For many, the delicate balance between motherhood and work isn’t easy.
With busy schedules, school commitments, sporting activities, clingy toddlers, sleep deprivation, and a household to manage, it’s hard to give one hundred percent focus to a professional career.
Former elite netballer turned coach and Mum of four, Elissa Kent knows the juggle all too well.
“It's never ending and an ongoing journey. I'm finding that sometimes I get the balance right and other times I know I'm out of whack and I think the hard part is knowing that the whole family feels that. 'Mum guilt' is real.”
Throughout her playing career Kent was a midcourt specialist with the Melbourne Kestrels, she did a stint in the UK Super League with Northumbria, and played in over 40 games with the Queensland Firebirds and Melbourne Vixens. She Captained Australia in the 2012 Fast5 Netball World Series before returning to Melbourne to take the court with the Vixens in 2013.
Kent was 13 weeks into her first pregnancy when it was announced to her Vixens teammates just a fortnight before the start of the 2014 ANZ Championship season. She was replaced by rookie centre Liz Watson, who slotted straight into the starting seven of what would become the ANZ Championship-winning team. And that was that.
However, Kent’s time away from the game to start her family was not a career ending move, as she quickly realised that she could pursue her coaching career and grow her family too;
“This has always been modelled to me. That netball has always involved women and families. That my first state coach Cathy Fellows (now Thunderbirds Assistant coach) had her children while coaching me. My state league coach Kristy Keppich-Birrell started her family while coaching me, and made brave moves to take coaching roles while balancing being a Mum. My Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke used to bring her daughter to our trainings (which is cool now to see her daughter playing for Firebirds!),” she said.
“SO I guess I never “realised”, I just always knew you could do both because I could see it (thanks to others before me), and so I just did it!” Kent added.
Kent was appointed Head Coach for the Melbourne University Lightning Women’s Championship netball team in 2016 as part of the Victorian Netball League (VNL), she was the Head Coach of the Tasmania Magpies ANL team and was appointed as the VIS Netball Development Coach in 2021.
Kent recently shared her positive work place experience at the VIS, praising the organisation’s flexible working environment that supported her through different stages of life.
“It’s an organisation that backs up with action and not just words,” she said, “they show genuine care about working to help women advance in their careers.”
Kent admitted that when applying for the Netball Development Coach role, she felt supported and even felt comfortable sharing with the panel that she was “thinking of having another baby.”
“From the interview and recruitment process, to flexible work conditions, providing autonomy and support as required, open conversations around maternity leave, and flexibility on return from maternity leave,” she said, “also travelling with my fourth baby on our recent tour to New Zealand took a lot of weight off our shoulders so that I didn't have to be forced into a decision about stopping breast feeding.
The VIS is proud to lead the way in promoting gender equity and is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment. Sixty-six per cent of the currently employed coaching staff are female, leading seven different sports programs at the VIS.
Elissa spent her time as a player listening and forming a deep understanding of the game, she then went into coaching with credibility, respect from and for her players and was able to transfer her knowledge to them.
She embraced her opportunities as a player and is now doing the same as a Coach.
In 2022, she was selected to take part in the innovative Generation 2032 (Gen32) Coach Program, a joint initiative between the AIS, National Institute Network (NIN) partners, and National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) which provides a paid two-year apprenticeship designed to develop high performance coaches of the future.
The Gen32 Program caters for the modern coach with childcare support and flexible working arrangements available for coaches with children on top of their paid coaching apprenticeship.
“There are great opportunities for peer learning and connection from coaches in different sports. I really enjoyed our last learning lab where there was so much creativity explored,” she said.
“We have also had opportunities to really develop our strengths and areas to improve, and have education around areas that impact HP sport as well as our own personal development,” Kent said.
Gen32’s aim is that coaches involved in the program will transition to become Australia’s coaching leaders of the future, with many of them coaching at the Brisbane 2032 Olympic & Paralympic Games and beyond.
Find out more: National Generation 2032 Coach Program | Australian Institute of Sport (ais.gov.au)