Leaders in Conversation with Anni Townend

Anni Townend in Conversation with Bradley Pritchard - Founder of The Sporting Way and Ex-Professional Footballer

April 19, 2022 Anni Townend and Bradley Pritchard Episode 29
Leaders in Conversation with Anni Townend
Anni Townend in Conversation with Bradley Pritchard - Founder of The Sporting Way and Ex-Professional Footballer
Show Notes Transcript

In episode 2 of our second series of Leaders in Conversation, we are delighted to be joined by Bradley Pritchard.

Bradley has had an exciting career in football and has gone onto to become the founder of The Sporting Way. A social enterprise which educates and inspires young people to fulfil their potential.

From Zimbabwe to the UK 

Bradley shares his experience of being born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe for the first 10 years of his life before moving to the UK.

Bradley shares that “… It took me a long time to, to adapt, I think I always felt like an outsider. And I still feel like an outsider at times. But I've learned to embrace that, that feeling of being an outsider, rather than trying to conform with the environment trying to appreciate my differences and turn them into strengths”. 

A sense of belonging 

Bradley shares that “It’s one thing to say…just be happy being different. But it doesn’t get rid of vulnerability, that insecurity, of not having a sense of belonging”. 

He shares that it’s important to find someone we can relate with and someone that you can talk with. He believes that once you’re able to do that and accept that we can’t change our differences we can learn to love them. 

“I think that’s when the real strength comes in, because you are then able to see it as a positive.”. 

Breaking down barriers

His mom encouraged him to complete his A-levels before he did anything within professional sport where he went onto have great success. At 25 he shares that he was working as a performance analyst as an intern for Charlton Athletic Football Club and the manager at the time, Chris Powell, offered him a trial as a player.

He shared that “I always talk about the number of young players who stopped playing completely by the time they're 21. So, for me to be able to jump in at 25. I was at that point where I was emotionally mature. So, I was able to cope with the adversity that comes with being a professional footballer.

The Sporting Way and The Dripping Pan

Bradley goes onto discuss The Sporting Way and his return to football at 'The Dripping Pan'. Bradley said that “I have always said that if I'm going to play non-league or play part time football, I want it to be about two things, convenience and enjoyment. Because, football at this point in my life really is just about continuing a love. But it has to fit within the work that I'm doing”.

Before he knew it, he returned to football at the club and also set up a community garden in a corner of the ground which is run alongside volunteers and Michael Kennard who runs ‘Compost Club’ in Lewes. 

He hopes to soon grow the community garden team and bring in people with no interest in football, but who want to grow food, particularly those across a variety of demographics to help increase a sense of belonging.

Listen to the full episode to hear about:

  • The layers of identity and breaking down barriers 
  • Emotional readiness in a 'survival of the fittest' culture 
  • The Sporting Way and The Dripping Pan
  • Learning from your mistakes 
  • Building a diverse community 

Discover more

To find out more about Bradley and about The Sporting Way and how they might be able to support work in your community school or college, or how you could partner and support their work visit The Sporting Way or contact Bradley via email on bradley@sportingway.co.uk

Anni Townend 

Welcome to Leaders in Conversation, a series of podcasts in which leaders share their personal leadership stories, to inspire and to encourage others. 

In this, the second episode, in the second series of Leaders in Conversation, I'm delighted to welcome Bradley Pritchard, whose passions are to connect with people and community to have an impact on future generations, and to help people change their mind-set to be more positive about what is possible. Bradley, welcome to Leaders in Conversation.

Bradley Pritchard  

Thank you very much for having me, Anni. I'm actually really excited to be on this.

Anni Townend 

Bradley, I'm going to be asking you about where you were born, and where you grew up, and how these experiences and subsequent life experiences have shaped you in your leadership, and how you created your passion and purpose for collaboration and community. And your belief that we are not only better together, but together, we can go further.

