A love for TV programme CSI led to British Wheelchair Basketball’s Workforce Manager Samantha Rock initially wanting to pursue a career as a forensic scientist or barrister, but it was Sam’s passion for sport that proved to be the winner.
It’s a passion that has been ever-present since watching her Dad play cricket every weekend. “I just did whatever sports I could,” Sam said, with her involvement in sports including athletics, netball, cross-country, korfball and volleyball.
As Sam began thinking about University, she knew she wanted to pursue her passion for sport. But even then, sport development was something she hadn’t initially considered as a route to follow her passion.
“A PE course was my first choice for University, but I didn’t get onto that, so I got put onto my second choice which was Sport and Leisure Management,” Sam said. “However, I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, so I was really disappointed on results day.
“Both of my original choices were at Sheffield Hallam, so I rang them up and asked if there was anything different, I could do and there were places on the sport development course. So, that’s how I ended up on the sport development route and, although I had coached previously, I didn’t really know much about it until I went to Uni,” Sam said.
After graduating with a BSc (Hons) in Sport Development with Coaching from Sheffield Hallam University, which also included a two-month placement coaching volleyball and other activities in Tanzania, Sam began working for a School Sport Partnership in Sheffield in 2010.
Coaching within schools in Sheffield, including two days of PPA cover at a Primary School, “I was doing all sorts of sports, it was really full-on and intense but it was a really good opportunity to put the things I learned at University into practice,” Sam said.
After eight months, Sam moved to London to become Sport Development Officer at Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
“It was such a difference from being in a school environment to such a diverse borough,” Sam said. “You would be walking through the borough and see real struggle and deprivation, and then 10 minutes later you would be walking past the houses of people like Simon Cowell. It was a real eye opener for me, but we had lots of fun with the activity programmes.
“We did lots of different things from walks, 5ks, African dance sessions, all sorts of different activities, and we would also work closely with what was already going on in communities. It was in areas which I was interested in anyway; ensuring there were opportunities for women and girls and people with disabilities to get involved in physical activity.”
In April 2013, Sam moved back to the Midlands and joined British Wheelchair Basketball (BWB) as Workforce Development Officer, before going onto become BWB’s Workforce Manager and Lead Safeguarding Officer.
“I wanted to do something a bit different than what I had previously done, so when the BWB job came-up I applied,” Sam said. “I have been here seven-and-a-half years now and I can honestly say no year has been the same. That is what I like about this job; there is always something to do, always things to achieve because the sport just continues to grow.
“The development of the sport since I started to now is huge and there’s so many opportunities for this sport, I think once you’re involved it’s difficult to leave because you see the massive potential this sport has.”
With BWB being a close-knit organisation, everyone helps out with whatever needs doing. That could be helping at an event or even driving a van of sports chairs to Germany ready for a major international tournament, something Sam ended-up doing with the–then Communication Manager Stephanie Gagne ahead of the 2013 European Championships in Frankfurt.
It’s a team ethic Sam loves to be a part of; not just within BWB’s staff but also the sport’s workforce as a whole.
“As an organisation and as a sport, there is so much support and so many people willing to help because everyone wants the best for the sport and can see its potential. I can speak to Haj [Bhania, BWB’s Head of Coaching and Tactical Development] and other coaches about coaching, the referees always support me, make suggestions, the table officials are always supportive, especially Jan [Timms] who is always willing to help, the classifiers are the same.
“We saw that during the lockdown period in the webinars we were doing, so many people were willing to help. There’s a real community spirit within wheelchair basketball and you see when you go to events just how big that community spirit is. Even with the competitive element and wanting to win, it’s still a community and people are always happy to support others.”
Passion for development
Development is incredibly important to Sam; not only in her role as Workforce Manager, ensuring there are education and development opportunities for BWB coaches, officials, classifiers and volunteers, but also on a personal level too. Sam is always looking to expand her knowledge.
“In my role and also personally I think it’s helpful to keep developing and learning because there’s always something you don’t know or you could learn more about,” Sam said.
“I do quite a lot of personal development and CPD (continuing professional development) because I don’t know everything and there’s always bits of information and learning that I can do which I can then take back and think ‘okay, how might this fit into wheelchair basketball’.”
Away from wheelchair basketball, Sam is involved on court in a different sport – volleyball. First taking-up the sport at secondary school, volleyball has been a huge part of Sam’s life ever since. A level 2 coach and a qualified referee, Sam is still involved as a player-coach at her local club in Wolverhampton.
“I think the experiences that I do have as a coach and when I have refereed do help me understand the aspects of my role in wheelchair basketball,” Sam said. “I have definitely learned a lot from working in wheelchair basketball about coaching and my coaching experience. Listening to Haj or other coaches and tutors and how they coach helps me in my own coaching.”
A member of BWB’s Equality, Inclusion and Diversity Group, Sam is working on the development of a sport-wide training plan across equality, inclusion and diversity.
Speaking during Black History Month, Sam said: “I have never really sat back and thought about it as much as I have this year. It feels like people are saying ‘this is enough now’ and for me it’s been thinking ‘okay, what is my role, what can I do’ and I don’t think it’s necessarily about black people, I think it’s about inclusion and opportunity as a whole.
“I have been reflecting, educating myself a bit more, I want to encourage us to check and challenge so we think about what we’re doing and what the impact is and whether it’s having the impact we think it’s having. It’s going to be a journey, but it’s the start of a conversation and one that I want to be confident enough to be involved in, because before I might not have spoken up.”