The next in our series of ‘One Million Stories’ posts is Claire Smith who, after playing netball as a youngster herself, became a coach and teaches young Londoners the benefits of the sport she loves
What was your journey through physical activity and sport, what got you to where you are now?
I started playing netball at Primary School in Year 4, thanks to a passionate teacher (Mrs Woolley). Although we failed to win any games, I stuck with netball throughout high school, college and university. I just loved the social aspect, and the fact that you’re keeping active without really realising it as you’re having so much fun.
Once I’d graduated from university, my coach encouraged me to complete my Level 1 and Level 2 coaching courses and for about 10 years I combined my coaching alongside my own playing. It’s only in the last year that I’ve given up playing myself (apart from the occasional social game) and now focus on sharing my passion for netball with others.
How do you fit physical activity and sport around your day-to-day duties?
I’m lucky to be self-employed, which means I can fit my coaching in around my other work commitments. When I was working full time and commuting into London, I didn’t want to give up my evenings/weekends to coach netball, as I used this time to keep active myself, follow other leisure pursuits or generally relax! Now being self-employed allows me plenty of time for my own fitness as well as netball coaching, it’s allowed me to rediscover my passion for coaching.
Why is physical activity essential to your identity?
I think it’s more important to ask “Why is netball essential to my identity!” There’s nothing like being able to say that you’re a netballer. It’s like you’re part of a secret group of women (and men!) across London who all love the same thing. It’s amazing how many meetings or events you go to, where you get chatting to complete strangers and soon realise you can bond over netball. Once I’d stopped playing myself, I still wanted to be part of the secret – and coaching allows me to do that. It’s about more than the sport, it’s about the friendships you make, the moments you share and the feeling of doing something worthwhile with your free time.
What are your struggles to being physically active?
I’m lucky because I have the time to keep active myself, as well as dedicating time to netball coaching. I surround myself with people who are equally keen to keep active, then you motivate each other to get down to the gym or go out for a walk or bike ride. By playing a team sport, you are automatically surrounding yourself with like-minded people who can spur you on. When I’m coaching children, I really try and focus on the fun element of being physically active.
I work a lot in primary schools, and my one aim is for the children to go away not just with a taster of netball, but with a taster of how fun it can be to keep active with your friends. Hopefully they’ll then grow up with this mind-set and won’t have to struggle to keep active when they’re older. With my Back to Netball groups it’s the same, I create a friendly, fun, warm environment – something the women want to come back to each week. Keeping active shouldn’t be a struggle, and hopefully as a coach I can make it easier for my participants to keep and stay active.
How is London a unique place for you to exercise?
London, for a netballer is a gold mine. There are so many ways, times and places to play that you wouldn’t get if you lived elsewhere. When I moved to London 13 years ago, the first thing I did was seek out Cumberland Netball Club in Camden. I was lucky to find such a wonderful club virtually on my doorstep, something you’d struggle to do outside of London. As well as playing traditional 7-a-side netball in London, I’ve also played mixed, 5-a-side, walking netball, summer leagues, indoor, outdoor – you name it you can do it in London. This is also great for me as a coach, because there are such a variety of sessions out there for me to get involved in.
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