Home-grown sports center manager relishing new role

EA Networks Centre’s new manager Richard Wood loves his job, and sometimes it takes an hour for him to make it to his desk after coming in the front door.

This is an important time to personally connect with some of his 100 staff or with regular swimmers, gym-goers and others using the four-court stadium.

Their unfiltered feedback is a constant reminder that the aquatic and recreation center is the heart of a vibrant community where people are tending their physical, mental and social health.

Richard has always been passionate about sports. He was a sporty kid who went to Ashburton Borough School, Ashburton Intermediate and Ashburton College, then studied coaching, exercise and sport management at the New Zealand Institute of Sport.

He was a high level competitive water skier and pursued the sport in the United States before returning to Ashburton and becoming a personal trainer, working with high performance athletes, those wanting to get fit or lose weight and people recovering from serious injury or accident. He started out as the sports facility assistant manager in 2014 when the EA Networks Center first opened, and is now relishing the opportunity to take charge of the $35m complex.

The center caters for a range of swimmers and a wide range of sports, from basketball and badminton to walking netball and futsal; it also offers a modern gym and special classes for people recovering from illness or injury, or after having a baby, and runs school holiday programs and adventure time for toddlers.

Richard said the growing range of programs aimed to match community interest and demand, which had changed because of covid.

“The pandemic has changed our perspective on well-being and we know that feeling connected and being physically as well as socially active is so important. Our team here has both energy and experience, and I’m lucky that they are also invested in building on their relationships in the community.”

Community Services Group Manager Steve Fabish said it was great to see Richard progress in the organization to become manager of the facility.

“We really value his knowledge of both the center and the people who visit and work in it. He knows how our community ticks and is proud to be a part of it. It’s also great for others in the sport and recreation industry to see the pathways available to management level.”

An important project that Richard is currently working on is a utilization study to look at the EA Networks Centre, council’s swimming pools and some of the district’s green sports fields to see how they are used.

Mr Fabish said the study’s findings would inform development at the EA Networks Center in the future.

“There are some interesting recreation trends emerging post-covid and we see this as an opportunity to refresh what we do.

“This is a community facility and one of our strengths is that we have great partners to work with, such as Sport Canterbury and Mid Canterbury Netball. Working on the Play, Active Recreation and Sport Strategy recently reinforced that those strong relationships with our user groups are so vital.”