INTERVIEW with Dr Emma Sherry (Centre for Sport and Social Impact)

Photo courtesy of Emma Sherry
This interview with Dr Emma Sherry shows that sport research is about more than just the sport!

Emma's research is a great example of engaged, sustained academic work that has outcomes directly applicable to improving various developing communities' quality of life.

As an added bonus, she sounds like she has a great time doing it all!

1. How did you end up researching in the field you're in?

After I submitted my PhD in sport governance, I was worried that I would fall in a post-submission heap so gave myself a little project to do to keep me busy.

The project involved looking at the Australian team attending the Homeless World Cup. I stumbled upon the Homeless World Cup via The Big Issue, the street magazine and social enterprise, which really appealed to my inner 'bleeding heart Leftie with a long family history of social justice'.

Back then, I was really drawn to the relatively new idea that sport could be used for something bigger, a mechanism for community development and social change.

I think the lesson that I learned from my change in focus is how important a real passion for your field or area of study is to a successful academic career. I truly hope that my research can contribute to making communities happier, healthier and more inclusive.

Since that 'little project', I have now developed my career in the field of sport for development with a variety of programs in Australia and in the Pacific, investigating how sport can be used as a tool for social change and community development in a whole range of different settings.

For those of you interested, I still teach sport governance and I'm a Director on two state level sport boards, but this is no longer an area that I actively research!

2. What aspect of research do you enjoy the most?

I feel very privileged to work in the field of sport for development. I get to work with people and programs who use sport and physical activities to make their communities a better place, with outcomes focusing on education, health, gender quality, social cohesion and more.

I have also had the pleasure to work recently with the National Rugby League (NRL) and Netball Australia in the Pacific, so got to travel to some remote and exotic locations such as Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Samoa!

3. Do you ever have topic envy? If so, what research topic do you fantasise about?

I am lucky in that I often get to do a variety of different projects under the broad 'sport for development' discipline, so I get a lot of cool experiences.

In the past 12 months, I have flown over 100,000 kms and spent time in amazingly diverse nations. I got to meet some exceptional people. One of the research highlights has been working with passionate people – passionate about their sport and how they can leverage their sport to achieve health and leadership outcomes for their communities.

A terrific example is speaking to women in Tonga and Samoa about the real impacts that the broader participation in netball programs is having on their individual health, the health of their families, and providing them with leadership opportunities in their villages and countries. These women are formidable and inspiring and it's an absolute honour to record their journey through the life of the project. I must also admit that non-research highlights last year included drinking fresh coconuts and the life-changing opportunity to swim with a pair of humpback whales.

I have to admit, though, that I’m more than a little envious of my colleagues who research wine tourism in Bordeaux!

4. What's the best research moment you’ve had?

Sport research is full of very fun moments. During data collection, I often get to be an active observer in the programs, including playing rugby league with little kids in the Papua New Guinea highlands recently. That was a pretty special moment!

But I think the best instances are those where you make a real and authentic connection with your research participants, and have the privilege of sharing and holding their stories.

5. If you were a graduate researcher again, what would you do differently?

I'd probably pick a different topic! :)

6. Do you have any advice to offer on scholarly collaboration and networking?

Go to things!

Not all of the things, but opportunities for professional development and conferences are a great way to find like-minded people to work with in the future.  One of the key things to a successful academic career is finding your 'tribe'.

I also recommend sending an email to an author whose work you have loved - let them know! This career is often lonely and isolated, so make a point of reaching out in person or electronically. Twitter, for example, is great to develop a virtual community all over the world!


Dr Emma Sherry is a Senior Lecturer in the La Trobe University Centre for Sport and Social Impact. She specialises in the area of sport development. Emma holds a PhD from Deakin University. Emma's doctoral studies investigated conflict of interest in the Australian Football League.

Emma’s current research interests include community development through sport activities, undertaking a broad range of research projects with national and regional sport organisations in Australia and Oceania, including Netball Australia, National Rugby League, Australian Football League, Tennis Australia and Hockey Victoria. Other recent research has included access and equity in sport participation, sport in correctional facilities, and sport and recreation for at-risk and marginalised communities.

Emma is co-editor for the Journal of Sport for Development and is on the editorial board of Communications and Sport Journal. Outside of her academic career, Emma has worked in roles in the area of sport facility and event management and recreation management within the local government and university sport sectors.