For two decades, David Joyce operated at the highest levels of sport across Europe, Asia and Australia. As a team physiotherapist, and performance director, he was responsible for ensuring elite athletes were in the best position to succeed. 

David’s 20-year career in sport saw him working with teams around Europe, including the British and Chinese Olympic teams, football clubs Blackburn Rovers (England) and Galatasaray (Turkey), rugby sides Saracens and Western Force, and AFL side Greater Western Sydney. Over time, and after some upskilling, he progressed from physiotherapist roles to head of performance positions, and to co-author of 3 best-selling books on high-performance that have been translated into multiple languages around the world.

Now he’s taking his ability to unlock performance from the locker room to the board room with his consulting agency, Synapsing. Since officially starting the business in 2020, David has used his blend of sporting and business experience to help sports and corporate industry leaders solve complex strategic business and human performance challenges.  

“I am always seeking to illuminate dimly lit areas by bringing expertise often used in the sporting world and applying it to solving problems in the business world, and vice versa” he says. “There aren’t that many people that sit in this niche of having both deep human performance knowledge alongside strategic and decision-making acumen.”

His wide-ranging client list includes sporting bodies and corporate clients in Australia, the US and Britain. Working with businesses in tech, marketing, construction and public relations as well as various start-ups, David helps companies build a stronger strategic decision-making environment and introduces executive leadership to the high-performance behaviours that ultimately add to the bottom line. 

David creates what he calls “corporate athletes,” working with leaders to improve behaviours such as overcoming jetlag and developing better sleeping habits and nutrition, all of which can impact a person's decision-making capability.

He also does broader executive coaching – helping leaders with their career strategy and leadership styles.

David’s 20-year career working in intense, high-achieving setups around the world gave him a front-row seat for what makes the good great in the sports world. And his business knowledge? 

Much of that came from his AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA, which gave him the confidence he needed to make a life-altering switch away from the pitch. 

The science of decision making

David says decision science is a key pillar of developing better decision-making skills.

“I help people use tools to diagnose the context around a decision. It’s about making sure you have a good decision-making process – understanding your biases so they don’t get in the way and then operationalising or executing your decisions. 

“We don’t evaluate the success of a decision purely on the outcome, but also on the process used to get there. It’s about learning, over time, how to make decisions that are more likely to result in good outcomes.”

David says he works “shoulder-to-shoulder” with all his clients, spending time in board meetings to observe what’s going on and coaching individuals and teams. He becomes a trusted external source that provides an unbiased opinion and suggestions.

“You can’t read the label when you’re inside the bottle,” he says. “You need someone who’s not as connected to the business who has more of a 10,000-foot view of it to help guide change. That’s where I come in.  The AGSM MBA helped provide me with the tools, connections, and confidence that I can transfer my skillset out of the day-to-day sporting environment and into the Board Room.  What Synapsing does is a million miles away from the ex-athlete who comes in and regales the leadership with sporting anecdotes.  Our work is about rigour and enhancing sustainable change in people and organisations".

Building a new gameplan

Before he was helping leaders strengthen their strategy and decision-making skills, David was helping athletes score – and achieve – goals at the highest level.

David’s priorities shifted with the birth of his daughter Matilda in 2018 and son Rory last year.

“Elite sport was really good to me,” David says. “But when Matilda was born, my focus changed. I wanted to do more to be a good ancestor – to make sport better for everyone and make a longer-term impact than simply winning or losing matches.”

David had been considering an MBA for 15 years and, in 2019, he finally decided it was time to take the plunge. He went through his own lengthy decision-making process, researching the options available both Sydney, where his family was comfortably based, and around the world.

“I knew I wanted to do it in person, and I placed the most importance on finding a highly reputable program that attracted a diverse group of people. AGSM has a remarkable cohort of people who go on to make a massive impact in the business world, both domestically and internationally.”

David was also looking for a new challenge.

“I wanted to scare the hell out of myself and expose myself to new things,” he says. “I wanted to work with different types of people and backgrounds and learn things that were totally different from what I’d been doing for 20 years.”

After starting the program part-time in 2019, he jumped into the full-time MBA program at the end of the year. And the people David wanted to work with and learn from? He found them quickly.

“I met people that are now lifelong friends,” he says. “I just went to one of their weddings – she and I will still be great mates when we’re old.”

See also: AGSM’s Business of Leadership Podcast: The Business of Sport.


Switching tactics

David says the AGSM MBA’s huge selection of electives allowed him to lean heavily into areas he’d never explored.

“Things like digital strategy, financial statement analysis, law, regulation & ethics – I knew they were important in business, but I wouldn’t have picked up a book and read about them, and they certainly weren’t in my original skill set,” he says.

“I looked for things that would make me uncomfortable. It was humbling to go in not knowing much and having to work hard to understand. It was great to be a beginner again.”

David started Synapsing while doing his MBA at the end of 2019. But midway through 2020, he made a full commitment to the business, using his MBA knowledge to build its operations. His client list has grown considerably since those early days – thanks in large part to what he learned in his MBA.

David says AGSM provided him different angles and frameworks through which to view and analyse problems. He even continued with his learning at AGSM, participating in AGSM’s Strategic and Adaptive Leadership and the Alumni Learn to Lead Short Courses after completing his MBA.

“When I meet with organisations and I hear their problems, I now have the skills and tools to know it’s a capital allocation issue or they need to improve their digital strategy or their marketing outcomes.” 

“Before I would’ve only been able to approach it from a sport perspective. There are thousands of people who have that sport background, but there’s far fewer who have an MBA and can look at business problems and sport problems from both angles.”

The rewards in helping athletes win and helping a business improve are both gratifying to David. And the keys to achieving that success overlap.

“Stress management, anxiety management, how to be a better leader, how to be a better teammate – we can take those from the world of sport, put them into an executive leadership context and help change the productivity and culture throughout an organisation.”

A more level playing field

Today, David not only wants to help people perform their best – but also make the world a more inclusive space for all. 

“One of the major factors in whether or not I take on a project or client is if it has social value,” he says. “I want to help build a world that’s more equitable for Matilda and Rory when they grow up – one that’s not just dominated by the status quo.”

David says his MBA was a line in the sand between his sporting career and his new life in consulting, equipping him with the tools and time he needed to take his first steps toward becoming a better ancestor. 

“It allowed the world to forget about the version of David Joyce who had a whistle in his mouth. My AGSM MBA enabled me to reinvent and relaunch myself – to decouple myself from that identity in my own mind as well. “


To learn more about AGSM’s globally ranked Full-Time MBA program, click here.

To find out more about AGSM @ UNSW Business School, click here.

To hear more, listen to the AGSM Business of Leadership Podcast: The Business of Sport with guest speaker: Danny Townsend, CEO of Sydney FC, on how he adapted and grew Sydney FC during the pandemic and found opportunity amidst challenges.