A day in the life of Sean Surmon

As deputy director of High Performance at Maties Sport, Sean Surmon is passionate about helping student-athletes achieve their sporting goals.

As we kicked off May commemorating Workers’ Day, we dedicate this series of articles to our staff and their important contribution to the University. We’ve asked Sean, who has been with Stellenbosch University (SU) for 11 years, to tell us more about his job. 

What does your role at SU entail?

I lead and manage the High Performance (HP) programme of Maties Sport, which comprises eight high-performance sport clubs (approximately 350 student-athletes) and the HP Unit (11 staff members), which is a dedicated service unit to support these sporting codes. Our HP services are delivered by strength and conditioning coaches, who have a mandate to implement performance enhancement programmes in collaboration with the head coaches as well as additional service providers such as performance psychology and Maties Gymnasium. Of course, our offering is also supported by world-class sport technology. 

The HP Unit is dedicated to developing student athletes’ sporting talent through evidence-based programmes and professional services. It operates within a sports talent development framework. The three core areas that guide its day-to-day work are integrated medicine and science, recruitment and retention, and the PACER programme for holistic student-athlete development and support.

My responsibilities include strategic leadership, operational and financial management, quality assurance of performance plans, and serving on the senior management team led by Ilhaam Groenewald, Maties Sport chief director.

What does a typical day at work look like?

After an early-morning run and dropping the kids off at school in Paarl, I drive through to Stellenbosch, sometimes having virtual meetings on the way there.

When I arrive at work, we all check-in with one another and get a kick-start coffee. From there, my days consist of meetings with my staff, sports managers and/or head coaches about performance plans, competition preparation, budgets, or long-term planning for the next season. There’s also some office-based work such as budget planning, and managing monthly payments for services outsourced to internal and external service providers such as Maties Gymnasium, the Campus Health Service, chiropractors, psychologists, radiographers, etc. 

I regularly visit the clubs to assess the practical delivery of our programme and training sessions. Other elements of my job include evaluation, monitoring and reporting on all core areas of the HP programme, and overseeing the sport bursaries and performance reviews of our student-athletes and head coaches respectively. Wherever possible, I prefer to have walking meetings to get out of the office.

How did your education or past experience prepare you for this job?

I obtained my degree in Sport Science in 1995, my honours in Biokinetics in 1997, and my master’s in 2000. I was a part-time Sport Science lecturer from 2000 to 2009. After finishing my master’s degree, I went into private practice and opened my own business as a biokineticist and strength and conditioning coach. I also worked for various companies and sports institutions in these fields. I have had the privilege to work with Paralympic and Olympic athletes since 1997, Team South Africa for the All Africa Games as well as Bafana Bafana, to name a few. I have never attached myself to any one sport. I think this has been key in equipping me with the skills to work across eight different sporting codes today.

What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SU?

My role is diverse, with many aspects that continuously demand creativity to evolve, stay ahead of the pack, and enhance performance. But it is the journey and process that I enjoy. I enjoy working with people and establishing long-lasting relationships, seeing staff grow and develop, and being part of a team who makes a difference in the lives of our student-athletes and coaches.

Tell us something interesting about yourself that few people would expect?

As a child, after trying out every single sport possible, I excelled at gymnastics, pole vault and rugby, while also being part of the drama club and performances at my high school. 

By SU Corporate Communication and Marketing