For something different, I’m not going to talk about the game V Thunder on Saturday. I started writing my analysis, and seemed to be banging on about the same stuff I have in most of my other match reports. Too many unforced errors, lack of consistency, our inexperience......then the real positives of another great effort by our young defenders, Laura Wilkie really stepping it up in the absence of Kiarah Woodbridge, and the promising debut of young, emerging shooter, Brooke Fitzgerald. Just before I move on though, we did win the third quarter, and took the bonus points after a really nice solid 15 minutes of netball.
Today, I want to talk about loyalty. It’s such a broad yet prickly topic, and it’s definition in netball (or sport in general) can become very blurred. It is defined in the dictionary as:
Loyal: giving or showing firm and constant support or allegiance to a person or institution.
Me, I am fiercely loyal to this Region. Always have been, both as a player and as a coach. To my team mates, to my coaches and to the players I coach.
Loyalty has to be a two way street. One can be loyal to their club, association, school.....but this needs to be reciprocated by providing the best available opportunities to the players. We as officials and administrators, have an obligation to make sure we are seeking professional development opportunities to coaches, so that the standard is always rising, and adjusting to the current climate of sport in general. We need to do our utmost to ensure players well being is looked after and managed, to retain and develop the future generation of players. We also need to protect our players, to keep them away from the negativity that the politics of sport can sometimes bring. It just needs to be about the athlete, from the beginners, to the players who just want to play with their friends on a Saturday or at school, to the players who have dreams and aspirations of something bigger. There is a place for everyone in this sport, and loyalty will be rewarded by the organisations who are constantly seeking ways to grow, improve and promote a positive and inclusive culture. We are all volunteers, but at the end of the day, you put your hand up to do a job, take ownership, be accountable and strive to be a positive and productive member of your team.
Sometimes though, we will have players who need more, who need to be supported in seeking better opportunities. It could be a player at club level, who is so far above the standard of her peers, she is no longer enjoying the game or being challenged by it. Do we let the “tall poppy” syndrome creep in, or do we guide and support this player to a team, possibly at another club, to keep striving to reach her potential? It could be a representative level player. A move to a larger association playing in a higher level, or to follow a coach can often be a sore point. It often leads to negative discussion, unfair comments directed to both the player and receiving organisation.
Before we go any further, I have actually been here. As a parent and as a coach. It’s difficult and it’s tough.
Here is my story.
As a parent, I had to assist my daughter in making such a decision. She wanted to pursue something bigger. She has dreams, goals and aspirations. To do this, she had to move into a team in another Region. As a parent, I want to 100% support and back her up in what she feels she needs to do. We couldn’t offer her the next level of netball here on the Darling Downs.
This decision presented a problem to me as a coach. Here I had a key player for the Panthers for two years, wanting to fly the coop. Not only a valuable player on the court, but a leader and a mentor with all her experience she bought from being a member of Qld teams and having the exposure to High Performance coaches and support staff. I’m not going to lie, it was going to hurt. As a coach, I needed to self-reflect. Was the Panthers the environment for this player, who happened to be my daughter, the best environment to keep her moving and thriving? Was I enough for her as a coach anymore, or did she need somebody else to bring her to the next level? Was I being selfish wanting to keep her here, because she was a product of the Darling Downs Pathways and I felt we “owned” her?
My answers (after about 5 minutes of realistic deliberation) were no, no and yes. It was time to let go. And she hasn’t looked back. But at the end of the day, she is grateful for the opportunities Darling Downs Netball gave her, and will always be a Panther at heart. It gave her the entry level into State League that she needed to gain recognition by other coaches in the big smoke. It also taught her to be humble. It’s tough being a Panther. They work damn hard and the results don’t often show it on the scoreboard. She will take that work ethic with her wherever she goes. That for me is a measure of success.
My point is, as a parent, and as a coach who loves this Region, I made a decision that I thought acted in the best interest of my child AND player. It wasn’t easy, but both Mia and myself were open, honest and transparent in this whole process. I have never questioned my loyalty to netball on the Downs, or thought less of Mia for wanting to pursue something bigger.
As a coach, I afford the exact same courtesy for any player here on the Downs who wants to go and try for something more. I feel in a round-about way that’s my job. To get our players to be the best version of themselves and prepare them to take the next step, if that’s what they want to do. I am happy to have conversations with coaches from other regions to look for a right fit. At the end of the day, we aim to build good relationships built on trust and mutual respect, so if the day comes they gain selection elsewhere, we can be proud of what they achieved and say “she was a Panther”. Unfortunately, there have been a handful of players/parents who don’t come and have the conversation, and cause division and hurt by not being honest and open in their pursuit of something bigger. I’m sure people have their reasons, and at the end of the day they have to live with their choices. My choice is to wish them all the best, and then open the door to the next player working through the pathways, to give them opportunities that are now available to them.
Sometimes parents, in conjunction with their child, makes decisions. Mostly, they are thought out, have good reasoning and at the end of the day are made because they are wanting to pursue the best opportunities they perceive available for their child.
I hear plenty of stories from other regions about association hopping, coaches taking whole teams from one association to another, the persistent “poaching” of players. Hell, I even hear the stories here. I’ve had the finger pointed at me more times than I can remember for poaching or manipulating players to move to my association. I don’t even acknowledge it anymore. I got tired of trying to explain to people that it’s a choice. That maybe they need to focus on why people are seeking something else. We work damn hard in our association. It hasn’t happened overnight. It’s taken 6 years of hard yakka, surrounded by a community of people who have shared and invested in our vision. I’m not going to apologise to anyone for that. I have had players from smaller associations make the move to our association. I always encourage them to still be a part of their home town, by playing in the local comp, or doing some coaching to the next generation. You should never forget where you came from.
At the end of the day, people will tell people what they want to hear. And it’s not always the truth. I feel this is the single biggest divider in our sport. My advice, from personal and professional experience is to be honest. I know it’s hard sometimes to be honest, it’s much easier to say “I was asked” or not say anything at all. Give respectful, constructive feedback to the club/association that you are leaving. Organisations can’t improve or move forward if they unaware of the factors why players are choosing to go elsewhere. Organisations will harbour bitterness towards the club/association gaining the player, which just causes further divide.
Whilst we will never live in a perfect world, we can make our Region a better place simply by having conversations. Being honest. Working hard to make our netball communities progressive. Seeking out development opportunities for officials and committees. Surrounding ourselves with positive people who share a passion for this sport. Most importantly, reduce our instinct to pass blame when things don’t go our way.