Bradley, you were born and brought up in Harare, Zimbabwe for the first 10 years of your life. Before moving to the UK. Tell me a little bit about your life in Harare, and what it was like having to move or choosing to move to the UK when you were age 10

Bradley Pritchard  

I grew up with my younger sister, Cassie and my parents. We were very, I’d say, privileged. We were in a comfortable life. I went to St Michael school - for anyone who knows the schools in Harare, in Zimbabwe. And then I went to Hartman House, that's kind of the process really, you kind of go from St. Michael's, then Hartman House and then St. George's. Those are the three schools that if you wanted to really develop in your personal lives, that was the structure, I think that a lot of people would try to follow, so I was really just continuing on that path. 

My dad worked for University of Zimbabwe, as a quantity surveyor. He was a lecturer, as well. And he was doing his PhD. My mom was a computer programmer. Like I say we grew up quite comfortably. Life was as idyllic as a lot of people's childhoods, you know, having the freedom to go out and play and not really being tied down. Then my dad in ‘95, he had an opportunity to travel to work in with Southbank University, and that was to complete his PhD. So, we thought, okay, well, we were going to all move as a family for five years. Wait for my dad to finish his PhD, become Dr. Pritchard, and then we would move back to Zimbabwe, but this was at a time you know, from 95 to 2000 was a time of particular deterioration came to the Zimbabwean political system economy. There were a lot of issues with Mugabe holding on to power and as a result that the country destabilised massively, we then couldn't go back as a result of it. 

I think my folks decided for our safety, for our future, it was better for us to stay. Yeah, that's when we then changed course from thinking we were just visitors to thinking okay, we're actually now going to be permanent residents. So, we stayed here ever since, obviously gone to visit family now and again. And actually, a lot of my family have since left to either go live in South Africa, Australia, United States, Canada. Yeah, we've really spread. I think that's the personal status of where we are.

Anni Townend 

That's a huge change, thinking as a family that you were coming to the UK for your father to complete his PhD and to work here for five years, to then find yourselves as a family realising that you would be staying here and not going back home? What was that like for you, personally, Bradley?

Bradley Pritchard  

Well I guess, as a 10-year-old, you’re not really thinking of anything else apart from your own interests. I was, yeah, I really wasn't happy. I didn't want to leave. I'd established a really good friendship group and a way of life that I was happy with and I didn't want to leave it. I was enjoying my sport, the friends, all these sort-of things. But, I even remember the day my mum told me, because we were never really allowed snacks before dinner. But my mum, actually, on this one particular occasion, she said, “Okay, Bradley, we need to talk,”. So, my sister and I were called over, we were sitting at the dining room table. And she brought us a plate of chips. I think it was, fish fingers and chips, and tomato sauce. Like, if you know my mom, to do that as a snack was like, “Wait… hold on, what's going on?” This was so out of the ordinary. So, she was like, “Hey, come here, have a seat”, and made sure we were comfortable. And then told us, “Look this is what's gonna have to happen. Dad could either be in in the UK without us or we go with him. And we think it'd be good for us to stay together as a family. So, because of that, we're going to leave”. So, I remember then just walking out and just going into the garden and having to think and having a little cry to myself. And, you know, thinking I don't want to do this, I don't want to move countries. I'm going to leave my friends and all these sorts of things. But yeah. As any kid, you kind of adapt. It took me a long time to, to adapt, I think I always felt like an outsider. And I still feel like an outsider at times. But I've learned to embrace that, that feeling of being an outsider, rather than trying to conform with the environment trying to appreciate my differences and turn them into strengths.

Anni Townend 

What would you say to other people who are listening to this podcast Bradley, that they could do to help them when they feel themselves to be an outsider?

Bradley Pritchard  

I think as much as I'd love to give, like, a casual form of guidance when it comes to that, it's totally individual to that person to that person's circumstances to that person's character. I guess it's very important to understand what that person is kind of going through first. To say, okay, how do you celebrate difference? You know, it's one thing to say,well, you know, “Just be happy being different”, but it still doesn't get rid of that vulnerability, that insecurity, of not having a sense of belonging, of having to rely on yourself for that sense of belonging. We're social creatures, aren't we? So, we want to constantly find someone to relate with. And by creating the sense of belonging, we automatically create the other and we don't want to be the other in that scenario. Yeah, it really depends on that type of person. I'd love to say, you know, just celebrate yourself but, there's so much insecurity that comes with being an outsider especially if you can't see the benefits if the initial idea of being the outsider means that you're ostracised or means that you don't have the confidence or you don't have someone that you can talk to then how do you tell someone: “No, it's okay. Just enjoy being by yourself”. It's a process of a first understanding that they are different, then moving on to accepting that they can't change these differences, and then learning to love those differences. But I think once you're able to do that, once you're able to celebrate that, that the notion of being an outsider, I think that's when the real strength comes in, because you then are able to, to see it as a positive in the different forms.

