Sue Hylland
Hylland loves playing the role of “cheerleader” to the Gee-Gees sports teams. Photo: Courtesy of Ellen Bond.
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New director outlines how to improve Gee-Gees program going forward

In August of 2016, Sue Hylland was brought in as director of the University of Ottawa’s Sports Services.

Far from being a simple administrative pencil pusher, Hylland comes from a vast sports background. Not only is she a former university athlete, but she has also spent time working for the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport, and the Canada Games Council.

Hylland’s first months with the program were a feeling-out process, where she tried to absorb as much as she could to help her integrate into the existing Gee-Gees program.

“I think basically what I needed to do was to get on the treadmill with everybody and see how it all works,” she said. “So I have really spent six months jumping on the treadmill, getting to know people, see how we operate here, see how the rest of the university operates, (and) begin to understand the people I work with and work for.”

While Hylland spent her first months getting to know people and the culture of the university, that doesn’t mean she’s short on ideas for how to improve the Gee-Gees program.

Hylland laid out four main goals for the program moving forward, and the first of these is a greater sense of campus unity and pride.

“A big piece of it is working with our other sectors and build this pride in team. We’re all Gee-Gees. It’s not student athletes who are Gee-Gees. There’s 43,000 Gee-Gees on this campus.”

More specifically, Hylland said she would like to establish a university sports atmosphere that’s similar to what they have south of the border.

“When you go down to the states and you go to a big university down there they’re all ‘Wolverines!’ … We need to create that notion—that pride in team—that the Gee-Gee brand is across the university, basically.”

Hylland also mentioned that former students aren’t left out of her vision for the future.

“I also think there’s the pride in team with our alumni. That links in there. So not only across this university do we want to build that we’re all Gee-Gees. We want to make sure all the alumni who come through our programs have that sense of belonging too.”

In terms of sporting events, Hylland mentioned Capital Hoops and the Panda Game as prime examples of how to unify people on campus.

The second goal Hylland outlined was to continue striving for excellence. For her, sports play a key role in cultivating the best on-campus student experience.

“We want to show the impact that participating in, whether our sport varsity, club, or campus rec programs, it helps make friends and creates this sense of community on campus, promotes the school–life balance, and it helps integrate people socially into the campus.”

Hylland would like to see Gees varsity and club teams be perennial national contenders, and she feels it’s up to Sports Services to give them the support they need.

“I really want to focus on building those programs. They’re at the hub of what we do. That’s why we exist … that’s the service excellence we want to provide.”

The third key focus for Hylland moving forward is to strengthen Sports Services’ partnerships with the other services offered on campus, such as food and housing.

The recently unveiled Gee-Gees waffle is just a taste of what Food and Sports Services can accomplish together.

Hylland acknowledges that revenue generation is part of the equation, because that’s how they support the teams and the student athletes.

“I think we’ll be working hard in that area too. And that’s going to require great partners. It’s going to require media exposure. We’ve got to build that profile and visibility of the U of O better, in my mind.”

The final goal for Hylland is to evaluate the internal workings of Sports Services.

“The fourth area … is really how we work together internally in Sports Services in a very strategic way to build this continuous improvement model, where we’ve got our programs at the core of what we do and on the outside we’ve got all the services we want to provide to our core programming.”

Hylland believes it’s important to be in close contact with Student Services and the other areas of campus so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

“It’s a big machine, and it’s trying to weave your way through and understanding ‘do we need to do this, or does this already exist?’ because I find there’s a lot of really good things going on. It’s just trying to find out, ‘do we need to lead this or do we just need to fall in line with what everybody else is doing on campus?’”

Hylland brings up Sports Services’ mental health policy as an example of a case where they want to learn from what’s already being done around campus.

“We don’t have the right protocols in place necessarily. Or we do the right thing, but sometimes you’re doing it just by instinct, not by the fact that this was documented and very clear. So we need to get our ducks in order there. So we’re hosting this mental health session. We’re bringing many of the partners around the university to come and talk about what it is they do.”

Now that she has one academic year under her belt, Hylland continues to push the program forward. She understands that the role of sports on campus is to serve the students, and being around young athletes and fans remains the most enjoyable part of the job for her.

“I love going out and supporting our teams. Because I know those young student athletes are giving a lot of their time and energy to represent our school. So I love to go out there and show appreciation to them and watch them play and see them grow as young student-athletes.”