Last Updated on July 21, 2021
Interview with Dr. Maylon Hanold
Bryan of SportsDegreesOnline.org connected with Maylon Hanold, who has an impressive athletic and academic career. Her experience in outdoor sports has helped her gain interesting insights about Covid and the effects of the pandemic on the Sports and Outdoor Industry. She also gives great advice for people looking at different sport management programs.
About Dr. Maylon Hanold
Maylon Hanold is Director of the Sport Business Leadership program at Seattle University. A former olympic athlete, Maylon has taught courses in sport leadership, sport sociology, women and sport leadership, and organizational effectiveness. Her leadership research focuses on leadership development, authentic leadership, and empathy as a leadership skill.
Bryan: Dr. Hanold, please tell us about your journey into the world of sports business leadership.
Dr. Hanold: Being an educator has been a calling for me. Prior to being in higher education, I was a teacher in secondary education for English and French. I also helped run a lot of outdoor education programs, taking kids out into the wilderness, rafting, canoeing and sea kayaking. My journey into sport management was a desire to merge my passion for sport and education, so I thought ‘How could I be an educator in the space of sports?’ The idea of teaching sports management emerged, and I thought that if I wanted to teach in higher education I would need to go back and get my doctorate. I decided to do that at Seattle University, where they offered an educational leadership doctorate. That seemed pretty good because I wasn’t going to leave Seattle, and they offered exactly what I was after, which was flexibility. I could focus on leadership and make sport sociology and leadership my specialty, which I did.
I did research about how women experienced sport, how they experienced their bodies in sport, and what that meant for leadership, empowerment and things like that. After getting into Seattle University and doing the program, serendipitously, the sports management program at Seattle Pacific University moved to Seattle University and became housed in the college of arts and sciences. After graduating in 2008, I started teaching in the program.
Bryan: That’s incredible timing.
Dr. Hanold: I taught part time for two years and have been teaching full time ever since 2010. Sometimes when you have a passion, those things just happen. You can’t predict them. They just work out.
Bryan: Were you still teaching while you were doing your doctorate, or did you stop to do your doctorate full time?
Dr. Hanold: I was doing my doctorate while teaching full-time. It was hard, really hard. But the program was set up for people who were working and for people who were already in education. For example we would have these boot camp type classes in summer when most of us were off for summer. During the academic year, classes were either during evenings or on weekends. I can’t say any of it was easy.
Bryan: Getting back to your roots a little – and after reviewing your biography – I see that you have extensive experience as a competitive athlete, and you even participated in the summer Olympics in Barcelona. Can you talk about your experiences as a competitive athlete and the impact those experiences had on the person and the journey that you have chosen in your professional world?
Dr. Hanold: Gosh, I think there are so many experiences that have impacted me professionally, but one of the things that comes to mind: excellence and doing your best is never a solo journey. Also, somewhere along the way, there has to be joy. I remember one year I had trained really hard, things were going well and I was performing well leading up to the race season. I was really looking forward to it, but it turned out to be my worst season ever.
Like most athletes, I thought I needed to focus on winning more, bare down and work harder. I thought if I did that, I would develop the mental fortitude and all the things I needed to win. As it turns out, that focus made me really grumpy. I alienated many of the people I trained with because I was really grumpy. I would be mad and upset, and I even lost all joy in paddling. I realized after a few months that this hyper focus on winning was crazy, I wasn’t enjoying it. Something needed to shift. What shifted was my mindset- that it wasn’t all about winning. Winning is a great, big picture motivator, but it’s a bad daily implementation strategy.
What shifted was my mindset- that it wasn’t all about winning. Winning is a great, big picture motivator, but it’s a bad daily implementation strategy.
What I learned was that you need people. You need to work together, help each other, push each other and ask the right questions to improve. What are you eating, how are you training, what are you doing for anaerobic stuff, what are doing in mental training? You have to share all those details of the process. It’s about the process and journey. When you bring other people into the process, it’s not a solo journey. You need those friends and mentors to push you and give you perspective. You also have to bring the joy back. You have to go and run the river together and do fun things together besides training and work.
I also started learning French so I could train with the French. I really liked the way they thought about paddling and white water. It just really opened up these doors and made me realize that bringing people into your circle is important because that is where the magic happens. Again, winning is a great thing that you can put on the wall as a reminder of your goals. You want to go to the Olympics and be a part of this big thing but on a day to day basis that can’t be your big motivator because you end up seeing things in black and white. Either you won or lost that workout. That practice was great or that practice was horrible. But you can’t do that. It’s too simplistic.
