I Owe A Lot To Lesley
“When I woke up I couldn’t walk” is where this story starts but it certainly doesn’t end there.
Michelle Cox is an extraordinary coach. In 2015 she travelled to Australia as the head coach with the U23 nets mixed netball team, she regularly coaches premier league side Leyton, Manor Netball club for regional, as well as coaching for Raiders Netball Club in Kent and Essex County. She also teaches Business Management and Leadership at Birkbeck University in London and arranges school Netball training and tournaments to Spain for events.
Michelle has always been embedded in sport, as a child she played cricket until she reached the age of 11 and was told she couldn’t play with the boys anymore. Looking to find another sport she tried swimming (“it messed with my hair too much”) and basketball before she discovered netball. Playing through primary school and to county level, Michelle has always played netball.
Then one evening in November 2012, Michelle went to bed after a netball match and when she woke up she couldn’t walk. The emotions were high “what’s going on?” was the first question to Michelle’s mind followed by “Is it cramp, did I not warm down properly, did I play too hard, was it the sport that did this to me?” At that time Michelle didn’t think it was too serious and that she had just done some ligament damage. “I only knew it was serious when the doctors told me I wasn’t going home until they knew what was wrong with me”. When the doctors confirmed that it wasn’t anything terminal Michelle was relieved “this is something that I can recover from” was her first thought. After being in and out of hospital for a year, Michelle’s netball friends, her ‘community’ became a driving force behind her recovery.
This community has been an important part of her rehabilitation “I was trying to beat myself to get back to where I wanted to be” she says “and I wanted to challenge myself because if I can’t play anymore I wanted to be able to use my skills as a coach”. It’s a passion that Michelle has for her sport, for all sport to get better and to move on “I’m too young to be on crutches or in a wheelchair” she tells me “one day I might run again and for now I’m excited that England Netball have a ‘walking netball’ initiative that I can get involved with”.
Michelle is a very active coach and person and we discuss how she found returning to coaching without the same level of mobility “because I stayed away for a long time that helped” she says “if I had gone back too soon I would have been frustrated because I couldn’t have done what I wanted to do”. The netball community that has been such an important part of Michelle’s journey has ensured she can still get involved. “I’m grateful for the people that have believed in me” Michelle comments “having been abled bodied, and now being a disabled person I started wondering how people would view me and what perceptions would they have? I soon realised that other people don’t see it as a problem, it was me that saw it as a problem.” There are days where Michelle is still in a lot of pain and she makes herself move past it and get on and do things.
Having been involved in teaching and managing for around 15 years, Michelle enjoys seeing young people achieve success “it’s the result of the hard work you put in” she tell me. “Coaching is the same, you see young people develop, for the success and development of others” she goes on to say, and although she can’t be the active one anymore, she has found other ways of showing her players how to do things.
One of Michelle’s role models had a similar attitude. Lesley Jones will be known to many people in the London netball and sports development community. “She was the sort of person that you could never say no to” Michelle says fondly “and she had and attitude of do it, do it, do it”. It was Lesley that encourage Michelle to start coaching, beginning with the London Youth Games, before bringing her into coaching at Essex County. “She was really supportive, I could always pick up the phone to her” Michelle says and goes on to comment how she would fight for funding and facilities, so effortlessly, because she loved netball and sports. Sadly, Lesley is no longer with us “I owe a lot to Lesley” Michelle says.
We go on to discuss if there are enough women role models now. “Years ago netball was something you did as a hobby, but it changed” Michelle says “when money become a factor, attitudes changed and people started asking if they would get paid for things”. There is worry that no one volunteers to do anything anymore and if this continues there will be no one to inspire the next generation to do this.
Michelle’s ambitions for the future including looking into equality and disability. She plans to work on projects where she can encourage more participation from these communities and wants to understand why some communities choose not to engage in sport. She also wants to focus on recruiting more volunteers to sport “if you don’t have volunteers you don’t have sport” she says frankly “it doesn’t matter in what capacity, but we need more volunteers. If we want to be number one in the world in any sport it has to start from here.”
“I never want to let anyone down” Michelle comments “and looking back maybe I didn’t say no enough and it just got too much for me hence my illness”. Michelle is now more mercenary with her planning and plans better and sticks to her commitments. “I no longer feel bad about saying no” she says, this whole experience and my disability has made Michelle feel more self-conscious about her own time and to put herself first a little bit more. Michelle’s coaching journey is only just starting and she shows no signs of slowing down just yet.
If you've been inspired by Michelle’s story and want to get involved in coaching but don't know where or how to start, check out sports coach UK’s Reach campaign. You'll find hints and tips as well as case studies about women who are succeeding in coaching.
You can read all of the London’s Coaching Women Series here.
Steven Bentall, Coaching Network Manager