It’s a long way from Glen Innes to Sydney but when you have a passion for netball like Kirstie Fuller it only ever really seems like a hop, skip and jump.
Of course the reality is very different. The travel from northern New South Wales to the State capital usually consists of a seven to eight-hour drive, or an expensive fight, but love does strange things to people and Fuller has lots of it for her sport.
As head coach at the Northern Inland Academy of Sport, Fuller is breaking new ground by undertaking huge journeys week in, week out to further her development along Netball NSW’s High Performance pathways for aspiring coaches.
As well as the travel, the PE teacher has had to take unpaid leave from work to accommodate her desire to learn and, over one gruelling period from February to April this year, commuted between Glen Innes and Netball Central (Sydney Olympic Park) for 10 consecutive weeks to assist in coaching the NSW 17U development squad.
Fuller has just been named apprentice coach for the 2017 NSW 17U team, and now all that hard work and commitment is paying off.
“I think the hardest thing starting out was finding the people I needed to mentor me to take the next step and I really needed to be down here (in Sydney) to do that,” Fuller says.
“I really love not just the game but the relationships you develop with your players and the end result you see on the journeys that they go on.”
Her career as a high-school teacher helped Fuller in her relationships with young people, but it was a two-ways street she says.
“I think that goes hand in hand. I probably started teaching because I love netball. I get to teach more about the sport I love and it is great getting to look after the team there too.”
Knowledge is power and Fuller has worked extremely hard to learn everything about netball she possibly can – and a huge test came when she arrived in Sydney to be assessed for her Advanced Coaching Accreditation.
Having never worked with any of the players before, Fuller was given charge of the NSW Institute of Sport (NSWIS) squad for a training session and told to do her stuff. It was sink or swim time and with elite coaches such as NSW Swifts head honcho Rob Wright looking on, Fuller relied on her instincts to pass with flying colours – which she duly did.
“I got a lot of feedback then and I can’t wait to put it into practice,” Fuller says.
“To see the High Performance setup and how it all works there was just amazing. It was very scary when I went down but I had to back myself and after a while I started to find my feet.
“But it was just one of the best things I have ever done.”
While that assessment was daunting enough, the 10-week travel commitment to and from Glen Innes and Netball Central was enough to test the most hardened individuals, but Fuller again feels it was well worth the effort.
“There are definitely things you miss out on but, like the NSWIS experience, it was amazing. I learned so much.
“It is such a step up from NIAS level to 17U NSW development and at the start it was really different from what I expected but I learned so much.
“At home we drill the basics into our girls but at State level you need to have so much more knowledge – even about things such as recovery and analysis.”
Fuller has just got back from a learning trip to New Zealand with her NIAS team, and it seems a lot of the coach’s work ethic has rubbed off on her team given they raised the cash for the Kiwi venture themselves.
“It was really amazing for the girls and we even had breakfast with the Silver Ferns,” Fuller adds.
“The team did so much to raise the money for the trip, from washing dogs to babysitting, to community bootcamps and trivia nights.”
It’s a long road Fuller is travelling but she’s more than up for the journey.