What I really learned is how to focus on all the things I could control. Winning is something I can’t really control because it always involves other people. What I can control is my process, preparation, what I am focusing on and these small detail things. What small skill am I going to focus on, what technical capacity am I working on today? It takes an enormous amount of preparation and planning, organization and really learning to see all the nuances- to really see that no one workout or race is all bad or good. You may think, “I did a hundred things well but there were a few that I didn’t do well and now I know what they are and can identify them.” Now your picture becomes a lot more about owning the process and all those different things.
So how does that impact me today? Teaching in this program and now being Director of this program, I’ve always been focused on student experience. What are all the aspects of that? What makes for a great student experience? They want to learn. They want to feel like they belong. They want to gain skills. There are all these parts, the elements of a great student experience. What I think I learned is I really focused on those processes. I look at all the pieces and parts and figure out what went well and what’s not going so well.
As a director I apply that same mentality. You have to be incredibly organized in mapping things out, never just wing it. If there is one thing I’ve learned being an Olympic athlete is about planning, planning, planning, learning, learning, learning, do, do, do, and so on. Having a well thought out plan allows you to see the nuances of the process, what works and what doesn’t, because you’re already thinking in those terms. I take those things into the work I do today.
Bryan: Can you tell me about some of your professional experience in the sports industry?
Dr. Hanold: My professional area has mostly been in the outdoor industry. I haven’t come from working for a professional team. But I did a lot of different types of jobs in that industry. I worked in outdoor retail, a small independent shop in Seattle for a few years. I was a ski mechanic, I helped in keeping the books, and I helped develop a lot of their early sea kayaking clinics on Lake Union. I also worked for kayak companies in Washington and British Columbia as well as worked in outdoor education programs in secondary schools. I would try and work six months out of the year so I could go race and train the other six months.
Bryan: Looking at the outdoor industry compared to the mainstream sports industry, what things would you say are similar and different?
Dr. Hanold: With the outdoor industry, so much of what you are doing is helping people participate in those sports. You’re providing all these services and or gear so that people can participate. But the sports industry is broad. It certainly includes participation like events and makers of sports gear. But a big part of the sports industry includes the fan side of things. Here you’re working to create an experience, both on social media and in real-time events, for fans. So, there’s this participative side and also this fan side of the industry. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they are really quite distinct engagements with sport.
Most of our students come in because they’ve played sports but they’re also fans. From there they have to decide what side of the business they want to pursue. Those things are a little different but are really integral and complementary. I might not know all your NFL stats or who in baseball is ahead or behind in the standings. I tell my students that I’m not going to know nearly as much as they will about these kinds of things because that piece isn’t necessarily my world. But I can bring to them a whole other perspective about participating in outdoor, extreme or lifestyle sports.
The things that are prominent in these sports are really important to understanding the larger picture of the sport industry as a whole. What we see is the passion for sport is a driver no matter what perspective you’re coming from. But we can also explore differences. I think they appreciate these things.
Bryan: The next question I want to ask you is about the change we’ve seen in the last year. Covid has obviously changed the world, turned it upside down. About the participatory part of the sports industry, we’ve obviously seen an explosion of interest in things like biking, kayaking, hiking, etc. This is probably one of the busier years that we’ve seen as far as people getting outside and being active. Looking at the future and the next ten years, what are some of the trends that you expect to evolve, and how might things look different or similar to what we have seen recently?
Dr. Hanold: One of the things we might see last is what you’ve said, people wanting to get outside and participate. The outdoor industry has actually exploded, you can’t even find a mountain bike. You can still get running shoes. But we may see it have a big impact in lifestyle and outdoor sports in terms of people taking them up and doing those kinds of things.
There may be further pressure put on national parks and trails especially those near big cities. I think we’re going to need more advocacy work in terms of how we play in those spaces. I think we’ll see more collaborations between organizations- those that oversee the lands and those organizations who build and maintain the trails. Leaders in the space have been mountain bike organizations. They’re extremely organized and work very well with national forests. Also, ultra-running entities who put on races. They work well with public land organizations. I think we’re going to see more of that kind of collaboration make a difference in terms of who has access- there will be interesting developments here.
In terms of the fans and spectating, we’ve seen a complete shutdown of what was normally happening. For the most part fans haven’t been able to go to games, except in a very limited way. I think we’re going to see sport rebound in a pretty powerful way. People like being together and gathering, whether it’s gathering to participate or go watch a game.
