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UK Coaching Week: Athlete, Coach, Commentator and University Lecturer shares what it’s like working in sports

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To mark UK Coaching Week (5-11 June 2023) Leeds Trinity University launched Where is the Line?, a short film made in collaboration with UK Coaching – a national organisation championing fairness and social justice in sports coaching.

Woman with brown hair in tracksuit leans on pommel horse with Tokyo 2020 written on it.

Playing a key role in making this vital project come to fruition was Dr Lisa Gannon, Associate Professor (Professional Practice) at the University. Lisa, together with networks established throughout a successful career in the sports industry and higher education, helped to form the partnership and create the film to highlight responsibilities around duty for care in sports coaching.  

From athlete to coach with a range of other roles including sports commentating, Lisa, from Wales, shares her journey as part of UK Coaching Week to help others interested in or starting out in a career in sports. 

Lisa’s journey began from a young age having been born into a family with a proud sporting background. Her father, Ken Barton, was a professional footballer and played for Tottenham Hotspur between 1960 and 1964, debuting during their league and cup double-winning season of 1960/61. He would later play for Millwall, Luton Town and Dunstable Town. 

Ken, who sadly passed away when Lisa was 12, provided the motivation for Lisa to pursue her own sporting ambitions in gymnastics. A talented young athlete, Lisa first represented her country in her early teens, a moment she still regards as one of her proudest. 

Reflecting on the influence her father and childhood sporting endeavours had on her, Lisa said: “First and foremost, I loved sport and I wanted to do well, but to do that you have to be quite disciplined and structured. Gymnastics is an early specialisation sport, so by the time I was 12 I was already training hard. 

“As my dad was a professional sportsman, he used to help and support me. He wasn’t a pushy parent; the drive and motivation came very much from me. I wouldn’t have trained as hard before he passed away if I wasn’t compelled to but losing him when I was so young gave me the added determination and commitment to succeed and make him proud. 

“I believe my lived experiences have given me resilience. Quite often you find it’s not necessarily the people who have had an easy time who go on to achieve, but those who have persevered through difficulties, who keep moving forward.” 

Lisa first made her way to Leeds as a 17-year-old after signing up to the BA (Hons) Human Movement Studies programme at the then Carnegie, Leeds Polytechnic. Her cohort included future England Rugby Union coach Stuart Lancaster and Guin Batten, a silver-medallist in rowing at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.  

Lisa went on to win the British Universities and Colleges Sport individual AA (All Around) event in 1991 before representing Great Britain at the World Student Games. A foot injury sustained at the games prompted her retirement from gymnastics, aged 21.  

By then, Lisa’s interest in coaching and people development had already emerged and led to her gaining her pre-school award, allowing her to coach gymnastics to young children, and women’s artistic gymnastics coach award. Lisa also worked with promising boys at the regional gymnastics centre.  

In a research role, Lisa shared an office with Matthew Greenwood, now the Event Director at British Gymnastics. It was Matthew who encouraged Lisa to step into the world of hosting, presenting and commentating. Lisa hosted her first major event at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and has since fronted 12 World Championships, five Commonwealth Games and three Olympic Games, witnessing several moments of sporting history in person along the way. 

Lisa’s varied career includes 20 years as a Lecturer and Senior Lecturer across Leeds, alongside her work coaching student gymnasts and completing her PhD in bone health. She is also now involved with the Commonwealth Sport Women’s Leadership Programme, which aims to empower women on their development journeys towards becoming influential leaders and agents of change in the field of sports. As part of this, she is mentoring Malaysia-based Leong Mun Yee, four-time Olympian and two-time medal winner at the Diving World Championships, as she works towards opening her own academy. 

Lisa was appointed as Non-Executive Director (Technical & Education) of Welsh Gymnastics in 2016 and was tasked with Chairing the Performance Committee and, as a Board member, driving the strategy and direction of the organisation. She proudly carried out that role for seven years, leaving earlier this year having Chaired two Commonwealth Games Reviews, and was presented with a special recognition award for her contribution to gymnastics at a ceremony in April.  

Lisa’s role at Leeds Trinity University involves using her work, expertise and networks to help raise the profile of the University and collaborate on projects that support students, colleagues and the wider community. Her academic research provides opportunities to travel across the world to share knowledge with others. Lisa is recently back from presenting work at the American College of Sports Medicine World Congress in Denver, Colorado. 

Having enjoyed a long and successful career in sports as an athlete, coach and academic, Lisa gave the following advice to others starting out or considering a career like hers: “Be who and what you want to be, if you’re fortunate enough to know what that is. If you have a chance to get involved in something you enjoy, don’t get hung up on how much you’re getting paid, or how important it seems, you will always learn from the experience and meet new people.  

“If you don’t know where you’re heading, that’s fine too. Work conscientiously at the challenges in front of you and while it helps to be focused, don’t miss the opportunities in your peripheral vision, because sometimes they arise when and where you least expect them to.

“From a coaching perspective, the key is to really see, hear and understand the individual. Only by doing so can you really help challenge themselves effectively to move forwards.” 

For information about Leeds Trinity University’s BSc (Hons) Sports Coaching course or other sports courses, visit the website.  

For more information about or to view the film Where is the Line? visit the University website.   

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