Course helps a young leader, on and off the court

Playing netball

At just 16, and already a member of the 17 and under Victorian team and national training squad as well as an athletic goal defence for Victorian Netball League outfit Southern Saints, Mia van Wyk has the netball court at her feet.

Now she’ll be doing battle with the best attackers in the country armed with a kit bag of additional skills she recently developed as a graduate of Monash Council’s Young Women’s Leadership program.

Council created and developed the program in 2016, with the goal of providing a structured approach to increasing young women's skills, confidence and leadership opportunities in a peer learning environment. The course identifies and addresses barriers to women accessing leadership opportunities while supporting participants in understanding and developing their strengths and skill sets.

The 10-week course is divided into 2 sections with the advanced leadership skills component covering public speaking, conflict resolution, interview skills, and financial literacy and management. Issues of gender form the second framework of the course with time spent examining networking, respectful relationships, identity, safety and themes of violence against women, and identifying discrimination.

“It was great, it was such a safe environment,” Mia said of the course. “It wasn’t just that I got to learn about something new every session, but it was always something that I can really use. Public speaking and confidence making speeches (was a big skill I took from the course). We had five or 10 minutes to write a speech and then present it to someone who was a total stranger.”

The gender equity component of the course proved to be something of an eye-opener.

“I found it interesting,” Mia said. “My mum has a job where a lot of the leadership roles are women. Most other workplaces are male-dominated with leadership. (The course was about) trying to get everyone to have their say, trying to get us to understand that ‘I’m not being bossy, I have something to say’.”

As a young player on the rise, Mia may not be wearing the captain’s armband just yet, but the course helped her understand that leadership skills can be of great use at all levels of everyday life.  

“Even if I’m not a captain, I still try to play a leadership role where I can,” she said. “Little bits of leadership, like having the confidence to ask someone ‘can I help you with that?’. Using leadership skills in smaller ways every day.”

The world of elite sport can be a tough road to travel and many a young athlete falls by the wayside. Mia said she had learned lessons through the course that will help keep her grounded as her future career unfolds.

“(I’ve learned) to differentiate between my netball goals and my goals outside netball,” she said. “It helped me look outside of netball, to see ‘Who I am’, not just a netballer. If it’s my netball goals, then it’s obviously the Australian team all the way! If it’s outside netball, probably something in a sporting field like biomechanics. Perhaps even criminology or law.”

Siobhan Hardiman, Senior Project Officer – Children, Youth and Family Services, said Mia’s determination and enthusiasm instantly stamped her as the ideal candidate for the course.

“She was too young for the program, she was 14 at the time and you need to be 15 because of some of the content in the course,” she said. “But she advocated so strongly to be part of  the program. I talked to her mum and she said, ‘that’s Mia, that’s what she’s like’.”

With Victoria in the grip of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, most of Mia’s course was delivered remotely.

“I was so impressed with her dedication and organisation,” Siobhan said. “She’d come home from school and she’d be getting ready for netball and she’d be doing the course on the kitchen table while she was getting ready. Then sometimes, she’d be doing the course over the phone in the car on the way to netball.”