Written by Amelia Barnes
Kim Gray became the Wellbeing Lead at the Melbourne Vixens following the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season.
Her impact on the team has been so significant, that less than two years into the role, Gray was named the joint winner of the Outstanding Service Award at the Vixens’ 2023 Sharelle McMahon Medal ceremony.
Gray is employed full-time by the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) and her role involves working with all its elite netball and sailing athletes.
As the Vixens’ Wellbeing Lead, she is the first port of call for the team’s athletes, coaches, and staff in need of additional support. This might relate to injury, career, study, health, or work-life balance – anything that requires coordinating alongside their jobs in netball.
“It's about general wellbeing and not just athlete wellbeing … It’s about helping them succeed in both sport and life and help manage that balance,” Gray said.
“If something affects their life or netball, they've got a support person who can help them and ensure that they're thriving, as opposed to just surviving.”
Wellbeing is important in any sport, but especially netball where athletes often have additional work and study commitments.
Victoria’s elite netballers include athletes who are living interstate or internationally away from their main support systems, as well as those family planning, balancing international sporting duties, and managing injury.
A relatively common scenario Gray helps athletes manage is balancing university around training or game day commitments. “If they're going to be interstate and have a university assessment or exam clash, we work with the university and the Elite Athlete program to arrange special consideration adjustments,” she said.
Mental health support is another facet of the job that Gray helps facilitate in conjunction with the Vixens’ medical team and the Mental Health Referral Network available to Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) funded athletes.
Gray has long worked in sport in roles across rugby union, gymnastics and combat sports both in Australia and internationally.
She recognises the unique position of netball, which has just 10 contracted players and a handful of training partners per SSN team. “It’s a smaller number so is a lot more intimate, which can hopefully help make more of a difference,” Gray said.
As of 2020, all SSN clubs are required to have a part-time wellbeing resource on staff.
To be successful in the role requires building and maintaining strong relationships – something Gray has been building with the athletes from the very first day she stepped foot in the State Netball Centre.
“I check in if I hear that they’ve been injured, or if they haven’t played,” Gray said.
“Particularly at the moment around the contracting period, it’s important to check in on how they are going.”
Gray’s job also requires clear communication with coaches and medical staff to ensure each athlete’s needs are being handled with care.
“Wellbeing is everyone’s role, and the coaches and staff are good at keeping an eye on the players’ wellbeing impacts,” Gray said.
“Sometimes it can just be, ‘Can you check on so and so?’ We've got a real trust around the confidentiality of the players.
“We've got such an experienced team … The culture is really professional across the board.”
In her role, Gray hopes to empower athletes by providing them with advice and resources to make their own informed decisions. “It’s about empowering them to be in the driving seat but providing that support and assistance, and sometimes direction, when they need it.”
The opportunity to work with some of the country’s most accomplished athletes and get to know them on a human level is not lost on her.
“It’s a privilege to be able to work with and build relationships with the players, coaches, staff, and stakeholders,” Gray said.
“Every time they go out on court, just knowing that there's other elements to the athletes, and that their identity isn't just being a netball player, it's rewarding.
“I like seeing people thrive and succeed despite barriers that might be in their way.”
Gray said winning the Outstanding Service Award at the 2023 Sharelle McMahon Medal ceremony was a completely unexpected honour.
“I could not believe it … The Outstanding Service Award I think should be awarded to everyone on the team because I know how hard people work, so I feel really honoured and grateful to receive it.”
Gray was proud to share the moment with physiotherapist Emma Iacovou who was also recognised as joint winner of the Outstanding Service Award at the ceremony.
“She puts in a lot of hours and time and love and care – she's so deserving. To be up there with her was great,” said Gray.
“I'm really proud to have this award, and really happy to be sharing it with Emma.”
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