Playing a Different Game

Keywords: transferable skills, career, adventure, change, teamwork, communication

Being ‘brave’

On many occasions people have said to me, “you are so brave” or “you are much braver than I am” usually in response to no longer working in veterinary practice, undertaking opportunities for public speaking or turning up to something on my own. I was unhappy working in practice so leaving clinical work seemed logical to me. Yes, I do get nervous before public speaking but the pre-event nerves are massively overshadowed by the sense of pride when people at a conference attend my session. There have been times when people have not been able to catch me at the end of my presentation so instead, they have tried to find me at coffee/lunch breaks to ask me about my work. This is a massive confidence boost. The most recent occasion when a friend of mine said I was brave was in response to my decision to attend netball training sessions at my local gym when I did not know any of the other players. I googled the definition of brave and several explanations referenced facing dangerous situations. Netball isn’t risk-free (especially with my knees and ankles!) and I am pretty accident prone but I don’t consider myself to be brave, I see it as another adventure.

I now have a few training sessions under my belt and at the end of a recent practice game someone asked me which team I played for. I explained that I attend the training but don’t play for a team. Her response was, “well you definitely should”. Walking home from the gym with a spring in my step, I was thinking about this comment and wondered why did she think that I would be an asset to a netball team having not played for 20 years. I realised my football skills on the pitch were transferable to the netball court and beyond.

Transferring skills from the pitch to the court and beyond

I have successfully transferred my clinical skills to non-clinical work and now seemingly I have applied similar principles from the football pitch to the netball court. One of the biggies is communication. There are around 20 women who turn up to each training session which involves some game play in makeshift teams towards the end of training. I am still learning names but I can gain my fellow players’ attention by referring to the position on their bib. I let my teammates know when I am unmarked and I gesture with my arms to inform them which way I am going to run. Square passes and passing down the line have the same meaning in a wide range of sports. Clear communication on the pitch, court, consultation room or office is crucial for all successful teams. Knowing where your teammates are and where they are going is vital. This is so much more than simply knowing the position on their bib or their job title. Team tactics and dynamics change in response to the game in play. Knowing your teammates strengths and direction will certainly help to adapt to changes. Active listening is a key communication skill. Being supportive of players on your team who may have niggles in terms of injuries or self-doubt. When individuals are not currently at the top of their game, knowing that you have their back and helping them get back on track is essential for the culture of a successful team. The route to victory (in whatever shape and form this may take) might be slower but no one ever won a team sport playing on their own.

I am good at getting into space which is essential for creative play. If there is a crowded area on the pitch/court and the person with the ball is looking at players who are all being closely marked by an opposing player, the risk of losing possession of the ball is high. By constantly looking for space to run into, helps to solve this problem by providing options to pass if (and it is a big if!) I have managed to shirk the player who is marking me. Finding space in the workplace is also important for creativity and innovation. Employing the same [process, technique…insert as appropriate!] over and over without taking a step back or obtaining a fresh perspective from people in other ‘spaces’, stifles any kind of creativity. Creating space to reflect and attend conferences/training days helps to ignite creativity and innovation.

Talking of taking a step back, most sports and organisations face pressure to constantly move forward. Both during football matches and now at netball, I frequently shout, “back if you need”. If I see that my teammate is struggling to pass or shoot because the rest of our team are being marked heavily, passing the ball back is a better option than losing possession. I would rather support this decision than trying to perform a heroic pass which is likely to lose possession of the ball. Knowing that there isn’t a constant pressure to push forward is helping to provide a supportive environment to the team. Towards the end of a game with the clock ticking and if your team is losing by a narrow margin, making a heroic pass might be the best option but you can see that your teammate is unsure. In this situation, you might encourage your teammate to make a risky pass or take a shot. Decision making under time pressure can be difficult but less so if you know that you have the support of approachable colleagues who will talk through the situation with you. Being supportive and having emotional intelligence is important in any team to maintain relationships and ultimately score goals.

Being adaptable and not having a fixed mindset is important. At school I used to play the position of goal attack because I was good at running around, attacking and shooting. However, I quickly recognised that my shooting skills are not as they once were and I’m now surrounded by lots of people who are really good at shooting. I also noticed that people don’t seem to like playing the position of centre because this position covers the largest area on the court and therefore involves a lot of running. Having participated in several triathlons over the past three years, my running ability is currently better than my netball skills so I have adopted a new position which suits me and the team. Listening to people and being self-aware can enable to change your approach accordingly.

Finally, being self-motivated is a very desirable trait for sport and life generally. Perhaps Mildred’s (my terrier-cross, see ‘About’ page for a cute pic of her) desire to chase a ball was a learned behaviour she picked up from me?! Whether I am kicking or throwing a ball, my inner terrier comes out! It’s the same for my passions within my career. Helping people is very important to me. Whether this is helping people to better look after their animals, achieve their goals or improve their health. Having always been a science nerd (and proud), using research to inform and educate to support animals and people is my ‘career ball’ which I enjoy chasing. The ball will be dropped from time to time or even go out of play but these moments in the game are transient and this break in play can be a good time to obtain feedback and reflect on your game plan.

Be adventurous!

There is every chance the person who told me that I should play netball for a team was simply being nice. Either way, her comment made me think and helped to boost my confidence on the court. It has helped me to frame my approach to training differently. Instead of focusing on the fact I haven’t played netball for 20 years but I’m happy to have a bash full stop. Now I think, I haven’t played netball for 20 years but I am a team player with football skills, some of which are applicable to this game.

In my opinion, adventure comes in many forms. It’s not only the usual suspects of skydiving, white water rafting or travelling but also trying new things both in leisure time and careers. Being able to work within a team by utilising your communication skills, being supportive, listening, being open to learning new skills, and creative problem solving can open opportunities. If you are thinking about a different role or completely different career path, I have no doubt that you have ample transferable skills to play another game with a different ball if you want to. Or perhaps consider creating a whole new game?

Stacey Blease – a vet thinking aloud

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