Anni Townend 

You mentioned there, Bradley that having someone to talk to and also having a confidant can be helpful. Who were the people that you talked to in your experience of being an outsider, of not belonging?

Bradley Pritchard  

So, when we moved to the UK, we moved to Penge in South London, and there weren't really other Zimbabweans there. There was a growing Zimbabwean community within North London and Luton, for example, so, I then just gravitated to people who looked like me. And, this tended to be more people from West African backgrounds or, Caribbean backgrounds. So, I was trying to then relate to them. But even still, from a cultural perspective, I was still different. They were talking about things like plantain, they were having arguments between, do they call plantain, plantain or is it plantain? Whereas I had no dog in the fight. I was like, what? Plantain? What's that? What are we? 

But in order to feel, again, that sense of belonging, I then had to pretend that I spoke like them, I ate the same foods as them, but I didn't. So even in that sense, I had a sense of belonging from a racial perspective, I guess, but culturally, no one was eating Sadza, which is one of the things that we have in in Zimbabwe, you know, that was our local dish. I couldn't talk to anyone about Sadza because no one else knew that. So, I then reverted back towards my own family. So, my mom and my dad were, I think my dad in particular, they were two of my confidence. So, we spoke a lot about that, that sense of identity and sense of belonging. So, my mom is from an Indian background, my dad is a black African background. So, in Zimbabwe, when they got together it was Rhodesia at the time. So, a lot of racial tensions, a lot of racial inequalities, which is also one of the reasons why my folks wanted to move as well, because they saw this disparity unfolding. And they wanted to be in an environment where my sister and I could develop our own sense of thought, I guess we could develop our own identities without it being linked to a status. Because for them, when they got married, they were breaking a lot of boundaries. In Zimbabwe, you had to stay within your own race. And even that there was a hierarchy. So, the hierarchy that my dad had compared to Indians, my mom's background, was hugely different. My dad got a lot of racial abuse from my, from my mom's family because of that. So yeah, basically they were very good people to talk to about a sense of belonging and identity, because that experience is on so many levels, my mom was the only person of a coloured background in in her school. My, my dad was an African guy with an English surname, so that again, ostracise him within his community, because they saw him as an anglicised version, just purely because of his background. So yeah, Anni, there were a lot of layers in terms of what our identity was, and also, how I then became a product of that. I think maybe that's, that's when my first foray into empathy started. Because I had to try and understand other people first.

Anni Townend 

Absolutely, Bradley, and the experiences of your parents and how they shaped you and your own experiences of not belonging. How did this shape what you went on to study? What were your dreams and hopes and passions for your future whilst you were being educated at school?

Bradley Pritchard  

I think it was just trying to try to do everything I could as best as I could. I mean my mom, especially, would take us everywhere. I played a lot of sports. You know, during the winter, it was hockey and football. During the summer, it was cricket, and athletics. And my mom gave up a lot of her, pretty much all of her, weekends to just chaperone me. So, I just did everything. From a sports perspective, also, because my family's quite sporty. So, my mum played hockey for Zimbabwe, as a goalkeeper, and then my dad was a professional footballer in Zimbabwe, but it doesn't really pay. So, he then stopped that to actually earn a real living. But he was, you know, a marathon runner and all these things. So, my sister and I are quite lucky because we've got those genetics and sports has always been a huge thing. So, that's kind of where my identity then went into because I then decided I'm just going to play sport. I really enjoyed that. That broke all boundaries, right? Whether it was culturally whatever it was, if you were good at sports, it allowed you a status, it allowed you a voice in a team. And people then engage with you. 

