‘A dream has become a reality’: Tracey Neville on embracing motherhood and life down under
Vitality Ambassador Tracey Neville opens up about balancing a high-profile job alongside the role of a lifetime as mum
It’s been five years since Tracey Neville – a driving force in the world of netball and much-loved Vitality Ambassador – led the England Netball team to gold in 2018.
Her successes haven’t ceased, however, after leaving the role 12 months later.
Last month, she helped the Adelaide Thunderbirds, where she is Assistant Coach, win a premiership title in what was an extra-time thriller and a first for the club in more than a decade.
Despite only being in the job for a tender six months, she’s already busy making history in the land of Oz. Yet, Tracey’s personal life hasn’t been as seamless as her talent for building winning teams.
“[Stepping away from the Vitality Roses] was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life,” she tells Vitality Magazine.
“My dad always used to say, ‘you only get one opportunity at something’ and that was my opportunity, and I was choosing to step away from a role that I considered myself quite successful in.”
Tracey’s decision to leave the Vitality Roses was by no means a vanity project, as she choose to take on the role of a lifetime and become a mother, which sadly, didn’t come easily to her and partner Michael.
After five rounds of IVF, while in the highly stressful role as Head Coach, she finally decided that resigning from the role would allow her the best chance of conceiving.
“Low and behold I handed my resignation in and two months later I found out I was pregnant and that was with little Nev,” Tracey recalls.
Looking back at her time as Head Coach, and despite coining it her ‘opportunity’, she has no regrets in stepping back when she did.
“I think things are meant to happen as well, it’d been quite a stressful time during the Vitality Roses campaign, I’d been a coach for 13 years on the bounce, and I think sometimes you wonder about a career break, and I think that was definitely the right time to have one.”
So, at the arrival of Nev in 2020, in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was time to write a new chapter in her life: to balance motherhood and her second love of coaching.
A balancing act
Tracey began her journey in motherhood, like so many others, during the pandemic, which wasn’t easy for a coach that’s used to being on the go.
“When you’re a new mother and you get locked up, that’s definitely not the place you want to keep Tracey Neville, trust me.”
On reflection, Tracey admits it helped her and Michael adopt to life with a newborn. “It enabled me to find my own routine with Nev that really suited me and enabled him to adapt to me and my way of living.”
Now though, she was ready for a new challenge, and it was time to get back to the job she loves – secondary to her family, of course.
It was always going to be a balancing act, as any parent knows, and Tracey wasn’t immune to the challenges of taking on a full-time role and looking after a young baby – and just the small matter of upping sticks and moving to the other side of the world.
“Striking a healthy work-life balance is something I’ve really struggled with. This is my first full-time job since I had Nev, I’ve sort of had a bit of work before that, so I’ve spent a lot of time at home with Nev,” she admits.
And, true to Tracey’s nature, since the move at the beginning of this year, she’s thrown herself into coaching. Predominantly six days a week, Michael has somewhat taken over traditional daytime duties.
“We’ve sort of flipped roles. You’re sort of giving power to someone else now and I think that’s been really hard, at times I was the one Nev went to first and emotionally that was really hard to accept,” she says.
Meanwhile, motherhood has brought her so much more than just Nev.
“Being a mum I see things a lot differently now [when coaching], I’ve got a lot more empathy, I’m a lot more considerate, I’m not as intense.”
Life down under
A move halfway across the world with a baby isn’t for the faint hearted, but Tracey says it was a dream come true for her.
It was Tania Obst, her Assistant Coach when with the Vitality Roses, that brought her onboard with the Thunderbirds in a role reversal for the duo.
Tania has been Head Coach of the team since 2018 and kicked off conversations with Tracey about joining the Thunderbirds last year.
“Then before you know it those conversations progressed […] and I’ve been here now nearly six months,” says Tracey. “A dream really has become a reality. I’m in the best league in the world […], it’s been an extraordinary experience and one that I’ve really enjoyed and so glad that I embraced.”
And something that Nev is embracing, too.
“He [Nev] knows what mummy does, and I’m being a role model to him because he doesn’t want to play football, he wants to play netball. That’s something that his uncles’ might not be too happy about,” she chuckles.
Netball is a sport that currently attracts 20 million players worldwide, according to World Netball. Naturally, this is predominantly made up of women and girls.
“If you ask every single female in this country, they’ve all played netball at some point,” says Tracey.
Despite more boys joining, around 20,000 men (16+) regularly take part in netball matches findings from Sport England Active Live’s survey show.
But Tracey says there’s more to be done for the sport. “I come from an era where I’ve grown up with two brothers who have, from the time they made their debut for Man Utd, played in front of 67,000 people,” says Tracey.
“There have been steppingstones along the years and when I took over England Netball, I wanted to make it a dream for a young girl.
“If you asked a young girl ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’, I wanted to be a zoologist, now, when you ask them, young girls want to be netballers.
“There are now roles for females in top professional sport where they can make a career out of it and that’s one of the things I really wanted to push when I came into the Vitality Roses.”
But it’s not all about winning investment and sponsorship for Tracey, it’s about bringing awareness of the sport far and wide.
“If I look at my mum now who is 72, she still plays GA [goal attack] in a running league, not a walking league, but there are so many different variations of Netball as well. You can walk, you can run, there is also a ParaNetball league.
“The world of netball is changing, and I think that’s so exciting.”
Back to Netball is a grassroots programme developed by England Netball to encourage former netball enthusiasts back into the sport.
Whether you haven’t played for a long time, or not played at all, these sessions are for everyone and anyone.
Visit the England Netball website and type in your postcode to find a court near you.
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