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Dan Ryan of Leeds Rhinos Netball.

Dan Ryan, Coach of Leeds Rhinos during the Vitality Super League match between Celtic Dragons and Leeds Rhinos at Studio 001, Wakefield, England on 12th January 2021.

How do you build a successful team culture with an entirely new team? That was the task undertaken by Leeds Rhinos Netball Head Coach Dan Ryan when he agreed to lead the club into its debut Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season.

The journalism graduate, who’s also the boss of the Northern Ireland national team, joined Rhinos in August 2019 to continue a coaching journey that has spanned about nine years at the elite level and stretches even further back in the lower reaches of the sport.

“Well, I think I naturally got involved in coaching through my playing days; I started coaching when I was about 15 as a part-time, casual job in high school and never really saw it as anything more than just a hobby,” Ryan explains.

“I suppose my journey into high-performance coaching began in 2012 when Jane Woodlands-Thompson, the Head Coach at the time of the Adelaide Thunderbirds, had approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in being the Assistant Coach of the Thunderbirds in the ANZ Championship.

“I ended up spending four years with the club in that role and won the Premiership in 2013 with the team and it was probably that four-year period and my involvement and relationship with Jane which I guess shifted my thinking around coaching.”

Having decided to pursue coaching as a career beyond the ‘hobby’ it once was, Ryan needed to develop his methodology and the former Australian Sonix player has always been keen to absorb information from those he’s encountered within netball.

“I think for me, I’m a bit of a student of the game, I’ve always loved to learn and the way that you take in new information can be through people, through watching, through reading, all of those different things,” said Ryan.

“I’ve kind of collected everything from any coach that I’ve worked with, coaches that I’ve played under, coaches that I’ve coached against or been mentored by and there’s not necessarily one individual thing.

“For me, being someone that is so thirsty to grow and develop and evolve and has a great hunger for knowledge, if your eyes are open to that type of thing, you’re learning all the time from the people that are around you.”

“I’ve kind of collected everything from any coach that I’ve worked with.” – Dan Ryan

Despite detailing the importance of learning from gifted figures within the sport, Ryan stresses the need to not allow that to become an imitation.

There’s a balance to be struck in acquiring valuable skills from other coaches and forging your own identity as a leader.

“I think a couple of things that always stood out for me with coaching over time is that it’s so important to be authentic in the way that you coach and lead and it has to be genuine from the heart and your way because you can’t mimic someone else as a coach and you can’t pretend to be something that you’re not as well,” insists the former Manchester Thunder boss.

“There’s too much pressure in those types of environments to be forced to be something other than you authentically are so I think finding your own values and finding your own philosophies is really critical.

“That evolves over time through different experiences and different interactions and environments etc. So, coaching is a constant learning job and you’re constantly moving and progressing and that’s what I love about it.”

Ryan’s path to the VNSL’s newest club has included a Grand Final defeat with Thunder, a testing period as the main man in charge of the Thunderbirds, a return to Manchester as an Assistant to help clinch the 2019 title and a spell leading Northern Ireland at 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup that summer.

So who is Dan Ryan the coach in 2021? And what values is he trying to instil at the VNSL’s newest club?

“I think one thing that we’re trying to do at Leeds Rhinos Netball is to create an environment where everyone has a real strong sense of belonging to the team and that everyone from all different walks of life, different backgrounds, different cultures, different levels of experience and ages, they all have a place within the group and a contribution to make and that’s the expectation,” said Ryan.

“You might be the most experienced or the least experienced but your contributions are as important as the next person’s. So in terms of an on-court playing sense, we really want to embrace the skillset and weaponry that each player has and really find a team way that caters for all of their individual skillsets but is collected into a really good, cohesive approach as well.

“That’s certainly something that we’ve tried to embrace is be yourself, play to your strengths, do what you do really well and then the challenge for us is to mould that into a team unit and I think that’s really critical. We don’t want to make robots, we want players to play with their natural flair and instincts but also capture what it is to be a Leeds Rhinos netball team as well.”

When Ryan is not on the coaching bench, he can sometimes be found in the commentary box for Sky Sports, whose landmark deal with England Netball will see every 2021 VNSL match broadcast live across Sky Sports Mix, Arena and YouTube.

Ryan joins the rest of the Netball Family in rejoicing over that news: “It’s amazing and I’ve said this a number of times in the media I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks, this is obviously unprecedented for netball in the UK but a prime opportunity to move the game forward into that commercialisation which is so critical to professionalise the sport,” he said.

“For fans now across the country to be able to follow their team and every other team from the very start of the season to the very end and not be having to scroll through Twitter to follow the game, I think is huge progress.”

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