Yorkshire Jets: Inspirational sports coaches can also leave a lasting legacy

Yorkshire Jets captain Stacey Francis.'Yorkshire Jets in training at Carnegie Sports Arena.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Yorkshire Jets captain Stacey Francis.'Yorkshire Jets in training at Carnegie Sports Arena. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
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Last weekend, in the absence of a match, I held two defensive masterclass sessions on behalf of Yorkshire Jets at Gateways School in Leeds.

I have always been certain that I have never wanted to coach or teach. In my experience, the best coaches who have motivated me have been deeply passionate about what they do. For me, coaching is not a passion, however, something that I do feel is important is to continue to raise the profile of the Yorkshire Jets and, hopefully, inspire the next generation of Superleague players.

I have been lucky in my sporting career so far to have been coached by many passionate individuals, two of whom spring instantly to mind when I think who has influenced me the most. Sheila Perks (MBE) was my very first netball coach at Ryland Netball Club in Bromsgrove which was founded in the 50s by Sheila. Coincidently, in 2009 Sheila was awarded the Community Coach of the Year Award at the UK Coaching Awards (my new company’s main event). In 2012 Sheila was given the Lifetime Achievement award at the UK Coaching Awards along with being named the BBC Sports Unsung Hero for the West Midlands and receiving an MBE for services to netball in the same year!

At the time I was quoted as saying: “I cannot think of a more deserving person to win the Lifetime Achievement Award than Sheila Perks. I am so pleased to hear that she has been honoured as there is no doubt in my mind that without her support and knowledge I would not be playing for England today. Sheila was my first netball coach at the age of 13 and someone who has continued to support me throughout my netball career up until this day. Although I know she does not participate in netball so passionately for the accolades, this award that she has received is a testament to her passion and unwavering support of any netballer’s development. Congratulations Sheila!”

To be honest, I hit the nail on the head then. There is no higher praise that I can give her than crediting her with settling me on a road to international success. Very few people envisaged the girl who spent 90 per cent of netball matches on the floor becoming an England international. She was the master of making things fun and kept me constantly engaged through activities that piqued my competitive edge and challenged my then skill set. I often speak with Sheila on the phone and there is rarely an international match or big domestic game that she hasn’t managed to get a personalised card delivered to the changing room.

Chris McLeod was my strength and conditioning coach for several years whilst I was studying and training full-time at the University of Bath. I told him the following story recently at a wedding we were both at and I found it interesting that he did not necessarily remember the moment I spoke of or indeed realise how much impact it would have …

We tend to play lots of games in netball when we train and also for conditioning purposes. Sometimes they can be fun and more often than not they disguise the fact that you are working so hard. We were playing one such conditioning game one morning and were told to enter the game, have impact, go as hard as you could and then tag out for someone to replace you.

After being involved in the game for a little while Chris pulled me out of the practice and took me aside. He asked me if I thought I was working as hard as I could, to which I replied ‘yes’ and took a little offence. He then replied by saying ‘Are you working as hard as you possibly can? Or are you just working as hard as everyone around you is?’.

I have always been a diligent trainer and I am an avid rule follower. However, what Chris said in that moment really struck a chord with me. I re-entered the game, ran around like an absolute lunatic and tagged out again soon after.

Chris obviously then did not realise the impact of his words. However, going away from that session it changed my whole attitude and philosophy towards training. Many aspects of being a team player are about blending yourself to work better with the people around you for a common goal, however, my athleticism is unique to me.

Chris inspired in me an ability to approach all aspects of my training with an individual mind-set to push myself to the edge of my capabilities whilst attempting to lead by example to those people around me.

Anyone who knows me now I hope would attest to my vigorous approach to training and the intensity that I bring to a group environment, and I can honestly say this is what gives me my edge as an athlete. It is easy to go along with the crowd, especially in a team sport, but are you getting out of things everything that you can? Are you making yourself or those that train alongside you better?

I would hope my behaviour inspires those around me in any sporting environment, especially when I do coach, given my own positive experiences. Who knows whether anything that I said over the weekend resonated with one of the girls, but I would be honoured to have had even a little bit of influence over them.

Round 3 will see us take on reigning Vitality Netball Superleague champions Surrey Storm at a sold-out Surrey Sports Park at 7pm on Saturday, February 12. Check back next week to keep up to date with our on-court progress.