08 May 2022
Beginning her first head coaching role in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL), Kristen Veal says it was an “ah-ha moment” when she realised just how much her long-standing connection with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) had prepared her for this opportunity.
Veal was a young teenage point guard in the history-making AIS team that won the 1997-98 WNBL championship. It was supposed to be a development team only, but Veal starred alongside future champions like Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor, Belinda Snell and Suzy Batkovic to snare the title.
Progressing to win three more WNBL titles with Canberra as a player, Veal will now come full-circle as she assumes the head coaching role with the University of Canberra Capitals. And the former Australian Opals representative credits the AIS for being there for the full journey.
“Those early days at the AIS were great,” Veal says. “We were lucky in some respects how simple the world was back then: we had the same facilities, same training locations and weren’t clogged with all the external stuff and social media.
“Playing alongside such a great group of athletes - Lauren, Suzy, Snelly and Penny, and having the success we did, my memories of the AIS back then are super-fond.
“It’s really interesting now to go full circle with one of the most significant programs I was ever involved with. At the time I didn’t think my career would take the path it has.”
The influence of the AIS of Veal’s coaching career has been just as profound. Veal admitted she struggled with the transition to retirement after a long career playing in the WNBL, America’s WNBA and for the Australian Opals. She found purpose in coaching.
“I think initially it can be a little bit of a shock to the system. You have to try and remember your passion for the sport as you navigate your way through the grief and feeling of loss before you can move into accepting and enjoying a new role,” Veal says.
“I went through a fair bit to rediscover my value and competence as a coach. For 17 seasons I knew myself as a professional athlete, I had it really good as a player but then stepping into something new and different was a huge challenge.
“I was very fortunate to have all the support from Basketball Australia and the AIS and my mentors, coaches, teammates, and family and friends support over the course of my eight years as a full time coach.”
Veal has continued to progress her career, coaching Australia’s best young players at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence, based at the AIS. She has also been part of AIS coaching development programs, most recently the AIS Elevate program for pathways coaches.
“The AIS transcends the narrowness of what individual sports are looking at"Kristen Veal, UC Capitals head coach
“Access to courses and initiatives such as the AIS Coach Leadership and the AIS Elevate programs, have also inspired NSOs to develop their own sport-specific initiatives to develop their own sport and coaches, such as Basketball Australia’s Elite Female Coach Advancement Program.
“Back in 2015 when I was struggling with transitioning into my new life as a coach I found the AIS Coach Leadership program quite challenging, but then 6 years later in the Elevate program, to be fully engaged, give back and have conversations with facilitators, presenters and other coaches was just awesome.
“You don’t realise it at the time, but when you get further down the track and understanding the impact of everything the AIS does, you get this ‘ah-ha’ moment.
“Now you see it, feel it, practical things you can implement as a coach straight away. We get a lot of development just by doing our roles and coaching, but when you take time to step away and reflect on the leadership, industry and the different sports, the AIS is hugely valuable.
“I was very fortunate to go through those programs and to have the perspective that goes with it.
Veal says the AIS has evolved the meet the modern needs of athletes and sports. As a coach, she now accesses various AIS services – skill acquisition, physiotherapy, medicine, strength and conditioning and psychology.
“As long as I can remember the AIS has always had a holistic focus on athletes, which I have seen only grow and improve since I was a player.
“The opportunity to work consistently with the AIS medical team and other disciplines such as AWE and skill acquisition to ensure athlete health and wellbeing, and maximise development is pivotal.
“The AIS allows us to work with experts in so many areas. It was pretty overwhelming when I first started, but the more we have at our disposal, the more we can do in working towards achieving our goals of developing resilient young people and future Australian Opals.
“Young people and athletes are different to how they used to be. It is just as important now we look at innovation in terms of management, connections and leadership as well as how you teach.”