What I think we will see is a different attentiveness to the health and safety of people. When we used to talk about risks at the stadium we were worried about the earthquake or the fire and now I think it’s going to be a daily thing, event by event. People will want to feel that the space is safe. It’s going to vary by city, event and who decides to participate. Venues, cities and sports will have to understand what it means for their fans to feel safe when coming to games and events. Even thinking about marathons and those participatory events.
What is it going to take for people to feel safe there? It may vary and organizations are going to have to be really in tune to what that means. So I think health and safety is going to be something that sticks with us for a while and what that looks like is going to be really specific to each sport and venue.
Bryan: Great insight, thank you for touching on that. The next question, shifting gears a little, looking at the field of sports management now. It’s probably very overwhelming for young people out there who are trying to choose an undergraduate or a master’s program. What advice do you have for how young people should be vetting sports management programs?
Dr. Hanold: One of the things that is maybe not so obvious, people need to figure out “who am I?” Do they need to be near home, family and support systems? Do they want to choose a place that is within a five hour drive of where they live or are they willing to move across the country? Do they like that excitement and are willing to drop themselves into a whole new place with the mentality of “home is where I am?” It’s interesting – location and geography can be really critical. Are you an east coast or west coast person and answer that question honestly. It’s important because going to graduate or undergraduate school is a big time commitment. You need to consider what works well for you.
The second thing I think is important, how do you learn best? What are you looking for? Do you like a cohort system, do you like online, do you want to be anonymous and go into something bigger where you can pick and choose and do your own learning or do you like small group learning? How do you learn best?
Really look at programs and see how they teach, what they do best, what their culture is like and how they go about creating that space and their learning experiences. Are you the kind of person who wants to complete a graduate program in one year and get it out of the way?
Alternately, do you want to immerse yourself and head to a two year program because you want to take your time and create those friendships and networks? Considering what kinds of learning work best for you is important. One good example is when I got my master’s. I was looking for something really quick. I didn’t want to spend two to three years doing it. So I chose a one year program. Everyone’s different.
The third thing – don’t only look at course offerings side by side, but also look at program offerings. What are other things about the program that sound good, that would be a good fit for you and your career goals. Put those things side by side. Most sport management programs are going to give you an array of skill sets and content knowledge, but some are going to be specialized. For instance, in event management, sales or marketing. It comes down to where your particular interests lie. Put your top 3 programs side by side and start to think about it at those levels.
Bryan: That’s good advice. In the same vein, looking at the professional world and the wider sports industry, what advice do you have for recent graduates who are entering the professional world these days?
Dr. Hanold: Let’s say you’re focused on being a vice president of marketing, that’s a great motivator but it’s not a great daily implementation plan. So whatever job you currently have, do it and do it well. Never think that individual tasks aren’t going to help you meet your goal. It’s like when I was training for the Olympics. Every single task you do in whatever job you have will help you meet your goals. It’s about establishing a process for excellence and getting better and learning. How are you soliciting ideas? Especially if you are moving into a leadership role, how are you creating networks, collaborating, understanding complexity and nuances? Every job has those things. So do that job where you are right now and understand that everything is going to contribute to the future you. The future is about focusing on the right here, right now – doing the job you have/get as best you can and never closing off doors.
Bryan: That’s excellent advice. Having done lots of interviews with department heads and directors of sports management programs at different universities, it certainly seems like there are more men than women at positions like yours. Can you talk a little bit about how you found your way through the gender dynamics of this field and what advice do you have for other candidates that are hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Dr. Hanold: That’s a great question. Since my research has always been at the intersection of gender and leadership and women in sports, I think what has been helpful has been my ability to contextualize.
If I run into challenges, naysayers or experience things, I know and can recognize all those behaviors as being part of some larger system of gender ideology rather than a personal thing about me. That doesn’t make it easy, but it does help me frame and understand what is happening rather than think it’s me. I am able to see those things as outside of my control. But there are also lots of things that are in my control so my focus is on pursuing those things.
What advice would I give? I think the more we can be educated about what is systemic versus our own individual things that we need to work on can be helpful. It can actually be very frustrating to learn about systemic bias, but it helps us see those as larger things outside of ourselves. We can also help identify when we really need to stand up for ourselves. Not that I do that well all the time because it can be hard. But every so often I realize, this is where I need to stand up, this is where I need to advocate, and this is where I need to ask for help and where I need to build my own resilience.
