World-travelling synchro coach finds new home through sport
Sport has helped Sport Southland community sport manager Luciana Garcia travel the world and find a career, but it has also done much more than that.
I am Luciana Garcia, born and bred in Montevideo (Uruguay), but since 2010 I have been living and working in Invercargill, so I consider myself a semi-Southlander.
I do lots of things, but from a work perspective, I am Sport Southland’s Community Sport Manager, leading a team of four who work across different areas of sport and active recreation.
I am passionate about what makes me happy - that is my people (family, friends and dogs, yes dogs), the outdoors (especially the bush and the beach), being active (running and walking with the dogs, going to the gym, playing sport), travelling and good food.
My mum has had a significant impact on my life. She has always been a great role model. She taught us to be free, to dream and to fight for those dreams, to be brave and humble, to be authentic and proud of who you are, and to thrive for happiness.
The first time I went to swimming lessons I hated them so much that I kicked the instructor, who was wearing glasses on his face, and they landed on the concrete and broke. It’s especially funny as I ended joining competitive swimming not long after that, and I spent over 20 years of my life practicing and coaching synchronized swimming.
Probably my favorite memory is from FINA World Champs 2013, in Barcelona. I was coaching a team of 12 young women (synchronized swimming). All of them had been training very hard for six months but when we got there, only 10 of them could swim on the competition day and two had to be reserves. That was a hard call to make, as everyone was 100% committed, but as a coach I had to make it. When it was their turn to perform, only two people could be on pool deck, so I decided to let the reserves experience that moment with the rest of the team and I went and sat in the stands with the spectators.
Seeing those 10 young women walking with confidence onto the world stage to perform in front of thousands of people, and seeing the other two cheering for them from the side was amazing. During the 4min and 20 secs they were in the water the 12 of them shone!
Sport has played a huge role in making me who I am, the relationships I’ve forged, the choices I’ve made, the people I’ve met. It has played a huge role shaping my personality, my values and the way I go about life.
Sport has enabled me to experience success and failure, it has taught me to lead myself and others, it has given me the opportunity to work with a whole range of people, it has taught me about respect, about tolerance, about time management, about goal setting, about relationships, about lots of things.
Sport has helped me to find my place in the community, has given me opportunities to help others and opportunities for others to help me.
I think sport has a great role to play in people’s lives, as a participant, as a coach, as a supporter, as an administrator. It is a rich and fun context for people to socialize and grow, individually and as a community.
When I finished high school I decided to go to Med School. I completed three years but I came to the realization that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I knew I wanted to help people to live well, but from a different and more positive angle, so I decided to change careers and became a PE teacher, as well as coaching synchro.
This choice opened the door to travel to Spain to continue my studies and my coaching career and in 2010 opened the door to make NZ home.
I had the opportunity to make professional coaching my full time job and work doing something I loved, coaching young females in a sport I loved.
Working from Invercargill, I had the opportunity to travel all around the world with the Synchro NZ team including: China, Malaysia, Russia, India, Samoa, New Caledonia, Australia, Italy, Singapore, Spain and Switzerland.
I had the honor, and responsibility, to coach New Zealand teams at two FINA World Championships, Commonwealth Games, World University Games and Oceania Championships.
Sport continues to play a key role in my life every day. Since 2015 that has been in administration in Sport Southland rather than as a coach or participant.
Women and girls are 50% of our population, so they deserve to be treated equally, valued and respected.
Many of the young females I coached - who spent over 30 hours per week training in the pool and at the gym to perform at their very best on the world stage - were ridiculed by teachers, young people and adults.
They were not taken seriously or valued as athletes because they wore make up during their performances or because they “dance in the water”.
Synchronised swimming is one of the hardest and more physiologically demanding sports, but because it has an artistic element, many people think it is “silly” or “girly”.
I think it is important all girls and women have opportunities to feel confident, motivated and safe playing whatever sport they want and choose without feeling judged, criticized or undervalued.
It is also important that all girls and women who want to have the opportunity I have had, and want to make coaching a career, can.
Being a full time coach, especially at a performance and high-performance level, involves lots of hours away from home and from family, which usually don’t aligned to societal expectations for a women.
No one questions men who spend three months travelling around the world leading international campaigns. Organisations should have strong systems in place to give women and men equal opportunities, no matters the sport, and also support networks and structures that enable that to happen.
Last but not least, having women around the table to make decisions related to sport is crucial - not just for other women, for everyone. Having diversity of thinking at management and governance level in sport organisations is very important and adds valued to everyone.
I would love to see more girls and women involved in sport and active recreation in Southland, at all levels - participating, coaching, administering, officiating, managing and governing.
Southland is already doing really well if we compare ourselves to other regions, but I think we can do better.
I see WISPM providing leadership in this space, being the voice and advocating for quality equal opportunities for girls and women to be involved in sport and active recreation. I also see this network being a connector between girls and women and a wider range of organisations, including other women advocates such as KIND and Glass Elevator.
This is something we haven’t discussed as a group yet, but from my perspective, if the network continues to grow, becomes visible and relevant in the community, I think we will be on track.