Sunday, 16 August 2015

Play to your strengths

By Louise Thomas

The first half of this year’s netball season my Year 7 team (11 to 12-year-olds) were struggling. We hadn’t won a single game. I had a Goal Defence and a Goal Keep who would lob the ball away down court straight to the opposition, and another Goal Keep whose body was just too big for her brain and she was constantly falling over – three or four times. Every game. With a contact penalty being called against her just about every time she fall over. I’ve gone through a whole box of sticking plasters.

I had a Wing Defence who could intercept the ball well, but then couldn’t get the next pass away as the down-court players were all leading away from her behind opposition and she just couldn’t throw that high or far. A Centre who wouldn’t let go of the ball at pass-off or around the circle edge. A Goal Attack, who was about a head shorter than everyone else on court and couldn’t shoot the ball past tall defenders. I was constantly on their case, pleading with the GK and GD to take safer passes, the other GK to try and stay upright, the WD to practice her lobs, the C to let go of the ball, etc. You get the picture.

My teenage daughter, a 15-year-old rep player who is my assistant coach, said to me at the start of Round 2, that we had to change the team up a little. We looked at and talked about every player. How could we do things differently? She said she used to lob the ball when she played at GD at the same age and use to get in trouble with the coach as well. She pointed out it was only an issue until the WD in her team got to know that that was what she was going to do and would drop right back down to the transverse line by the attack third to take the pass – suddenly they were eating up the court. Only two passes from the defence third to the top of the goal circle. Surely that’s an outcome that any team would want?

As coaches we’re suppose to teach these young players to come forward for the ball, take the safe passes, look after the ball. But maybe that’s wrong, or, at least, not always right. I was trying to get these players to improve their weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths.

Before Round 2 started we decided that we were going to offer the GD and the GK a close lead and two far away leads that they could lob to. We were going to encourage the GD and GK to use their strong throwing skills. My assistant coach came up with a game play where the Centre Pass-off went straight to the GD and then was lobbed right down to the GA under the hoop. This involved the WA blocking the GD at the pass-off (playing defensively instead of joining the attack) the GA dropping back under the hoop, and the GS running out to the transverse line to draw off the opposition GK. It worked brilliantly. It left the goal free with only our shooter anywhere in sight. Even if the lob fell short she was still the closest to pick it up. And no one, but no one, was expecting an 11-year-old to lob the ball from mid court straight to the shooter under the hoop. We got away with it five times in one game before an opposition coach screamed at her GK to stop following the GS out of the circle.

The other big change I made was moving the uncoordinated GK out to Goal Shoot. She is tall, a pretty good shot and has a good eye for the ball, but what really made this a brilliant move was turning the falling-over-frequently to our advantage. See, the thing is, in netball, if you’re on defence and you fall over your own or someone else’s feet, nine times out of ten you’ll get pinged by the umpire for contact. What we discovered was when you’re on attack the opposite is true. This second round, just about every time she’s fallen over, rightly or wrongly, the opposition has been called for contact. Meaning we get a clear shot at goal, usually under the hoop.

The problem with the WD I solved by telling the C and WA that if they want the ball from her that they had to drop back and then lead forward EVERYTIME, in opposite drives. Otherwise the WD was just going to pass it back to the GD for a down court lob to one of the shooters. They do now, or at least one of them remembers to, after all who wants to cut themselves out of the game with a bad lead. The WD has a great powerful chest pass that the attack can drive onto. Passing problem solved.

I’m still working on my C letting go of the ball, but this has been partially solved by moving my short GA into the midcourt (And my former GS to GA). Turns out she’s really good at being Centre.

The change in results has been amazing. With one game to go in the round we are currently leading the pool. We’ve comprehensively beaten teams that pummelled us in the first round.

There’s probably a metaphor for life in here. Something along the lines that we’re only a bit of left-field tweaking away from being brilliant. And definitely, most definitely, double down on your strengths and find away to mitigate any weaknesses without getting hung up on them.

Also, I suspect that next year maybe I should be assistant coach. I’ve got a sneaking feeling my daughter might be smarter than me.

#netball, #coaching, #strengths


  1. Fantastic article and some interesting game plays in there. Nice one coach and assistant coach. Lou it's not that Katlin knows more than you, she just has a different perspective and sometimes that's what is needed. Sometimes a shake up from the normal run of things is what is required to get the results. P.S I guess I have an obsessive love of netball 😉

    1. Got to love the game. Yes, a fresh perspective to any problem often shows the solution is closer than you think. The old adage is true - two heads are better than one (so long as the other head knows what the hell they're talking about).

  2. Brilliant coach, brilliant assistant coach! Loved the article and laughed outloud. You described them perfectly! Lucky to have you.