Lesley MacDonald

Grasping the thistle

A former Scotland netball star turns her hand to coaching the next generation

Taking on the world’s best in front of sell-out Glasgow 2014 crowds was the perfect way for Scottish Thistles netball captain Lesley MacDonald to bow out of competitive action. Here she tells us about her experience on sportscotland’s coaching futures programme – and how she’s been using her experience to develop the next generation of players.

Following a highly successful career, in which she won a record 127 international caps, Lesley took the difficult decision to retire from the sport and move into a coaching role at Netball Scotland.

Thanks to sportscotland’s Coaching Futures apprenticeship programme (2013-2015), a selection of former athletes, including Lesley, were given the opportunity to support and progress their new careers as coaches. They took on two-year roles within their sport’s governing body supported by individual professional development opportunities. A cohort of seven further athletes come coaches are now one year into the next cycle of the programme. 

With many ex-athletes naturally drawn towards coaching, the Coaching Futures programme aims to increase the number of home grown performance coaches delivering in Scotland, retain vital knowledge and expertise within sport, and provide a stream of coaches capable of working at national level. 

How has the programme benefited you?

“The Coaching Futures programme has allowed me to gain invaluable coaching experience, from grassroots to elite level, whilst being mentored by the best coaches in the country.

“Learning from the other coaches involved in the programme has also been essential to my development. Having access to coaches from different sports, sharing good practice and seeing how potentially this can be transferred to your own sport have been brilliant.”

How have you found the transition from player to coach?

“As most retiring athletes will probably say, it’s one of the most difficult decisions you have to make. I played international netball for 16 years at senior level and have had the privilege of being involved in 13 European Championships, three World Championships and last year’s Commonwealth Games.

“As athletes you are used to a certain routine, where everything is pretty much organised around training, so it is a little strange when that is no longer the case. I certainly don’t miss the early morning training or fitness testing but I do miss the buzz of competing at international level.

“The transition from player to coach was made easier thanks to the Coaching Futures programme, and by having the opportunity to experience and develop the coaching role prior to retiring as an athlete.” 

What are your aims, hopes and ambitions within coaching?

“My ambition is to be the best coach I can be and hopefully coach the Scottish Thistles one day. Having captained the Thistles for nine years, I would love to be able to give a bit back and coach the current crop of talent to deliver success on the court for Scotland.” 

What qualities can you bring to help upcoming athletes?

“The style of the game has changed so much during my career. It’s faster, more dynamic and more physical so players need to be fitter, stronger and faster to ensure they can compete at international level. For me, this key element has to be introduced to the younger athletes to prepare them properly.

“The experience of being a player helps, as you understand how athletes are feeling or what might work best for them. Having been there personally, I feel that I can pass on the appropriate knowledge, whether it is information on how to look after your body properly, nutrition and dietary tips or recovery practices after fitness sessions.”

For more information on sportscotland’s coaching futures programme visit: sportscotland.org.uk/coaching/coachingfutures/

An illustration of the coaching journey in Coaching Futures

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