So, I then found I just really threw myself into it. And both my parents were really encouraging so I played representative sports. And, I guess, from being young, I just thought that sport was going to be a huge part in my professional life. I didn't think I would, well I was hoping to become professional footballer, but I mean, I was playing non-league at 16 and then went for professional trials at Crystal Palace Academy I think that was at 17. But, my mom said regardless of whether I was going to be going in or not, I had to finish my A levels first before I did anything within professional sport. So, because she always tells me of a story when I got my A level results and I went back home and she was there and I gave her my A levels and I got two A's and a B. And I said, “Well, there you go! Hope you're happy”. Like, what kind of ungrateful kid does that? I get really embarrassed every time my mom talks about that. But it just kind of reinforced that idea that my mum, she had a plan of okay, if you want to play sport fine, but we make sure that we get our academics. And then once I had that, then I could do what I wanted. But, you know, ultimately getting those A levels allowed me to go to a university like Loughborough, which is renowned for sport. 

I didn't even know what I wanted to do at that point, I just knew that I was good at sport and I liked words. So, I did an undergrad in English in sports science, I thought maybe sports journalism would be a thing. It would be something that I would then go into. I then did a master's in sports science, again, only because I didn't know what I wanted to do. So, I thought, let me just, rather than be pushed into a field, let me just use this indecision to accrue more qualifications. And that gave me a bit more breathing space, I guess, trying to plan what I wanted to do. I then move back to London, and was again, still playing non-league and ended up being given a trial actually, at Charlton, where I was working as a performance analyst, just as an intern. 

And, the manager at the time, Chris Powell said that he'd sent a scout to come watch one of my games, he was impressed, and they'd like to offer me a one week trial. So, I thought, well, okay, I'm 25 at this point, fine. If you want to have me a trial, I'm kind of just looking for a job. But if you want to offer me a trial as a player, cool, I did that. I had that one week trial at the end of our season. And then he said, Yeah, we'd like to offer you a one year deal as a player. So, for me, my dream of being a professional stopped at, say when I was 21, 22. But, to then get that opportunity to play professionally at 25. When I talk to a lot of young people who are in the professional game, we run around a player care programme at Charlton Athletic. I always talk about the number of young players who stopped playing completely by the time they're 21. So, for me to be able to jump in at 25. I was at that point, I was emotionally mature. So, I was able to cope with the adversity that comes with being a professional footballer.

Anni Townend 

That's amazing, Bradley, that, as you say you were you were given that opportunity, but also that in your work with young players, now you're speaking about that emotional maturity to deal with all that comes with that profession, and what are some of the things that really stand out for you in terms of that emotional maturity to be able to cope with that life?

Bradley Pritchard  

When I first had my trial at 18 at Crystal Palace, I was not ready. I wasn't ready to deal with the criticism that was ready for every player for every mistake, you know, the competition, the lack of collaboration, because although you're in a team environment, you're fighting for your career, you know, if you play well, then your position stops someone else playing. So, it's in their interest to make sure that you don't play well. So, you know, it’s the most cutthroat environment, but it has to be. 

I mean, professional sport is by its definition, survival of the fittest. It is, I think, in the ultimate meritocracy and for you to survive within that you really have to keep progressing, keep moving forward, and sometimes it means you've got to be selfish. So, I couldn't deal with that at 18. You know, I was going in still being grateful. I guess even at 25 I went in for my first year, I was still being grateful to the manager for giving me a contract but after a while I had to start demonstrating that I was worthy of playing, you know, I added value and because of that I was providing them also with, with a service that I should be proud of. And so yeah, it was moving away from that idea of being grateful and taking up the opportunity. But that came from a lot of experience, it came from, like I say, being older, and knowing the world a bit a bit more than, than an 18-year-old version of myself.

Anni Townend 

Amazing, and how long were you playing at Charlton?

