Leadership & Sustainability: A conversation with Asha Francis of Team Bath Netball

Ecus has been Team Bath Netball’s Environmental Partner for the past two seasons, helping to baseline, understand and reduce their carbon impact.

Ecus Communications Team
Written by:

Ecus Communications Team

September 26, 2023

Ecus’ Business Development Director spoke with the Head Coach of Team Bath Netball, Asha Francis, about leadership and what the environmental sector can learn from professional sport.

Asha, how have you found your first year as Head Coach of Team Bath Netball?

It’s been a really interesting first year, and has been as much about inspiring people as it has been about the technical and tactical side of the game.  It’s about understanding what motivates people, and how you can get these talented players all sharing the same vision.

It’s similar to the environmental sector here – people want a career in the sector because they’re passionate about it and want to make a difference.  You need to provide an employee journey, create a vision and make sure you’re authentic with it.

Performance environments used to be very hard-nosed; however, now it’s about finding the balance between being empathetic and understanding, and driving a high-performance culture by supporting and nurturing – you have to want the same thing and push together in the same direction.  Even when things are uncomfortable you have to keep trusting the process.

Asha, you had an incredibly successful career as a player with Team Bath Netball – three Super League titles, including one as Captain.  How have you found the transition between being a leader on the court, and being a leader off the court?

It’s hard! it’s been a lot harder to be on the side, I think.  Being on the court, you can really feel the intensity of what people are doing.

I can model my behaviours and expectations, but one of the core challenges this season has been building up a cohort of first followers in the group, because, as a leader you’re not always privy to everything that you were as a player.  You need to identify those figures in the team who will be your key allies to drive and push on your behalf – you need to build the confidence of your leadership team and empower that leadership team to consistently do their best.

What do you think defines a good leader?

I think a good leader knows and communicates their vision, and has a really clear idea of the steps that it will take to get there.  They’re not put off by failure.  A good leader is someone who can get people to really buy into their vision and follow it – while I’m the coach, I’m pretty much here to empower the team to make good decisions.

On the flip-side, a bad leader is someone who isn’t honest about what their vision is – this leads to them demonstrating a lack of authenticity.  That lack of buy-in can then lead to them micro-managing and not trusting the abilities of their team to deliver.

Asha – do you think that there are any similarities between the environmental sector and professional sport, and what do you think we could learn from professional sport?

We have defined excellence as doing the best with what you have, and I believe this is where we can draw similarities between the sectors.  We’re not professional, so, with our semi-pro status, resources available to us are limited, and it becomes about creative thinking, making the most of what you have and getting those elements to work to give you the best product/performance you can. I believe similarly the environmental sector works with the earth’s resources, to find different ways to get what you need with what is available.

I do, however, believe that sometimes the nature of Sport means that we can be at loggerheads with the environmental sector as we can sometimes be guilty of putting performance over environmental sustainability. The carbon footprint of Sport is large and there is room for improvement here. Team Bath, along with the University of Bath, is committed to supporting the University’s Climate Action Framework and to addressing this issue. On a day-to-day level, we are trying to be more conscious about how we travel; sharing transport and minimising journeys wherever possible and we are also more aware of waste when ordering additional kit and consumables, taking care to ensure there is little to no wastage.  There is more being done right across campus too, for example, in June 2023, the University hosted the annual EAUC Conference (for the Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education) welcoming colleagues and students from across the sector for enriching sustainability-focused workshops, and a new network of staff Climate Advocates was also recently formed.