Gillian Lee was preparing to pack up and return to Australia following a coaching stint in the Caribbean when a job ad caught her eye.
It was calling for applications to coach the Maldives National Netball Team towards September’s Asian Netball Championships and the position very much appealed to Lee, a former Australian 21/U and Victorian defender, after she had been in charge of the Cayman Islands national squad for the past two years.
Lee, a highly-respected coach with almost two decades of experience at the elite level in Australia, said it’s an exciting opportunity to keep developing the game in `non-traditional’ netball countries.
“I feel that netball, on the world stage, needs to have many more teams to compete with the top four teams,” Lee said.
“By helping the teams at the lower end of the rankings, this can only help the game build.”
Lee has a vast coaching experience that includes leading Victoria’s 19/U and 21/U teams, a specialist role with the AIS and coaching in the Victorian state league.
She was also an assistant for three years to now Australian Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander with the Melbourne Phoenix in the former national league.
In April 2012 she took charge of the Cayman Islands national team and said it was a great experience to take charge of an overseas program.
“Because I’ve coached all different standards of netball for years, I certainly found this helped adjust to the different style of play, so I’m presuming the same will be said when I start in the Maldives,” Lee said.
“The (Cayman Islands) job certainly was perfect for me in that it included coaching both youth and the elite, something that I’ve always done.
“The job in the Cayman Islands came at the perfect time for me and my family (husband Mick and sons Hayden and Jarryd). Both our boys were at College in the USA studying so to be living in the same time zone as them and being able to see them more was perfect.”
Lee’s netball career began in Melbourne and said she still remains good friends with several members of her Syndal Primary School team.
She grew up watching her mother, Gwen, and older sisters, Judy and Kaye, playing netball and a fond memory of her early days is playing in the same team alongside the three of them.
As a player, she represented Victoria at both junior and senior level, spent two years in the AIS program and represented Australia’s 21/U side – where her teammates included the likes of Roselee Jencke, Vicki Wilson and Michelle den Dekker.
“I started coaching as soon as I returned to Melbourne after being at the AIS as a player,” lee said.
“I love seeing the enjoyment players get when they achieve something. A great memory of coaching is telling a Grade 6 girl to try something, she went straight back onto the court and did it – the smile on her face was priceless!”
Lee was coached by Australian netball legends Joyce Brown, Norma Plummer, Julie Hornweg and Wilma Shakespear who she said have all been “huge influences” on her own coaching career.
The Asian Netball Championship is a qualifier for next year’s Netball World Cup in Sydney.
The Maldives finished eighth in the Asian championships two years ago and Lee said she’s taking on the job with an open mind.
“Like with coaching any new team, you need to see what their strength and weaknesses are, what things you can influence the quickest and go from there,” she said.
“So I’ll be doing that as quickly as I can. (It’s) Best not to have expectations. I’ve found it’s best to keep your mind open and see what is there when I arrive and plan and set expectations from there.”
Lee has also written four coaching manuals and co-written three netball novels for kids aged between eight and 12 years.
“I love writing manuals and, from the feedback from coaches around the world, it appears coaches like what I do,” she said.
“So this is fun for me and hopefully good for netball. I plan on writing another one or two in the near future so keep an eye open for them!”