Victorian volleyball representative following in coach's footsteps
WHEN Phalen Taylor looks around the gymnasium at the teenage volleyballers she is taking through a series of training drills, she sees herself a decade ago.
Back then, she was a keen young member of the Bendigo Bank Academy of Sport's volleyball program, on her way towards representing her state in the sport.
Fast forward to today and Phalen is now head coach of the academy's girls' squad, helping turn talented players into the best athletes and most well-rounded individuals they can be.
Some are even following in her footsteps and playing for Victoria.
"Because I have been where they are now, I respect how hard the program is and I really understand what it takes," the 24-year-old says.
"I make a commitment to the girls and we have an open and transparent way we work toward the goals we set and I am very clear about what they need to do to achieve them.
"But the great thing is that the program isn't just about volleyball - the main aspects are about reaching goals, creating the best athletes possible and teaching them life skills"
The girls may improve their physical fitness and skills, but they learn from coaches, mentors and visiting consultants about how to better manage their time, cyber safety guidelines, public speaking tips and the general expectations placed on elite athletes.
"It's those little things that I valued as an athlete going through the program and we also emphasise that to their parents," Phalen explains.
"The kids have to be responsible for things, not their parents. So we have a little joke they are not allowed to get their parents to fill up their drink bottles before a tournament, for example.
"They also learn the etiquette of being here at a certain time before training and that they need to be ready. If they can't come, they can't just send a text: they must phone and tell me."
Among the academy's recent success stories is Girton Grammar year nine pupil Lydia Rhule.
The outside hitter/middle player recently returned from representing Victoria at the School Sport Australia national volleyball championships in Brisbane with a silver medal.
She has also been selected to attend an Australian junior training camp later this year.
Lydia, 15, took up the sport just two years ago - and then only because her school didn't have enough girls for one of its teams.
She had played tennis since she was a little tacker, so the skills of serving and spiking came quite easily to her, though "it took a little while to get the hang of everything else".
Lydia joined the academy last year and says the experience has impacted on many areas of her life away from the volleyball court.
"It is not just the physical training. The program helps you grow as a person because we learn how to present ourselves and about nutrition and how to prevent all sorts of injuries.
"I have certainly learnt how to be more confident when I am playing, because I definitely wasn't when I started.
"I'm one of the senior academy athletes this year, so I have to really make sure I am a good leader for the younger athletes.
"To have all those skills is really good for everything else in my life."
Being selected in a Victorian team this year was a surprise.
"I wasn't expecting to get in," says Lydia, who lives in Maldon.
"I only went to the trials because it was part of the academy program.
"Then I was so shocked that I didn't really want to be part of it at first, because I just wasn't expecting to be picked."
Some gentle encouragement from mum Denise and coach Phalen helped change Lydia's mind and she went on to be part of the squad that ended up ranked number two in the nation.
"Mum said that she wasn't given those kinds of opportunities as a kid. She said it was a great opportunity for me and even though it cost a lot of money, she was prepared to do it for me. She would drive me two and a half hours each way for training every Sunday, so I could be a part of it."
Lydia's mum and older sister Sophie, 17, went to Queensland to watch the youngster in action at the Australian titles and she appreciated having them there to cheer her on.
"I'd love to make the state team again next year, but I'm not expecting to because the talent of the girls in my age group is just amazing," she says. "It was great to play with them in Brisbane because they were really strong."
Lydia will attend an Australian training camp in Churchill, Gippsland, in December alongside about 50 of the most promising girls from around the country.
"From that group, players are chosen to play for Australia some time next year," she says.
"I wouldn't mind playing for Australia - but I won't be too disappointed if I don't make the team. I am not the kind of person who gets really annoyed if I miss out on something."
Lydia is inspired by Australian tennis player Sam Stosur on the international sporting stage. But closer to home, it is her local academy coaches she looks up to.
Along with Phalen, assistants Kim Rosos, Kristen Woodcock and Laura Roberts have all been in a similar position to where she is now. Roberts is an Australian representative.
"They are all past athletes and are now coaches," Lydia says.
"It is great to see what they have been able to do and hear them share their stories. It helps me realise that I can do this - they are great role models."
Another academy assistant, Andrew Hickey, coached Phalen Taylor when she was young.
"Now he has to answer to me!" Phalen laughs.
The head coach, like Lydia, attended Girton and began playing volleyball in year seven.
She spent four years in the Bendigo academy, played for Victoria at under-19 level, then returned to the local talent program as an assistant coach.
She is now in her third year at the helm of the squad, plays women's division one for Chikigh here in Bendigo and recently gained experience an assistant for a state under-19 team.
The St Luke's family worker relishes the chance to impart her sporting knowledge to the next generation of champions. It's a way of thanking the academy for what she gained as a teen.
"I'm all about giving back to the community," she says. "To keep communities like this going, you need to give back when you have got certain skills that others can learn from.
"If people leave programs like this and don't come back, we lose some of those skills.
"I absolutely love what I do. It's challenging with work commitments - being in a high-pressure, stressful job and then organising and running all this.
"But you have to have challenges in your life, because they are good for you."
The program... is about reaching goals, creating the best athletes possible and teaching them life skills.