Updated: Aug 27
With the new Vitality Netball Super League starting this week I thought I'd write about my work in international and professional netball over the last 10+ years...
My first experience of elite netball was through my MPhil, funded by Netball New Zealand, which I started in 2008. My research investigated the biomechanics of jump landings and explored differences across playing positions. As you may expect, given the different roles per position, I found clear differences in jump profiles with some interesting findings. For example, I found GA had more in common with the mid-court in terms of the typical type of jumps performed. I also found that when you measure the ability of any player to land repeated netball-specific jumps, the same player is likely to land with a different strategy every time. This finding questions the idea that there is an optimal way to land a jump. Furthermore I found that what may typically be considered a 'poor' strategy was often an effective way to stabilise the movement. Importantly, both these findings have influenced how I train and assess different players and positions.
In 2009, around the time I finished this research, I took on the role as the lead S&C coach for the Northern Mystics. I stayed with them for 3 seasons in the ANZ league, finishing as high as 2nd and 3rd in subsequent years. We had a talented squad and it was a pleasure to work with so many Silver Ferns such as Cat Tuivaiti, Maria Folau, Temepara George, Kayla Cullen, Grace Rasmussen, and Bailey Mes as well as England's Jade Clarke. During this time I also trained the very talented Portia Woodman and Kayla McAlister who both went on to transition from netball to highly successful careers in Rugby 7s winning Olympic Silver Medals in Rio 2016. Given the athleticism of some current players, Im sure there are others in the sport right now who would also be able to transfer to international careers in a different sport.
On returning to the UK in 2013 I was not directly involved in the sport until 2017 when I took on a role with London Pulse who at the time had only junior squads. I worked with the phenomenal Amanda Newton and our U19s went on to win the NPL league and tournament. After forming a superleague team the following year I have also have the pleasure of working with world class coaches Te Keenan and Sam Bird and players like Ama Agbeze as well as our current squad of exciting players. It is great what London Pulse are doing for young athletes in my home city and I am excited to see our mostly young team show their skills this year.
As an S&C coach netball is a challenging and rewarding sport to work in. When watching elite netball you immediately appreciate its speed, physicality and athleticism. Furthermore the game is often won in these moments; namely high arial intercepts, speed through court, rapid changes of direction and fitness in the 4th quarter. There is a lot you can do to influence these moments through various training strategies. I include some heavy lifting to develop maximal strength but also a lot of work at sub-maximal loads that allow athletes to move fast. Speed does not come naturally to every player so this is important. I also include a lot of single leg work. A general observation I have is that many elite players spend too much time training maximal strength in heavy bi-lateral exercises like squats and trap-bar deadlifts without learning to move fast on a single leg. I think this comes from the influence of rugby on S&C and the over emphasis of these qualities in the sports science literature.
Another important training consideration is that injury rates in netball are amongst the highest of all sports, particularly at the ankle and knee. The main causes of these are contacting another player, changes of direction, jump landings and the sport’s requirement to stop within two steps. To handle these situations players must move efficiently and be strong enough to abruptly decelerate large forces. We do some slow heavy eccentric work but also lots of light speed-based exercises and body weight landing tasks. I have found a lot of players start off with relatively poor eccentric strength but perhaps more importantly I have found a lot have poor eccentric control, particular when moving fast. I have found both eccentric strength and control can be changed fairly quickly with the right coaching, but the standard hop and hold work seen in many warm ups is not enough.
When it comes to conditioning work, variation is something that I have found to be really important. Working with the Mystics and Silver Ferns in Auckland, I have fond memories of including a lot of work on the hills, stairs and sand-dunes around the city. From an injury perspective this variation meant we could get far more work done compared to running on the court, treadmill and roads. These sessions helped build our capacity at a time when we had a national directive to build fitness beyond what the Australians were known for. Within S&C right now these types of sessions seem to be out of fashion but I saw huge benefit at the time and continue to use them.
Like rugby, netball players have significantly different physical requirements dependant on playing position and as a result there are significant anthropometric differences across the court. As mentioned before, a large part of my research investigated these differences. This variation makes designing training more challenging but also rewarding. That said, I think I lot of coaches get carried away with the differences and there is more in common between players than many think. Like any team sport you also get plenty of different characters and over recent years I have probably spent as much time thinking about how to work with the different personalities the sport brings compared to just the training itself.
I am very grateful to the sport for letting me make it a large part of my life since 2008. I am lucky to have been able to work with so many great players and coaches and after working in around 20 Olympic and professional sports, I can say the netball world is one of the most open and enjoyable to work in. It is also great to be part of sport that is providing a real pathway and platform for female athletes.
Best of luck to all the teams, athletes and staff for the upcoming VNSL season and a shout out to all my fellow S&C coaches working in the sport.
If you or your team are interested in strength and conditioning support we can provide coaching at your sessions or a programme to follow. We now offer online coaching via video call and are back running individual and group gym / outdoor sessions in East London and North London. Feel free to get in contact firstname.lastname@example.org