The Art of Coaching: Belinda Reynolds

Belinda Reynolds is a rookie coach with an experienced team. Despite that, she's driving their growth in her first year at the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

Come the morning of game day, Belinda Reynolds is already well prepared for the match. She's the kind of person that has her stuff laid out the night before, the game plan all sorted, and she can wake up knowing that it's all sorted.

To take her mind off the game coming later, she likes to watch her teenage sons play football when it's a home game, or find a breakfast stop on a walk when the Lightning are playing out of town.

Reynolds, who spoke exclusively to Edge of the Crowd, explained the machinations of finding her sons a new football team when the family moved across the country from Perth so that she could take on the head coach role at Sunshine Coast Lightning.

"They were at Fremantle Junior Football Club and now they're over here in the Maroochydore Roos playing AFL which has been nice actually," Reynolds explained.

"It was a huge transition to transition the boys from Perth at that age. So they started their footy two weeks ago, so that's obviously what they love and then obviously getting some mates playing sport is important for their age groups."

When Reynolds first moved, it was a solo adventure, before the rest of the family joined her, something she was wreaked with "mum guilt" about, leaving her family, and then uprooting their lives when they joined her.

"Initially it was moving away from the immediate family, my husband Justin and my three boys," she said.

"They didn't move across to the Sunshine Coast until January. I came at the end of October and start the preseason with the Lightning. So just that separation there.

"Obviously finding a rental on the Sunshine Coast was difficult, and new schools for the boys that was another challenge."

One of the other challenges for Reynolds coming to the Sunshine Coast was that she didn't have any previous relationship with the club, and with the players. The Lightning coach turned that into a positive though, using it to make sure she could hit the ground running.

"To be honest, I found it a positive not having any existing relationships with the Lightning group coming in. On the flip side though, my assistant coach, Jenny Brazel, who had touch points with most of the athletes - I found it good that I started with a clean slate with everyone," she reflects.

"There was no preconceived ideas of them of me, or me of them. So I thought that was a positive that we all got to start, with fresh ideas and building those relationships."

One of the key relationships for Reynolds is with Steph Wood, the captain of the Lightning and a talismanic figure within the club.

"I'm really fortunate obviously to have Steph Wood as my captain, who's also the vice captain of the Diamonds," the coach explained.

"I love that Steph is so black and white and what you see is what you get, and I think that is a great quality for a captain to have.

"I know where she's coming from, the players know where she's coming from. It's very clear what standard she expects from all of us and it was really good for me obviously to establish my relationship with her very early on.

"We very quickly aligned on where we wanted to take the group and what's important for this club and this year so I think her open and honest style with the players but also the coaches, is what sets her above a lot of other captains."

Steph Wood in action for the Lightning, as Reynolds looks on from the bench. Image: Ariana Silver

Steph Wood in action for the Lightning, as Reynolds looks on from the bench. Image: Ariana Silver

Reynolds has plenty of leadership experience, even if she hasn't been a Super Netball head coach for a full season yet.

"My background before getting into any coaching was with the National Australia Bank and I worked my way up to team leader roles and manager roles there and I think I realised right from the get-go that it's all about relationships and trust and role clarity," she says.

"I think I've brought that business leadership into my coaching, leadership and all those things, obviously go across all the codes and I think it's probably the biggest thing for me, knowing your athletes and building that trust with them and role clarity as well.

"It's huge with the players, knowing what their role is for the team, understanding what their weapons are, and I think also just really being authentic myself, being really authentic in my style and owning that and also encouraging all the girls to bring their authentic self."

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Reynolds has had something of a trial by fire in her first season with the Lightning, with Reilley Batcheldor suffering a torn ACL before Reynolds signed on, and Tara Hinchliffe joining her in the rehab room before the season started. Since then, her replacement, Shannon Eagland has befallen the same fate, suffering the injury midseason.

Reynolds holds relationships as one of the keys to her coaching, and with the challenges faced this season, those relationships have grown with depth quickly.

"I think it's removing some of that emotion, we're not removing it completely because obviously, that's what builds the relationships is being vulnerable and showing your emotion but probably managing my energy around athletes journeys or setbacks," the former West Coast Fever assistant said.

"Obviously we've had some season injury season ending injuries in the Lightning camp this year and, you feel so deeply for those athletes, but at the same time you've got to pick yourself back up and you've got a job to do and get the rest of the team energised and firing for the next game.

"That's the balancing act, isn't it? It's certainly being there for the athlete that you know has suffered that setback and taking that initial time to be there for them, making sure that they've got a good rehab plan.

"Certainly then redirecting your opportunity, your energy to the opportunity that's given someone else and that is the nature of sport and I think I see that as a big thing even in my own journey."

Reynolds' journey has been a long-travelled one, but she hasn't done it alone. While setting up athlete support systems is an important part of coaching for her, setting up her own support system has been a big part of her journey as well.

"I've always had lots of great mentor coaches along the way. So I think it's great to have a mentor netball coach. Also, when moving into more elite roles. It's also good to have mentors in managing high performance programmes.

"So I think that's both really important also. I think the balance to be able to have your normal outlets people away from netball as well, to chat to I think I give great credit to the performance team within the Lightning as well.

"I empower my performance team and I rely on them heavily. I'm not afraid to delegate responsibility. My assistant coach, Jenny Brazel, she's a great support me but challenges me and then you bring Brynley [Abad] coming new as our performance manager and he has a great S&C (Strength and Conditioning) background and we're all challenging each other in this environment. And I think you couldn't do it without your support team in this day and age in the way that the sport is moving forward."

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For Reynolds, that support network is helping her grow, and helping her see her players grow - which she says is the most satisfying part of coaching.

"That athlete growth. I love the girls growing their game, but also growing as people and then the team growth like this year," Reynolds told us.

"We haven't probably got as many wins on the board as we'd like. But our performances are definitely progressing week to week and we're making some really good gains on some of those statistics from last year. So growth is my most satisfying thing out of coaching."

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And that growth has been on display throughout the season. After a disappointing season last year, the Lightning have been fiercely competitive this year, coming within a goal of a win multiple times this year.

The growth is showing, and Reynolds has set the Lightning on a path for long-term success with this side.