With a career spanning more than twenty years Dani Francis has established herself as one of the leaders in Australian Volleyball officiating. Originally a player, Francis has worked hard to develop her skills as a referee and accrue global experience that has undoubtedly benefited Volleyball in WA.
Dani has continued her referee career through some herculean setbacks and is now arguably one of WA’s top sporting officials. So what has spurred on Francis to continue in a role that requires an unwavering confidence and thicker skin than most? The answer, a desire to give back to the sport she loves.
“I love giving back to the sport, it’s always been a passion. I suppose I also love refereeing because you have the best seat in the house.“ Francis said.
Throughout the WA Volleyball League season Francis can be found at Loftus Centre diligently refereeing the state’s best players and watching over the up and coming referees.
“Refereeing has given me a chance to give back to the sport and act as a mentor for people [in Volleyball]. Being able to help them to achieve their goals has been great.”
However Francis has experienced a lot since picking up the whistle for the first time. Originally refereeing to help out a friend Francis hasn’t looked back.
“I use to play an indoor competition at the Forrestfield Recreation Centre on a Tuesday night. Melissa Green was running it and they were always looking for referees, so I was playing in the social competition and decided to pick up some refereeing. “
“I continued to referee because I enjoyed it. Plus it was cash in hand so it was a great second income for me. It built up and I started refereeing three or four nights a week.”
During this period Francis continued to play and got her first chance at the next level when she was asked to officiate at the 2000 Australian Junior Volleyball Championships
“I was asked to attend because a week out from the event someone withdrew and they need someone else. I had been refereeing heaps before that, however it still felt like being thrown in to the deep-end. “
Overtime Francis continued to develop her confidence, earning qualifications and moving up the ranks. She took the leap to the international stage in 2012, a decision that proved to be life changing.
“I was a [top level] Australian referee for quite a while and I could have applied four or five years earlier than I did. But I didn’t want to be the first Australian to fail, the standard was set pretty high. So it took a few years to come to terms with that, but I eventually applied and when I found out I passed the utter relief was incredible. In the journey of my life it was a massive milestone. I didn’t finish year 12, so to graduate from something, especially with the high standard set by others, it become a life changing moment.”
Dani’s career was put on hold when she suffered a serious neck break in 2016 while in Mauritius. The devastating injury sidelined her from playing and threatend to remove her from the sport all together.
“When the injury first occurred the doctors were pretty clear that anything could happen, good or bad. It was a big break. At that point I was still at risk of losing my voice with almost no movement in my neck.”
While most would use the injury as an excuse to give up, Francis fought on and used Volleyball as a reason to push through the pain. Incredibly, when Francis sustained the injury she was set to referee at international competition only five months later.
“During all of the [injury issues] I had applied for an event I was hoping to go to. In total I had four and half months to get back on to the court and only about two months from getting the brace off to the start of the event. I used it as a goal to get better. I had to work hard to get the movement in my neck back. Volleyball can be a fast game and I needed my eyes and neck working at their best otherwise it wouldn’t have worked.”
Through grit and hard work Francis made a successful comeback and since then has been busy continuing to represent the country at the highest level.
2018 has been one of her busiest years ever having being selected to referee at the Asian U17 Women’s Indoor Championship, the inaugural Volleyball Nations League and the upcoming Invictus Games.
“It’s been a big year, I’ve been lucky to get a few selections. Any chance you get to represent your country is an incredible thing, so 2018 has been a good year.”
Talking about the upcoming Invictus Games, a games for wounded, injured, ill veterans and serving defense personnel, Francis is excited about the different challenges she will face on the east coast.
“The way you officiate is different to standard indoor competitions. [Sitting volleyball] has its own rules and different ways to interpret traditional rules. I’m keen on broadening my knowledge base and becoming more familiar with other versions of the game.“
A coveted event which all of Australia’s international referees nominated for, Francis will spend the next few weeks preparing for the new experience.
“I’ll be trying to get as much practice as possible. Because of the nature of the sport you need to become familiar with the different rules and ways you watch the competition. You have to officiate it to understand it. It’s going to be a great experience.”
The 2018 Invictus Games will be held in Sydney from 20th to 27th of October.
Be sure to check back soon for our next international spotlight feature with Australian Coach Mandy Combes.