Bradley Pritchard  

So, I went to Charlton at 25. I was, I was one of the 19 new signings. So, Anni if you can imagine, so I've just been signed for this huge club. And I'm the first signing, have been doing performance analysis on the players who were there. And I have a rough idea of where I could fit. But also, I'm thinking this is going to be tough. Anyway, as the summer carries on, we're signing more and more and more players. And the quality of players that we're signing, their CVs are totally unmatched compared to mine. I mean, you've got league appearances, Premier League interest, all these sort of things, and I'm coming from non-League. Some players are being bought, so they've got huge transfer fees on them. So, my summer went from, “Oh I could play a couple of games”, to thinking, “Oh, actually, I don't I don't know if I'm even gonna make the travelling squad for preseason tour” because we've got such a big squad. So, that first year was a really, really eye-opening experience, but humbling, you know, so, it got me to really focus on myself. And I got another two years as a result of that another two-year deal. So, there for three years and then went to Leyton Orient for two years, and then Stevenage. I was on loan there towards the end of my time at Leyton Orient. 

Well, while I was at Charlton, sort of going off slightly here, but while I was at Charlton, I realised that I was going to fall out of football pretty quickly, because it's so insecure. I would fall out of it before I was ready so, I thought, let me prepare. My undergrad and a Master's things while they gave me an academic background, they weren't necessarily applicable. So, I wanted to go into human rights law. So, I went to law school for four years, part time. And the idea was just to make a seamless transition from professional sport, into working at a law firm, which kind of worked in a way. 

Because, when I then had an opportunity to go into a law firm, I decided to take that up rather than travelling further to another contract. So, I felt like I made the right choice at the time. But then even within law, I then realised that just because I’ve invested four years of time and money into doing this change of course, maybe it wasn't the vocation that I was hoping. So again, feeling like an outsider, of been in the law firm, being in the canteen of the law firm, looking around, seeing other lawyers and paralegals and thinking I've worked really hard to get here but I don't think this is where I want to be. So then after a year I left there and started up SPORTING WAY where I run emotional well-being programmes in schools and youth centres and things like that.

Anni Townend 

So much in your answer is about your becoming yourself thinking about what you really wanted to do. And looking ahead, I have a real sense of you looking ahead as to your future and knowing yourself well enough to know when something wasn't right for you.

Bradley Pritchard  

I realised quite early on, I tended to learn a lot from making mistakes. I, invariably, when I was younger, I would make a choice and realise it was the wrong thing, then have to decide what am I going to be? Am I going to be quite dogmatic and carry this through? Or am I going to be humble and admit that I made the wrong decision and then stop and then try a different path? And it took a long, long time to try and learn from that and be okay with being humble about getting it wrong. And accepting that, that first choice I made wasn't, that wasn't the correct one.

But, hopefully, my ability to risk assess is stronger so I can make less errors. But you know, if I do make mistakes, that's fine. As long as I can learn from them, which is something I try and guide people on. The mistakes are one thing, its whether we, hold out hat, we were accountable, and then we learn from that. If we're able to do that, then I think it's, it's okay to make mistakes.

Anni Townend 

And to learn from them. And this leads me into asking you about THE SPORTING WAY which you went on to form having, as you just said, left the law firm where you have the experience of looking around and a sense of not belonging there. Nobody looking like you and or quite getting you. It would be great, Bradley, to hear more about THE SPORTING WAY especially for listeners who will be interested to know what is THE SPORTING WAY and what does it do

Bradley Pritchard  

So, SPORTING WAY initially started off as a way for me to mentor, but, then I didn't just want to mentor, I wanted to actually provide a bit more substantive value to what I was doing. So, you know, I then started doing a lot more research on emotional well-being and mental health, and I've done some training in that. And I then created emotional well-being programmes, which I started running in colleges, schools and youth clubs and different things from you know, dealing with different types of behaviours, but in alternative provisions, it focuses more on coping mechanisms. 

So, looking at anxiety, having to deal with anger, building social skills. The idea is using sport and play as a way to engage with children and young people. And then once you have that engagement, then developing social and personal skills that will give the children and young people a better idea of how that could help them. 

You know, I certainly try and stay clear from the use of empowerment, because I think there's a bit of a slight patronising thing that comes through that, but it's more just trying to, to be a better example and help people. So, I guess, that's maybe where the collaborative thinking also comes in. Because, you know, I'm not saying you should do exactly what I do, because I understand that I've had a huge privilege from a personal perspective. You know, my family background as well, has helped me has given me that security, that grounding. 

