From “messy success” to Commonwealth Gold medal winners the momentum in the England Netball Team is truly rising. The big question, can England win the Netball World Cup?
Ahead of the World Cup starting next week, I joined Red Bull and headed up to join the team at their training base in Manchester where I discovered a new feature to their training which might change everything. It’s a training method they share in common with the England Football Teams, and I don’t just mean that they are both coached by members of the Neville family. (Did you know that the Head Coach of the England netball team is Tracey Neville, Phil Neville’s twin sister?) I also chatted to the team one to one to find out what it’s really like to walk out onto the court wearing a Roses dress and in this piece I share the four pillars behind each England Rose.
How do you take a team with potential and coach them to win the World Cup?
First up we heard from Performance Director, Sara Symington (the former cycling pro) and she shared the challenges she and the team had faced to obtain funding for a team with potential, but who, until a year ago, hadn’t actually won anything. The team have Sport England and the National Lottery to thank but funds were a small piece of the puzzle. Sara and her team identified that the team needed more exposure and more court time with key competitors to develop their experience.
The fundamental change has been to bring the team together and actively support them to develop resilience. How do you train resilience? Well the word of the day seemed to be “togetherness”. England Netball have brought in specialist sports and clinical psychologists, Changing Minds, who have worked with the team to grow resilience from adversity.
Changing Minds explained the four pillars to building resilience fundamentally through relationships to ensure that they feel:
Supported - with a focus on building and nurturing relationships, asking questions and talking to each other and creating a sense of belonging
Purposeful - looking at drive and direction
Confident - nurturing a feeling of competence, belief and the ability to cope with stress
Adaptable - supporting the team to be flexible to change and to cope with stress
The players explained that before, whilst they had always known it was there, they had never discussed pressure. “We know play together as a group whether we’re winning or losing and we’ve worked on respecting lower ranked teams” explained Jo Harten. Helen Housby went on to explain, “Someone in the team could have the game of their life but if the team doesn’t gel, if we don’t work on this stuff, then we will still lose”.
It’s worth remembering too that many of the England team are not even based on the continent and play over in Australia in the Suncorp League. The players join from across the globe to take up their place as Roses and Changing Minds explained that everyone in the team has an opinion and each one is valid. It’s the nature of elite sport for an individual to feel under water from time to time and the focus has been to maintain perspective - accept, connect and reflect.
What does an England Netball training schedule look like?
The team laughed and joked as the talked us through what the training “pressure sessions” looked like. Instead of playing one on one the pressure sessions have the defence numbers increased with 2 on 1 or 3 on 2. Instead of resting between the quarters the pressure sessions involve squats, no rest and no drinks! The idea is to create loading and raise the pain threshold and Harten in particular laughed about how badly the team fared in these sessions when they were introduced.
At such an elite level nutrition and fueling performance is crucial. Each team member is treated as an individual and have their own pre-match fueling strategy. Harten uses sweets and sugar lollies, Housby has to have a pre-match banana and Usoro-Brown explained that she doesn’t like coffee so turns to Red Bull for her pre-match boost. The team are well supported by professionals and reminisced fondly about joining the team and having a nutritionist to go food shopping to the supermarket with them to advise them on some nutritional swaps they could make. Similarly the team have the product specialists from Red Bull on hand and they chatted through the functional benefits of taurine in improving performance. Housby explained, “I’ve used Red Bull since I was at university. It’s key for my warm-up to switch me on. If we have an early game I’ll drink the no sugar version. With the product in a can, it’s known quantities which really helps, especially playing abroad.” I got the chance to chat to the players one on one and they all said that nothing is pushed on them, they are not encouraged to diet or eat or drink in a certain way. They spoke of their awareness of their young fun base and their caution about not sharing themselves only eating salads.
Fran Williams explained, “I feel privileged to join the team heading into a World Cup. A lot of these girls have done this before but it’s my first. I try not to over think things. I’m sharing the natural journey and that’s highs and lows. I train hard. I get sweaty. I’ll share pictures of that on social media but I try not to explain myself too much.” Williams told me that she was focussed on enjoying every moment and not taking anything too seriously so that it ruined it. She explained that to her there is a difference between pressure and drive and that whilst she is committed and driven she has worked so to ensure that she doesn’t put so much pressure on herself that it impacts her performance.
Chatting to Eboni was like catching up with an old friend. Her bubbly personality and buckets of ambition make her a real team player and it was clear to see that she is a trail blazer. I asked her about the reality of training and she told me that from an early age her mum had driven her around the country to training sessions and matches and had always been a huge support and motivator. It was Usoro-Brown’s mum who pushed her in netball but also told her to make sure she studied hard and had a good back up plan, which is how she ended up studying for her law degree and more recently the Legal Practice Course with the view to becoming a solicitor.
The Netball World Cup takes place from 12 to 21 July 2019 in Liverpool. Good Luck Roses!