ve been pretty blessed that you’ve had some good athletes and the results keep coming. Let’s talk about the Phalula sisters first off, incredible talent, both of them and obviously it helps when you’re getting onto the podium on a regular basis, with two runners like that.
RS: Absolutely. I’ve been following the twins, when they started on the track. When I was still in 2007, roundabout there, when the Harmony Athletics Club, when I was managing for Nick here in KZN.
Lebo and Lebogang and we were very fortunate to first get Lebo last year from Mr Price and now Max Elite and now we’ve got Lebogang. Very talented individuals and they’re out there doing their business, running hard, never stand back for anybody, so we’re very proud to have them on board.
Tanith Maxwell is an other great asset
BB: Tanith Maxwell, tell me a little bit about your relationship with Tanith, obviously a hard working athlete, also very talented, but someone who puts in the hard graft.
RS: Tanith has been with us since 2009, a little bit different relationship with Tanith. I’m her personal manager, outside of club. I look after all Tanith’s sponsorships and race negotiations overseas, so there’s a little bit of a more personal involvement with Tanith’s running.
But I think she was the catalyst in our club, at Boxer, when Tanith moved over from Mr Price. Then obviously when she went to the Olympics, that just put our club into another profile. We then started getting athletes being interested. Tanith has been, if I can say it, probably the biggest influence in our club.
BB: Talk to me about the difficulty of managing athletes remotely from around the country. You mentioned that yes, you are KZN based, but you do have athletes everywhere, is that challenging?
RS: You know, although we’re a KZN based club. Tanith was KZN, she’s moving around between Cape Town and Durban, but mostly in CT. Then the core of my club, the core of Boxer Athletics Club is actually in Gauteng.
They all are really professionals in their own right. They’ve got a good structure, a good management system around and so I’m really just the middle man in making sure that we look after them financially. Book their flights for them on local races. It is not a daunting task, I’m privileged to have the athletes that I have.
Getting the club balance right
BB: As far as getting the balance right, you mentioned that obviously getting higher profile athletes does cost more. The balance between growing talent within the club and unearthing young talent and developing that. As opposed to going out and finding big names, is that something that you do as well? Is that challenging, is that part of the work that you do?
RS: You know, that is the challenging part in the sense that to get junior athletes, this is a personal opinion of mine; is that I find there’s too much of involvement through coaches and managers at a junior level. That has expectations or demands, if I can put it that way, that really is not needed in the sport. We can recruit youngsters, but unfortunately there’s always the obstacle of their coaches.
So with the Spar series at the moment, we’ve taken on two of the junior athletes, we’ve taken them onto our club structure and we take care of them. We look after their flights and everything, so it is a bit of a challenge, juniors are a bit of a challenging point at the moment.
BB: And athletes getting poached by other clubs? That must also be quite difficult, particularly ones with bigger budgets?
RS: You know what Brad, we’ve been, I’m fortunate I’ve been a couple of years in the business. You’ll get some and you’ll lose some. But I think we at Boxer Athletic Club, I call myself a shortlist schools club, 10, 21, marathon. We only had Tanith now going into the Two Oceans, I think there’s enough talent out there. We take care of our athletes and I’m sure if you take care of your athletes, then they’ll show their loyalty.
BB: Rhyn, I think you’re doing amazing work with Boxer, congratulations, your athletes are incredible. Every time I chat to one of them, they’re not just talented runners, but they’re great people. I think they come as a whole package and for somebody in the media, it makes my life so much easier.
So thanks for the work that you’re doing with them. We love watching them race. There are few things better than watching someone at full flight who is talented running. You’ve got a few of them in your stable. Congratulations and continue with the good work.
RS: Thank you very much Brad, thank you.