I have now been working with the Australian Diamonds for approximately four years. It has been a privilege to work with such a driven and professional group of players and staff. In particular I have been grateful for the opportunity to work with the head coach, Lisa Alexander.
I could speak at length about Lisa’s various coaching qualities but the one which I think sets her apart as a truly high performing coach is her capacity to engage the players in what I have termed ‘possibility thinking’.
Right from the outset, Lisa was prepared to question the status quo. Some of the possibilities she challenged the group with were:
- Can we take an already high performing team (the Diamonds were already the world champions) to another level?
- Can we break the traditional captain / vice-captain mould and introduce a much broader base of leadership?
- Can we trust the players to select their leaders?
- Can we allow those leaders to have a greater stake in preparation, training, performance and reviews?
- Can we develop a genuine squad mentality, rather than a ‘starting seven plus bench’ approach.
In the last four years I have witnessed a paradigm shift in almost all these areas.
My memory of the first time we had the team openly select the leadership group is a significant moment. Players having to share with the rest of the squad who they trusted to leads us was, on one hand, confronting, but on the other hand, incredibly empowering.
Out of that process we have continued to build leadership depth into our squad. The players now understand that leadership is not as simple as the best player takes the lead.
Laura Geitz stands comfortably with any of the elite sporting leaders I have worked with. However, Laura’s rise as an outstanding leader came through having other skilled leaders in support. Kim Green and Bianca Chatfield played significant roles in the early stages and we are now seeing the emergence of Clare McMeniman, Sharni Layton and Caitlin Bassett. Others like Madi Robinson are following closely. Everyone on the squad has the potential to be a leader because the concept of joint leadership has been embedded so strongly.
Within this broader base of leadership Lisa has encouraged the squad to have a much greater stake in reviews. One clear example was a poor tour of England a couple of seasons ago. Rather than wait to hear what the coaches thought, the group engaged themselves in a very frank review prior to returning home. The team identified a number of areas for improvement. Not surprisingly, the outcomes were similar to what the coaches had identified as well. Pivotal to this process was the level of ownership the group had for the action plans which were identified. Lisa skilfully allowed the team to own the outcomes while keeping a gentle hand on the tiller.
For me, one of the most significant shifts for this squad came at the last Commonwealth Games when the team won the gold medal. As it turned out Kim and Bianca (our two vice-captains), and other members of our leadership group, were not selected to start in the gold medal game. Under the old approach this might have presented a problem. Questions could have been asked as to why the vice-captains were not on court. The response from Kim and Bianca was an outstanding example of their selflessness and commitment to the team. They lead the group from the bench, supported Laura and ensured that team standards were upheld and all team members were being supported (including those who were playing ‘their’ positions).
Apart from the obvious excitement of winning gold, the behaviour and actions of Kim, Bianca and others had helped to cement the squad mentality that Lisa had envisaged. Team took precedence over individual and all players knew and accepted that they may be called on at any time to play a role.
What I find most exciting about the Diamonds’ journey is the knowledge that through Lisa’s drive and vision and the significant support from Netball Australia, her staff and the playing group, we have no limitations on how high the Diamonds can fly.
This post was originally published on netball.com.au