Making change to facilitate sporting pathways

Written by Kerrie Alexander

Hervey Bay’s Jill Stephenson volunteers her time six days a week coaching both women’s and junior girls’ basketball and netball.

The mum-of two, florist, and wife of a local schoolteacher, carries a suitcase full of the clothes in her car for quick and easy changes of uniform.

Jill has to be prepared for the “juggling act”, coaching junior netball and women’s basketball on Mondays, Women’s Hurricanes basketball on Tuesdays, Under 14 Division 1 basketball team on Wednesdays, Under 12 Basketball on Friday and junior girls’ basketball training on Sundays.

She actually gets to play basketball on Thursdays, watches her two children play on Fridays, and she coaches the women’s Hurricanes basketball on Saturday night.

Thankfully her wonderful bosses at Hervey Bay Florist allow her some flexi time to do what she loves most.

“I’m really grateful that I have a flexible employer that knows that I put a lot into the community.

“It would be wonderful to see a lot more employers allow their staff to leave a little bit earlier to help go and guide the next generation of kids.

“They need these kids working and sports helps with that development and confidence in the workplace.

“You also want our kids to have that opportunity and it make you happier and appreciative.”

Jill is, and always has been from a young age, passionate about sports and the positive benefits it offers, which is why she gives up her time so freely.

“I just had a love of sports from the moment I stepped on the Basketball court at a young age,” Jill said.

“Sport is such an important aspect for overall health, and mental and physical well-being.

“I see a lot of young girls in the eight to nine age group that when they first start are nervous, they lack confidence and judge themselves and just don’t have that same confidence as young boys who just get out and have a go.

“As a coach it is wonderful to see young female athletes grow and gain confidence in the first few weeks of starting a new sport. It is also amazing to see new friendships among the girls!

“That has to be so positive for them to socialise and be happier and healthier.”

However, in recent times Jill has seen a frightening decline in the number of females playing sport and is campaigning for more to be done when it comes to opening up pathways for female participation in Hervey Bay.

On an international level, from September 22 to October 1, Australia will host the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Sydney, where our Australian Opals will represent their country in front of their family, friends, and communities on home soil.

In 2023, Australia will host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, a tournament of global significance that will give our Matildas the same opportunity.

Of course, next year, our Australian women’s Rugby Sevens team are also set to defend their gold medal title at the postponed Tokyo Olympics, which will see our women’s teams competing across a range of sport including the Hockeyroos in hockey, the Stingers in water polo and the return of our women’s softball team among them.

The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2022 will be another chance to see teams such as our Diamonds take on netball’s best.

However, these athletes weren’t born as stars of their sport.

Each one started at a grass roots level on the courts and fields of their local clubs where they were guided by volunteer coaches like Jill, who gave up their time solely to see young up and coming players succeed.

Jill’s concern is that a lack of facilities and coaching development courses on the Fraser Coast could hold back the female sporting stars of tomorrow.

Her female basketball teams are currently bouncing between the courts at the Hervey Bay PCYC, Urangan High, Hervey Bay High, with some trainings as late as 7pm due to the courts being booked up.

There has been a solid campaign by the Hervey Bay Basketball Association to get the facilities built but a lack of Government Funding continues to stand in their way.

No facilities, means less people playing and less people taking away the associated benefits. For instance, with Basketball the junior girls have no dedicated competition for them to play, at present they are competing with boys their own age or in the women’s senior competition. Basketball is a physical sport and this does present challenges for up-and-coming junior female players.

“It would be good if the local Council or State Government started looking at ways to increase female participation in our regional towns.

“Providing better facilities for participant growth or funding local sports clubs to help expand existing facilities is really needed in Hervey Bay. Even funding for coach and officials’ courses so that parents can increase their knowledge and gain the confidence to be involved in their local sports clubs.

“New South Wales and Victoria (governments) are putting a lot of money into promoting women and sport.

“In Hervey Bay, we identify as a low socio-economic community, and it is great to see the government putting a lot of money into mental health facilities in our community, but there is a definite lack of funding for preventative measures like local sporting programs, especially basketball.

“We need to be proactive not reactive.

“Just at a local level I don’t think there’s enough pathways for them to keep going.”

Having an indoor multi-purpose facility could also bring some big-name events to the region, Jill said.

“Ideally it would be great to have a purpose-built stadium at the Nikenbah precinct where we could host some really great events or invitational carnivals which would also be great for tourism and have an ongoing positive effect on our community.

“We’ve got teams like the Brisbane Bullets for basketball that could come and play or even the Sunshine Coast Lightning for Netball.

“Bundaberg recently hosted the Bulldogs and Cowboys football … if we had the right indoor facilities here in Hervey Bay we could host some great indoor sporting events throughout the year, really making our town come to life”

While the solid push to get the right facilities will continue, Jill will also carry on encouraging and supporting any females who want to give basketball or netball a go.

“Even if they just want to play for fun and enjoy the social benefits or if they want to look at sports as a career, we’d love to hear from them.”

To join one of Jill’s teams, visit Rangers Basketball Club or Bay Bullets Netball Association on Facebook.