So, I know everyone's lives, and backgrounds are different. But if we can offer a way to educate, then certainly I use, like I say, sport and play as one of those ways. And my coaches who now run sessions alongside me or separately, that's one of the principles of what we do, you know, it's to be the leader that we want others to, to kind of follow on, because if we haven't got that, if we don't exemplify that kids will, and young people, will see straight through that.

Anni Townend 

Absolutely, Bradley. I know that we're not able to see each other, but I am smiling wholeheartedly. And as we draw our conversation to a close Bradley, I wanted to ask you about the DRIPPING PAN, which may be known to some listeners, but a lot of listeners will have no idea what we're talking about.

Bradley Pritchard

They’re missing out, they’re missing out immensely.

So, I have always said that I don't, if I'm going to play non-league or play part time football, I want it to be about two things, convenience and enjoyment. Because, football at this point in my life really is just about continuing a love. But it has to fit within the work that I'm doing. That then was thrown real curveball when Lewes sounded their interest, but more so because our manager then moved to Lewes and I liked the way he plays and he said, “Would I be interested in going to Lewes?” and I thought well its very far, it's very unlikely that I'll go.

I spoke to the people there. And I don't know how but we ended up saying, well look if you can kind of tie in with the community work that I'm doing, then I'll be more interested. And before I knew it, I was given a plot of land, I say given the plot of land, I was allowed to use a corner of the ground, which is actually quite a good space to set up a community garden. I already helped set up one in Lewisham, where I live, so, I was I was quite keen to do that at the football club. Firstly, because I don't think any other clubs at our level higher actually have a community garden within the stadium. But also, it gave me more of a sense of purpose. So, if I was going to be at a club, I would do more than just play you know, I need to try and immerse myself in the community which is a lot more difficult to do when you when you're an hour, an hour and a half, away from it. 

But yeah, I’m now coming up to about 10 months or so I've been there and this season alongside the help of a lot of volunteers and Michael Kennard who runs compost club in Lewes. We've established the garden, and we've now started growing things. And hopefully very soon, the idea is to really grow the community garden team to bring in more people who have no interest in football, but have an interest in food and growing and trying to merge and trying to work with different demographics within the community to, again, increase the sense of belonging. 

So, like I say, well not everyone may like gardening or not everybody like football, there's still that mutual connection that they have based on that community garden. And, yeah, yeah, so that that was that was a thinking, I think the, the DRIPPING PAN is quite a unique place in general anyway and Lewes, the football club. I didn't think I would be as into it from an emotional perspective as I am. Emotionally invested, I guess, in a non-League club, you know, I don't really need to be. But yeah, I think the way they go about things has drawn me closer to them.

Anni Townend 

It's great that you are, Bradley, for the community. And for listeners who don't know, Lewes Football Club is wholly owned by its members. It's a not-for-profit Football Club. As we come to the end of our conversation, Bradley, what three things would you encourage leaders to pay attention to in their communities? In their organisations? 

Bradley Pritchard  

What three things? I certainly think communication is a huge thing communication of, of different voices. It just stops any groupthink group thinking and so ensuring that there's constantly a diverse opinion, or that there are diverse voices, especially the ones who you never really hear from, that could be either due to status within the organisationor whatever

Openness, allowing people to make mistakes and not feel judged. Because that can maybe stifle someone wanting to admit that they've made a mistake. 

And empathy. Yeah, very much empathy, trying to understand other people, other people's motives.

Anni Townend 

Thank you, Bradley. Three great things to pay attention to. Thank you so much for being in conversation today, Bradley.

To find out more about Bradley and about THE SPORTING WAY and how they might be able to support work in your community school or college, or how you could partner and support their work. Do go to the website THE SPORTING WAY, or contact Bradley via email on bradley@sportingway.co.uk Or give him a call on 07540170990. To listen to more Leaders in Conversation do go to my website, annitownend.com. If you would like to be a guest on Leaders in Conversation, please contact me via email on anni@annitownend.com. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for listening. And thank you very much, Bradley.

Bradley Pritchard

Now thanks so much and it's been a real pleasure.

Anni Townend 

Thank you