Where is my own ability to bounce back when I don’t succeed at something I set out to do? How do I pick myself up again? When you can contextualize what is happening to you, you know it’s not all you and you start to work at both ends. You start to work on things you can do to change the system and what you can do yourself to keep navigating the imperfect system.
Bryan: Great advice. I want to give you a chance to talk a bit about the program you’ve developed at Seattle University. Can you talk about what separates Seattle University’s sport management program from other similar programs?
Dr. Hanold: What separates it is what I consider the three pillars of what we do. The first, we are housed in a business school which is AACSB accredited and only thirty percent of business schools in the US get that accreditation. What we’ve done with this program, being housed in the business school is integrate some of our core professional MBA classes. That’s uniquely Seattle.
These core MBA classes are not siloed. You don’t just take finance or accounting. Our approach is integrated problem solving. There may be a couple challenges you are working with in a class and then you’re going to have a finance professor who gives you the lens to help solve the problem. Then an accounting person is going to come in and show how they might solve that problem. Then the students start to look at problems with integrated solutions. I think that’s really unique, leveraging what our business school does well already.
The second thing, we are now going to integrate the professional side of the industry whether that’s a guest lecturer, industry professionals giving or evaluating assignments and creating a truly collaborative partnership with the professionals of Seattle. The walls between academia and the industry are more permeable with this new direction.
The third thing is diversity and inclusion. We are partnering with Seattle organizations to provide fellowships for all of our students in the second year. These partnerships are built around a really strong commitment to being a game changer when it comes to changing the face of the industry. We want partners to provide opportunity and access to this kind of education and roles in sports organizations to underrepresented groups. What is unique is not our commitment just to having a diverse student body but having the entire experience be inclusive. A piece of that is helping teach ally-ship. It’s not like the whole program is going to be all women, people of color, or first generation immigrants. There will be those of us in dominant groups, those who are white and those who are men. The idea of allyship will focus on what it really means to be in this space and create inclusive workplaces as peers and future leaders.
We view inclusion as a fundamental leadership skill set, comprised of its own subsets of skills. We have five courses dedicated to leadership and one of them is diversity and inclusion. We have a women in sports leadership class which we’ve been running for seven years now. We have three other leadership courses, two that are a part of the MBA and one that is just developing leadership. So we don’t want to teach you about leadership, we want you to develop it. Having the backing of the Seattle sport industry is critical to lending validity to that. These unique partnerships and guaranteed fellowships is a big part of that.
Bryan: Professor Hanold I also want to let you talk a bit about the book you have written. Literally, you wrote the book, Women In Sports. For women in the sports industry, this might be a book they should check out. Can you talk a bit about that project and who might be interested picking up that book?
Dr. Hanold: Women In Sports was definitely meant to be an overview, a reference handbook. What’s been the history of women in sports? What I tried to do in that book was not just make it about professional sports. So there are different voices that come into play and histories that people may or may not know about. Again, I included voices from the outdoor space, professional space, the legal space. For example, The Pedestriennes, those women in the late 19th century who would do these twenty four hour walking races. Also, what were some highlights of the political history of women in sport. What have been the barriers and challenges? How have women worked through those challenges and addressed a wide array of different sports, different ways to be involved in sports and to be a leader in sports? I think the book offers a nice entree into that. It also offers highlights organizations that are advocates for women in sports. It gives you a great list if you want some support or learn more about women playing and working in sport. It’s a book you don’t necessarily read cover to cover but a really good resource to learn a little bit at a time.
Bryan: My last question for you. Are there any books, podcasts or other media you would recommend for those trying to stay ahead of the curve in the sports industry?
Dr. Hanold: I do. One of the podcasts I listen to is Life in the Front Office with Jake Hirshman and a few other people. Those are just good stories. Some are about professional development, some are related to a particular focus, and you can kind of pick and choose what to listen to. The other is Front Office Sports. That one helps me keep updated business-wise with what’s going on.
The other thing I do too is look outside of sport, especially when it comes to leadership. One of the hardest parts of work that you’ll do is when you make that leap to manager or supervisor. I actually listen to four different podcasts from Harvard Business Review. I listen to Race at Work, Women at Work and some other general ones on leadership and management. I think it’s good to look outside of what your industry is doing to gather other ideas.
Bryan: Thanks for those recommendations. I’m going to have a look at them myself. Thanks again for answering those questions, you’ve been incredibly generous with your time.