Julie Fitzgerald

The Ever-Evolving Role of a Professional Sporting Coach

Julie Fitzgerald
The Ever-Evolving Role of a Professional Sporting Coach

There are many aspects to coaching, however one of the most important factors in a successful coach is understanding their players.

Every athlete is different and in order to become a good coach you must be prepared to find out the individual characteristics of your players and understand what makes each and every one of them tick. It’s impossible to get the best out of a team of athletes if you treat them all the same. Individuals respond differently to varied approaches and methods of communication.

It’s my role as head coach to know what is happening in their lives outside of netball. If not, I may be unaware of their individual stresses off the court that may be affecting their performance. Building relationships and strong bonds with my team is not only vital for the team and its development, but it’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of being a coach.

The people you work with are without a doubt the most rewarding aspect of the job. From the support staff, management staff and players I have formed some strong relationships and great friends across my journey.

I am extremely fortunate in my role to see the constant development of young people, not just as players, but as they grow from a kid with talent to a well-rounded and confident adult. I thoroughly enjoy watching a team bond and come together to form a unit that is able to achieve anything, both on and off the court.

Like most things in society, coaching at the elite level has changed dramatically in recent years – especially for netball, as it becomes more professional. My role has developed from purely a netball coach, to a role that includes so many more commitments, such as dealing with sponsorship and media.

With a substantial increase in the number of support staff employed by a netball club, I must ensure that there are a strong relationships. This includes good communication across the management team – the support staff must live by the standards set by the team. As a coach, you must ensure that all of the staff are heading in the same direction, not only from a team point of view, but for every single individual athlete in the team.  

In the ever-evolving world of professional netball there is a lot more work to be done by the coach off the court. The more exposure and publicity that netball gains, the higher the sports profile becomes. A higher profile equals increased attention and perceived pressure from external factors, such as the public. No matter how much netball develops I am an extremely competitive person. I can always rely on my own pressure to succeed.

  Photo by Netball NSW/Narelle Spangher

Photo by Netball NSW/Narelle Spangher

Coaching elite women is a pleasure. It’s amazing as they are generally high achievers, interesting and always striving to improve.

Women tend to work really well together when it comes to achieving a common goal; they are also completely committed to the program. As most female athletes haven’t reaped the financial rewards of many of their male counterparts, I find that they have a different appreciation for sport. They are extremely appreciative of their positions, passionate about what they do and are prepared to work a little harder to promote their sport.

There are several moments that stand out to me when I reflect on my career. I enjoyed winning the Commonwealth Bank Trophy in 2001 with the Sydney Swifts for their first premiership. We worked together for several years to build up to that success. However, the championship win in the newly created ANZ Championships by the NSW Swifts in 2008 really stands out. That team was very much a champion team as opposed to a team of champions.

No one expected us to make the Semi-finals let alone win the competition, which was extremely rewarding. We had lost several world-class players the season before, but the girls united and as a team they became an unstoppable force that exceeded all expectations. They were a very special group of girls and it was wonderful to see them be rewarded for their efforts.

In saying that, there are also several challenges that you face as a coach of a professional sporting team. One of the greatest challenges that I have faced, and without a doubt one of the most enjoyable, was creating GIANTSNetball in such a short period of time. Our corporate team had been building on the idea and working for several months to secure a second netball franchise in Sydney.

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Once it happened and the club was established, we only had a couple of months to find a name, recruit players and hire support staff. I was adamant that as much as possible had to be finalised before the team came together on the 1st of November 2016. It was quite a frantic but immensely rewarding period.

As an individual, I believe that I have a very strong work ethic, possibly a bit anal about getting things done and love ensuring that there are no loose ends. I’m a strong believer that if management can achieve this, it makes it much easier for the team to concentrate on what they need to do, essentially to train and play fluently.

I think this is reflected on the challenge that was setting up the GIANTSNetball team. I wanted the whole team to come into our environment for the first time and have as much as possible in place to begin building a new franchise we could all be proud of.

I really enjoy, as well as think it’s important, to put together a program that will allow the players to reach their full potential and feel they are part of a great club where the environment is both demanding and fostering. It’s extremely satisfying as a coach when everything finally comes together.

I’ve been extremely fortunate at the Giants that our affiliation with the AFL side GWS Giants has allowed me to meet many experienced people working in different fields. It has been a big advantage for me and my development to learn how they do things, to witness varying approaches and to also seek advice in all areas of coaching and professional sport.

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In times of need and when I am faced with different challenges, I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by a couple of mentors that I can talk to in regards to coaching and any other issues I feel I need to talk over. My family is always there for me too, they keep me grounded and allow me to escape from the pressures of my job and the pressures that surround the team.

If there was one piece of advice that I would give to an aspiring netball coach, it would be to work tirelessly to ensure that you are running a program that provides players, no matter what the level, the ability to be the best that they can be. It’s important to remember that a measure of success is not necessarily winning a championship, but having players that wish to remain in your program, and that have full faith in your system. You must always be honest as a coach, or players will begin to doubt your ability to work with them. Above all else, enjoy your time as a coach and ensure that your team also has fun along the way – without a positive environment, neither the player nor the coach will achieve their best results.

Feature Image by Netball NSW/Narelle Spangher

Head Coach of the GiantsNetball team which plays in the Suncorp Super Netball league.