Interview with Ama Agbeze: Championing Women's Sport and Mentorship

Published on March 12, 2024 by Mimi O'Callaghan
Campaign Girls participation

As part of our #OnHerTeam campaign, we sat down with Ama Agbeze MBE – former England Netball Captain and 2018 Commonwealth Gold Medallist.

Ama is a committed Greenhouse Ambassador as well as an inspirational role model for our young people, and we are so lucky to have her in our TeamForLife.

We discuss her leadership style, how to level the playing field when it comes to gender parity in sports, and the powerful impact that mentoring has on a young person’s life.

The first point I’d love to talk to you about is your leadership. You successfully led teams in various settings, notably England’s gold medal in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Could you share some insights into your leadership style and any strategies that you’ve found most effective and inspiring in guiding your team members?

What’s been important for me is knowing that I’m not everything to everybody. Instead, I focus on making the team as strong as possible and leaning into others’ strengths. Core to my leadership style is championing and celebrating others – because everyone is different, and their different strengths are what makes us strong overall. It also keeps things fresh and engaging. For example, someone might be really good at motivating the team pre-match, whilst someone else might excel on the court.

I believe outside of sports, this is similar. There might be someone who is excellent at providing strategic direction and insight for a company or business, whilst someone else is able to hold a room incredibly – and when they talk, people listen. So really leaning into the strengths of the people you surround yourself with is crucial. Having that diversity and surrounding yourself with people who have different strengths is so important!

Your enthusiasm for women’s sport is clear. In your opinion, what are some critical factors in promoting and nurturing the growth of women’s sport, and how can both individuals and organisations contribute to this?

It’s funny because it’s never referred to as ‘Women’s Sport’ and ‘Men’s Sport’ – it’s ‘Women’s Sport’ and then just Sport… Men are seen as the standard, and then women are seen as on the side. I’d love it to get to the point where sport is just sport.

For so long, sport has been seen as male territory and this needs to change. It puts many women off getting involved. It’s so wrong – sport is for everyone.

There are many things that can be done from an individual and organisational level to ignite this change:

  • Investment in women’s sport, focusing on infrastructure, professional spaces, human capital, and resources. This investment would ensure that women’s sport receives equal priority to men’s sport. Historically, women’s sport have been overlooked and underfunded compared to men’s sport. Therefore, additional support is necessary to elevate women’s sport to the same level.
  • Media coverage, sponsorship, and support from organisations outside of sports are also important. Without exposure, a sport may go unnoticed. Therefore, it’s essential to highlight women’s sport not only on television but also in print and traditional media and on social media platforms, ensuring visibility across various channels.
  • Encouraging grassroots participation is vital because it’s the foundation. Without it, there’s no development, no top players, no elite sport. I wouldn’t have had a professional sport career if I didn’t start somewhere. It’s hugely thanks to the people who supported me and all the volunteers. Financial support from organisations is crucial  Individuals can also support by attending sporting events or subscribing to watch female sport.
  • Championing equal pay, not just in sports but in general, is something anyone can do.
  • Volunteering is essential; it underpins all sport, including women’s sport and helps to support it. Making sure people know what volunteering opportunities are available and how fulfilling them can strengthen and support women’s sport can generate interest from a broad range of people, increasing inclusivity. 
  • In terms of jobs in the sporting landscape, not everyone can be a professional athlete – but there are so many different layers in the industry people can get involved in. Women don’t necessarily get the same opportunity for these roles. So, making sure women are aware of and considered for these roles in the wider sports industry is crucial.
  • Representation at that top level is crucial ensuring leadership positions in sporting organisations include women. People who make decisions in organisations need to ensure diversity of thought, including having a woman’s lens in decision making. Ensuring, amongst other things that policies are inclusive around women.

You’ve been a vocal supporter and ambassador for the Greenhouse Sports charity for some time now; how do you think Greenhouse stands out in providing mentorship to young athletes and how do you think it can help people grow in both sport and life?

It’s impactful having somebody to refer to and look to for guidance. I’ve mentored people and I’ve been mentored, and I know how Greenhouse works with its coaching and mentoring model, and I know it is invaluable. Especially with young people, they might not recognise that they need support or understand the interconnectedness between how they feel emotionally and how they present themselves to the world. It’s a huge opportunity to provide support and growth.

The change in young people when they have the benefit of a Greenhouse coach in their school or in a programme, from when they start to even a few weeks later, is significant. I recently saw a video from Sarah Bonnell School, hearing the testimonies of the girls and how their interaction with Tom, their coach has positively influenced them. Sometimes, you see young people being disruptive in class or not paying attention, and it’s easy to write them off, but often there are other things going on. Having a Greenhouse coach in a school and building relationships with young people, who might not always want to go to a teacher to talk is ingenious.

What’s incredible is that many young people that Greenhouse work with don’t even realise that the coach is a mentor because coaches build such natural relationships. In some cases, young women might think, ‘tennis isn’t for me because I don’t live in the right place, or I’ve never seen it or thought that I could play it.’ But through consistently attending sessions and building relationships with their peers, they feel the effects of coaching and mentoring, even if they can’t put a name to it and, they become good at the sport too. It’s a win win.

Another thing is that many people are primarily focused on academics, but there needs to be more focus in the schooling and education system on the benefits of sport. Looking at the success of Greenhouse programmes and the support provided to those who attend is massive. So, understanding that sport is a brilliant tool for development and that it can transfer skills into other areas is essential. Some parents may not understand the value, but giving their child the opportunity to experience sport and see what it brings is valuable.

Another point is that many academically inclined young women tend to step away from sports during exam time. However, sport and physical activity can be a brilliant outlet mentally, a valuable stress reliever and can help with effective time management. Making sure women understand this as well as the other health benefits, as they get older is key. Greenhouse is doing valuable work in schools, reaching young women who may not think sport is for them for whatever reason, perhaps because they’re not necessarily the best at sport.

Sport is more than just time spent on the field; it’s about enhancing mental health and wellbeing, building relationships, cultivating a sense of community, exercise, perseverance, dedication, and more.