As the tallest P6, even out reaching the boys, I was quickly snapped up by the teacher tarred with the netball brush and promptly found myself playing goal defence with the P7 team. This had nothing to do with my skills, ability or aptitude. Nothing to do with my flair or spatial awareness on court. No, I was Big Lee, she’ll do.
I’m sure this is not a unique story. I was a child of the eighties. I lived through the EIS strikes, a time when school sport activity was one of the first things to suffer. I don’t hold a grudge but I do feel sad that a generation of sport was lost to politics. Unfortunately for me I picked two sports I would in the words of my high school PE teacher, Mr Anderson, ‘never make any money at’. I was not an academic child. I enjoyed school and I didn’t flunk, but I was certainly never going to be the dux. Sport was the one thing I was good at, the thing I really enjoyed. I flirted with the idea of becoming a PE teacher, but Mr Anderson was there again with his wise words, ‘there’s no future in it Lee, teaching is hard work’ So I went about my high school years playing recreational netball and rising the grades in Karate. Karate is pretty much in my blood. My parents met through Karate, I was awarded my first licence at 15 minutes old. Karate was what we did, our evenings two or three nights a week, our weekends at competitions, socialising, because that’s what it felt like. All my friends were involved. It was fun.
I left school and walked straight into a job. Not often that you hear of that now given the rising rates of youth unemployment, but I considered myself lucky. I left 3 weeks before I was due to sit my Highers. Maybe not the best decision, but when you are 17 you know it all, right?
A few years of random jobs and having my family. Before long I secure a post with the Inland Revenue. Wow a job for life, I struck it lucky again, didn’t I? As my children started to develop ‘schedules’ of their own it became increasing difficult to balance work and family life. I took a career break with the intention of returning to my post with HMRC. It was at this point a significant female role model played an ace card in my development. I had decided that I was not fulfilled by helping people with their tax and sought a new challenge. It was around the time when Active Schools Coordinators were being introduced and the buzz around London 2012 was really starting to build. I fancied doing something in sport, it was the one thing to remain constant in my life, my true love. I approached my then manager, Anne Swan with a plan to ‘do a wee course in sport’ she actively encouraged me to pursue my plan and assisted with creating a good personal statement given that I had few formal qualifications. Remember the Highers?
That ‘wee course’ ran away with its self and before long I was walking out of UWS with a Sport Development degree. BA Sport Development with distinction, I could hardly believe it. Me, the non academic sporty kid. Ok, I was a mature student at 33 years old but without the untold years of volunteering at training sessions, competitions, organising events, coaching and the multitude of experiential learning I brought with me I would never have been accepted on that course. Age is not a barrier. Gender is not a barrier. If you want it you have to go out and make it happen.
It doesn’t happen by magic. Hard work, graft and the support of others make it happen. Enter female role model number two Mary Frances McNeill. MF. As she’s known to most was running the schools netball programme in South Lanarkshire. I volunteered to help deliver the curriculum time sessions in schools during my last year at uni. I knew I needed current coaching experience to add to my degree and make me saleable to potential employers. The key word above is volunteer, if there is one piece of advice I would offer to anyone considering work in the sport industry is volunteer at every available opportunity. Not only is it extremely rewarding but it demonstrates that you are prepared to invest in the future of sport but also in yourself. My voluntary sessions progressed to paid coaching work which in turn lead to full time employment in sport development administration and disability sport.
The sport industry is a transient one. Contracts are often temporary or fixed term and don’t provide the stability that some people seek. I see this not as a challenge but an opportunity. Equipped with a skill set that transcends sport specific boundaries having the opportunity to work across a number of sport disciplines is exciting and ever changing.
London 2012 was not an option for me. I was a single mum with two teenagers by this time. Swanning off to London was off the radar. Glasgow 2014 however was most defiantly do-able. I applied for a number of posts and was delighted to be invited along to interview. I describe this event at X factor day. I had never experienced a group interview before, there was 10 of us collected in a large meeting room making small talk and trying hard to give our best. I was the second eldest, there was only one man and seven of the ten had just finished at London. In my head I decided that of the three posts on offer one would go to the young man and the others to the London people. I couldn’t compete with all the posturing and preening and downright bragging about London that I could do nothing but be myself. I left after a full day exhausted but happy with my performance. Sure in my mind that I would not make it to Judges Houses. They made me wait a whole week to deliver the news that I had indeed been successful. I’m not ashamed to admit I got a little emotional as the new that ‘we would like you to join the team’ was delivered. I was ecstatic. To work on the Commonwealth Games in my home city was a dream I never dared to imagine. Enter female role models 3-100, I can honestly say that the 18 months I spent working with G2014 as the most high pressure, exciting, draining, awe inspiring time imaginable. I was surprised by the genuine desire of my work colleagues to teach, nurture, stretch and share. I developed a true understanding of the word team. A team that was led by strong leaders who also had a desire to ensure success in everyone.
And so it comes full circle. That gangly rangy P6 is now a 42 year old mother of two grown up children back playing at netball. Ok, not quite playing but facilitating the regional development network in the West South sport partnership region. Hopefully helping to inspire coaches, players, umpires, volunteers and communities to be all they can be. I had the honour to spend Saturday in the company of in excess of 150 women who have all recently taken up the challenge to Bounce Back to Netball. Bounce Back to Netball Is Netball Scotland’s recreational netball programme designed to encourage women, girls and men over the age of 16 to try for the first time or to get back to netball in a relaxed non-competitive environment. The programme has exceeded all expectations so far as women and girls flock to their local Bounce Back to Netball (BBN) centres in their droves.
I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that my childhood was not unique, and neither is my development in to adulthood and the career path I follow. Find something you love, something you have a real desire for and go out and make it happen. Accept help along the way and offer it when you are able and never let age, gender or fear be a barrier.