Jane moran: from the pool to the drawing board

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January 13, 2017

Jane Moran has balanced engineering with elite water polo for the last 8 years which finally paid off in 2012 when she and her team came away from the London Olympics with a bronze medal!

Now playing for fun rather than as a career, Jane has the time focus on her engineering path, finesse her skillset and make a big impact in the industry.

The 5th Women in Engineering Summit in Sydney last week and I was lucky enough to listen to Jane’s inspirational story of determination, ambition and success…


Skills transferred from the water to the office

“It’s the pinnacle of my sporting career being in the Olympics. I was only one of two people to be team that had a job or a career through my Olympic journey”

“I held a full-time role as a professional engineer through two Olympic cycles. Although I didn’t make the team in Beijing in 2008, me and my team came away with the bronze medal in London in 2012”

“Through the 4-year cycle of preparation, I was jealous of my teammates because they didn’t have jobs. I would leave home at 5 in the morning with three sets of clothes, three sets of meals, going from morning training to work, to afternoon training to eating to training to eating. It was intense, to say the least. Whereas some of my lucky teammates would go from morning training, to brunch to a three-hour nap, to afternoon training. And yeah, I was absolutely so jealous of them!”
“I know now I was in the best possible position because my life wasn’t just about water polo. I had other challenges, rewards and achievements outside of the pool. And to this day, this is something that is so important and now that my goals are engineering, I think it’s key to have other passions outside of engineering”

If you don’t ask you don’t get

“I successfully balanced engineering with Olympic volleyball and this only happened because I asked ONE question as a grad in a seminar. This question enabled me to have unlimited additional paid leave whilst I was representing my country playing water polo.”
“I went to a sponsorship seminar run by Natalie cook who is a 5-time Olympic volleyballer and gold medalist. She said, “If you ask a question and the answer is no, you’re no worse off than not asking the question in the first place. I really took that on board and it’s shaped my career.”
“In the Olympic year, I had 153 days of paid leave and only worked for 82 business days. This is usually unheard of! This got me on track so I could focus on what was important to me.””
“I’m still heavily involved in the industry as it was such a big part of my life and I’m now on the board of water polo in Australia.”

What transferable skills can come from an Olympic water polo team to a high performing elite engineering team?

“I didn’t think much at first. But after taking a few years out, I’ve realised there are so many skills you can transfer.”  A successful team utilise strength but really focus on weakness. This is something that worked really well in both the water and the office.

Persistence and diligence

“My friends would be gobsmacked at how much time I would spend training, touring and working. You hear athletes say they’ve made sacrifices for their sport. But I never really considered it as a sacrifice. I knew what I was in for, a long hard slog. It wouldn’t be a walk in the park.”


“Goals are the outcomes of small steps instead of reaching one big destination. The Olympics are every 4 years so if we had a goal every 4 years, we would get lost and distracted. To prevent this, we would have selection goals, strength goals, swimming goals, individual goals and minor competition goals in between to stay focused.”


“In this elite environment, it’s important to have ambition. For example, my teammate wasn’t on the radar of making the Olympics until three years prior.” That’s a big deal because it’s an 8-year program. She asked her coach, “what do I need to do to make the Olympic team?”

“A simple question that he answered… She went and focussed on what he had said, came back to him a year later and made the team. It’s about being bold enough. These questions don’t sound that big or better than her. But I think we often reflect or talk about various things without asking the person who is the decision maker. I highly advise just asking the question to the decision maker.”
Teamwork is an individual sport. We would use the sum of all our individual strengths for the benefit of the whole team. It might sound selfish but focussing on yourself is the best thing you can do for your team.

We have something called the one percenters. We are in an elite team so it’s hard to get that much better but if we can focus on getting 1% better at every little thing at every training session, we would have little goals through a swimming program for example. Getting one second better in those three months. It doesn’t sound like much but it is so pivotal. At the Olympics, every team is great and the team that’s one percent better, might just be victorious and that’s not something we’re going to gamble on.

Playing to your strengths isn’t always the best strategy

The position you naturally gravitate towards isn’t always the best place for you to be for that team strategy. Water polo comprises of many different positions like the centre forward and centre back who needs to match and be as strong. Drivers who are smaller and speedier and act as wingers in soccer, strikers and outside shooters. It’s important that the team agrees on the roles that are best for the team strategy. If we had a team of world class strikers, that would mean certain defeat.

Our first game at the Olympics we played Italy and I’m one of the smaller players so I’m a speedy winger. The coach says I’m marking Tanya Murrow. Tanya is a piece of work, she’s now a five-time olympian and she was the captain of the Italian team. The Australians say when we play the Americans, it’s a tough game and when we play the Italians it’s a rough game.

I’ve only been bitten, twice, by Italians. That’s just an overall image of the Italians. It was my job to mark the toughest player of the roughest team. I did a good job, she didn’t score any goals, she got kicked out a few times and she finished the game with a black eye.

Managing a team of individuals

“This sounds simple when there’s a team goal, one vision to win but when you add in more goals it becomes a little more complex.”

“I didn’t see eye to eye with my coach. A great leader gets the best out of their team. I struggled to get into teams etc, but we’ve been able to perfect our relationship over the years because we had that division. He absolutely understood that I would do anything it took to win that gold medal which was important to him.”
“It’s important that leaders get the best out of their team but it’s also vital that the team know how to push the buttons of the leader.”


“We would often rotate different leadership groups, influential effective players. It was really interesting to see that people that would naturally gravitate toward a leadership role would bring so much value. And this is something that I’ve taken into the workplace. If you give someone a go, they might just surprise you.”

“To be a leader you must have a following, without a following, you’re a manager.”

“When I was in a leadership team, there was so much responsibility to think about my own tactics as well as what’s best for the team. It was crucial for me to take time out to reflect on how I can be more effective for the team in them leadership roles.”

Team accountability

“We would do a team debrief introduced by the team psychologist. After a big game, we would sit in a room with our team. No coaches. We had to become accountable to our team. We found that we were being too positive with each other and these briefs would take around 2 hours.”
“After time practicing this over the years, we skimmed it down to 15 minutes because we would come in and volunteer where we made an error and we weren’t scared of criticism.”

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