Mel Ryan

All about Mel!

I started back in about 2001/02 in the Loddon Valley league with Newbridge FNC (they needed someone to put their hand up so I just did it)!

For the past 5 years, I have been the Head Coach at the Bendigo Academy of Sport - Netball. The underpinning program to the NV Talent Academy.

I currently hold an Advanced accreditation and have started work towards Elite Accreditation. I have been fortunate to coach from junior netball through to the elite level. I coached in the Victorian Netball League, 2yrs as an Assistant Coach in Championship Division and 3yrs as a Head Coach in Division 1, App Coach U17’s State Team & Team Manager of Victorian Fury in the Australian Netball League.

I went straight into coaching seniors at my local footy netball club.

I would not be able to do what I do or done what I’ve done without the encouragement and support of a very understanding husband & family. I’m very lucky that we are all heavily involved in sport, my husband is an elite level cricket coach, so he understands the commitment required to coach at the top level in sport. 

I just love working with elite athletes, they have an amazing training ethic. Their work rate at training is always high and focused. The training environment is always planned, organised and intense. Match days during competition is exciting and planned out to the minute. 

Elite athletes are hard at the ball, focused and work hard, they will do whatever it takes to get the job done. They have a clear vision of the pathways and strive to progress.

At the elite level, the coaching focus tends to be working closely with the athletes to build that connections within their playing units, to gel as a team. There is a high focus on player management and building/maintaining the relationships with the athlete rather than the skill development. They are already there because of their ability to play the game. 

The focus is getting that to work in a team environment and getting them to click. That is where my ‘day job’ as a hairdresser comes in handy- I love a chat and getting to know people! It helps with building relationships and understanding with the athletes, which in turn makes you a better coach.

A massive hurdle is getting the athletes to recognise the pathway. Often very talented athletes can’t see how they can progress, the demographics and hurdles to overcome makes it feel to far out of reach for some, thus this can lead to lack of the training ethic and drive that metro-based athletes have. You are fighting not only against location, but other sporting codes such as AFLW, Basketball and Hockey, that have clear pathways available in our region. 

You need to constantly be finding other ways to inspire your athletes. We try educating them in ways to overcome the obstacles , carpooling and being sure their clubs are aware and understanding of the challenges for regional athletes but with the exposure they get from programs like the Academy of Sport and Zone Academy helps. 

I’m always looking at trying to arrange trips down to Vixens games and working closer with the VIS so they see our everyday local athletes in an elite environment. These are just some of the ways we can expose the local regional athletes to the upper echelons of the pathway. Its all about education, both ways.

One of the main challenges is the logistics of accessing pathway opportunities and development. Travel to ANL & VNL trainings can be a 6-7-hour round trip for us up here and cost in petrol twice/ three times a week is mind blowing. You have to leave work some days by 3:30pm and that makes school pickups a real challenge & you need to have a great working relationship with your boss. 

Having access to mentors and PD’s that can help you to progress through the accreditation pathway are in short supply regionally. And because there is no elite level training facilities or competitions in Regional Victoria, this makes it even more difficult to consistently develop not only as a coach but for our athletes and umpires as well. To overcome it, you need to be willing to travel,…lots. 

You need to be able to put yourself out there and be smart about what roles you take and with clubs that fully understand the challenges coming from the regional areas. That is part of why I took the role with Victorian Fury as TM- I was able to continue to develop as a coach through being exposed to that elite environment, while performing a role I really enjoyed. 

My advice to other coaches is to work with clubs that understand your home life and the unique challenges that a regional address pose’s so you can work with them more effectively to get the flexibility you sometimes need. 

“Just find a way.” The mantra I live by.
 It is a hard and a long road. It is not always easy- travel, family and finances will be taxing on you. You will be tired, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges. 

As coaches we are incredibly lucky, you have the opportunity to have a massive positive impact on someone’s life and help them strive and achieve their dreams. 
Be prepared to put yourself out there for different opportunities that come up. You can learn something from EVERY opportunity you get. 

You don’t always need to be in a Head Coach role to achieve that. If you are doing so many hours on the road and away from family, you want to be learning and gaining knowledge from it.  Make the travel worth your while. Use the time on the road to call athletes, communicate and keep that relationship strong. 

You won’t be able to stay late after trainings, get there early, or meet them for coffee during the week, but you can still have a great working relationship with them. And use the power of social media to keep connected.  

And……….Always bring your spark!