GAIL HUNTER-GILKES, 55 FROM OXFORDSHIRE
My experience of sport started at school, where I represented my county at netball and hockey. Just after I left school, I took up golf whilst my parents played bowls at the same time.
My whole family play bowls. My grandfather and great uncle played for Scotland but it was not until I was twenty, that whilst watching my parents play bowls, I thought I would have a go. From that moment on I was hooked.
The reason I love the game is that it can be social or competitive and flexible. I worked shifts and found I could practise and play to suit me. I also love that people of all ages and abilities can play together. Just looking at my own family, three generations play. The social side of the sport has meant that I have made wonderful life-long friends, met my husband Steve and have achieved goals I never thought I was capable of. The highlights being playing for England and winning national and British Isles titles.
From playing, I moved into coaching. It all happened because each county was asked to get a team of eight female players who were under 31 team to compete at the National Championships. I was playing in Essex at the time and we did not have a team so I contacted every club and we managed to get a pool of girls willing to try and play. Once I had got the players, I took my coaching exams and then committed to delivering a series of coaching sessions with them as well as managing the team itself at the National Championships. Alongside managing the Essex Junior women’s team, I was then asked to manage the England Women’s Junior International team in 2006. The icing on the cake then came in 2010, when I was asked to be part of the England management team for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Since then, I have managed the England women’s team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the full England women’s team from 2015. Having coached across all levels, I can honestly say that coaching is incredibly rewarding at all levels. I have been part of some amazing moments at Commonwealth Games, but equally I get pleasure from helping club players improve their game or simply be able to deliver the bowl with more ease. This I believe is because regardless of the level, everyone has dreams and aspirations or just need some help to play to the standard they want to, in order to get maximum enjoyment from the game. Helping others to achieve their dreams is why I love being a coach.
I would encourage more women to get involved in bowls as it is a very social game yet can be competitive if you want it to be. It gives you great enjoyment and fun and also lets you achieve goals that you can be proud of either as a player or as a coach or volunteer.