I’m waiting in an empty sports hall for my session to begin and I’m terrified. I don’t know where the equipment is, I don’t know the names of any of the girls I’m about to be meeting, I’m a hundred miles away from the club in which I’ve been coaching for the last 8 years and I’m starting to doubt myself regardless of the success we had enjoyed there. I have no idea how good the girls will be and it probably says something about my current state of mind that I’d rather they were absolutely awful than utterly brilliant. At least then I’d have something to teach them. It’s hard to remember the last time I’ve felt this uncomfortable on a netball court and I can’t deny that at this moment I’m wishing I was back in that cosy little Sussex bubble with those girls I’d seen grow, whom I had taught everything they knew and who had exceeded our expectations exponentially over eight special years. And I’m cursing my husband for getting a new job and uprooting us all to this new and unknown outpost of the country.

The session was, of course, a bit of a disaster. I hadn’t pitched it quite right and by the end it was clear the girls were pretty underwhelmed by me and I still had no real grasp of their names, let alone their potential, so it was lucky for me that the timing of this new challenge coincided with the launch of the new England Coaching website. I was quickly inspired by all the great new stuff about stretching yourself on the England Coaching platforms, so refusing to give in quite yet, I decided it was time to experiment and take some risks. What I slowly began to realise was that in 8 years at my old club I had become comfortable doing what I was doing and not in a good way.  Success can lead to many things, most of them good, but when you’re comfortable where you are it’s so easy to stop challenging yourself and I had no idea until I stepped out on to that unfamiliar court that evening just how complacent I had become.

And here’s the thing, despite that first session seeming to be an unremitting disaster, I realised I had left it absolutely buzzing. I was bursting with things I wanted to share with these girls and ideas I wanted to try but even more than that I was ready to start learning again myself and that’s what had led me to the website. Let’s face it, we all know as coaches just how hard it is to find the time or energy to get out there and explore new ideas and, when we feel we don’t need to, then the chances of us taking the plunge are even smaller.  So it was a shock now to face the reality that the cosy little bubble I’d been coaching in had actually been standing in the way of my development as a coach. Was I brave enough to do something about it?

I took a deep breath, found my courage and started asking people if I could come and watch their sessions. And the thing is – the netball community is incredibly welcoming and almost everyone said yes! So, I’ve been to watch sessions with coaches teaching everything from primary High 5 to Super League, and I’ve even gone to watch other sports. Everyone I’ve met, however high a level they have been coaching at has been utterly charming and willing to indulge all my questions  and they have all been very open about the mistakes they are making and the things they themselves still have to learn. I can’t thank them enough for their patience and their inspiration. I have eagerly borrowed ideas from everything I’ve seen and, the great thing about being in a new situation is that I have felt completely free to experiment with new ideas without people wondering what the hell I’m up to!

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Now, don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been easy or indeed always immediately successful.  I still feel nervous walking in to run every new session in a way I haven’t for years. It’s even scarier trying out new things in front of a new audience and in front of new coaches none of whom know anything about what you have achieved in the past. And I’m definitely not getting it right every time – or even close. But by watching other coaches I’m beginning to realise that, if you don’t come out of a session thinking there are bits you could have done better, then you’re not really learning anything at all. And if you’re not learning as much as you can then you’re probably not having as much fun as you could be either!

It’s only through challenge I have realised how much I have to learn and how much better a coach I can be. Challenging ourselves is how we improve and get better at what we do. I really like this quote from author Tom Bodett, “In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” It sums up how I feel right now and I really do feel revitalised by the experience.

And it’s helped me to get through the tricky early sessions when the balls don’t turn up, when the girls are all preoccupied by boyfriends, exams or by other sports, when the practice runs amok and when I have felt utterly lost. The difference is that when I didn’t know what to do in the past I just kept on doing the same thing because I knew no one would question me and familiarity with everyone meant mistakes would be soon forgiven and forgotten. But actually now I want to notice those mistakes, to mull them over and think about how to improve.  Now I’m not just actively looking for new answers I’m actually looking forward to new questions.

Thank you Emily, this is beautiful to hear and it really does motivate us to keep delivering content on here to all the Coaches that find it helpful. We hope that Emily’s story inspires you to take on that new challenge. And let us know if there is anything that we can do on here to support you this season!

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