Sport at the University of Glasgow is in very good hands with the recently appointed Keith Joss. The former coach of the Scottish Ladies’ National Hockey Team has brought with him a wealth of experience and new ideas that he hopes will spur sport at the university onto even greater things. Having been appointed to the role in September of last year, he sat down with the Guardian and talked to us about everything from his hockey days to his vision for the future of university sport.
Guardian: So, you come to the University of Glasgow having learned your trade in Hockey. How did you get into it and what was your greatest memory from your time in the sport?
Joss: I played all my life, starting at school before moving onto becoming a PE teacher and have kept it going since. Having played in the national league and the European Championships, it always seemed the natural step to move into the coaching side. I was fortunate enough to coach the Scotland Women’s Team at a European Championships, which was very, very hard work! I also took the Junior Women’s Team to the World Cup in Santiago where we achieved our highest ever finish. I have been very fortunate in my time.
Guardian: Before joining the team at Glasgow, you worked at the Commonwealth Games. How was this and how did it prepare you for the challenges you have had to face at Glasgow?
Joss: Yeah, working across the seventeen different sports really gave me different background knowledge about some I hadn’t ever been involved in before. I was able to bring a lot of that in to this role, in particular in the development of the new facilities and accommodating for all the sports in this new space. We want to not just be okay, but to be at a really good level.
Guardian: And why Glasgow?
Joss: The easiest thing was the opportunity that came up at the right time for me in my life, having just finished the Commonwealth role and having had a wee bit of time to get my sleep pattern back on track – in the six weeks I was involved I didn’t get a lot! Additionally, I was quite excited about the progress that had been made and with the passion that the students show; I could see scope for future improvement.
Guardian: Having been in the job for five months, what would you say is your greatest achievement so far?
Joss: I think it has, so far, really just been about taking time to get to know the clubs, how the operate, their strengths and weaknesses, and really getting my head round how we want to move forward. Having come in after the start of the semester, the allocation of finance had already been done, so it really wasn’t the time for revolution, but to take a step back and work out a plan for the future. For me, we should be in the background supporting the clubs; the students should be the stars.
Guardian: Now looking to the future, what is your vision for sport at Glasgow?
Joss: There are a number of things; we are having good discussions within the management team and can see different routes available to ourselves. We could go down a really performance orientated route and that might be good for some of our sports, but for me, it is about the engagement of the far wider population at Glasgow. I want to understand how it is that people want to use our facilities and we have a lot of work to do in this area – particularly with some of the new and international students coming in who are maybe less sure about the nature of sport at the University. But, if ten people want to come together and play basketball, then that’s great, and if ten want to come and play as part of the basketball club, then that’s equally as great! I think it also important that we really delve into our individually talented athletes and get right behind them; it is often very small things that we can do that helps them, be it the availability of facilities or the ease of access to these, we need to make sure we can get it all lined up.
Guardian: Is it about trying to find the balance between the club sports and the recreational sports?
Joss: Yeah, I think there is some balance to have there and it is also about clubs embracing the recreational users and bringing them more into their fold. One of the things we are doing now is looking at each of the sports and trying to figure out what is the pathway in that sport - a) How does someone new at the University find out about the club?, and b) Have we got the provisions available within the University to look after them or do we need to look for someone from outside the University to look after them?
Guardian: With this in mind, will the new Stevenson facilities be finished in time for the upcoming semester? What would you put the delay down to?
Joss: I think with any building project there is the possibility for delay; they all have their difficulties. From what I know, the aim is still to get them on track. We at the Sport and Rec are already involved in looking at the clubs and trying to allocate space to fully benefit each club.
Guardian: Will you hope that these new facilities see membership numbers improve? Can you guarantee that membership fees will not increase due to the new facilities?
Joss: I think we would always hope to see an increase in memberships, both in terms of the recreational users to the more space available, and in terms of the opportunity to have extended or more training sessions for the bigger clubs. The facilities they are using at the moment are good, but we want to take them to the level above. In regards to membership fees, as my role is more to do with allocating the clubs into the relevant spaces, I am really not too sure. It is too early to call at this stage, and the clubs will need to look into this in more detail.
Guardian: Looking forward to the Taxis Cup in March, how are the preparations going for this?
Joss: I think we are pretty close to being ready to rock. The core sports that we have are in pretty good shape.
Guardian: How do you plan to promote this to the wider community within the university?
Joss: There will a fairly extensive social media campaign and we are looking at ways of announcing squads and key players within those squads. So hopefully, the whole of the University will be part of it, even if not to take part but to be there in support.
Guardian: Will it be a fifth victory on the trot?
Joss: I don’t think there are any guarantees in sport, if there were any, no one would watch! I would say that Tom Gebbie, the GUSA President, is feeling pretty confident and other Universities are more worried about us than we are as them.
And with that guarantee in place, Glasgow can surely look forward to many more successful years under the leadership of Keith Joss.