Netball, Parents and Making It

I am no certainly no expert when it comes to talking about the topics of player retention and the drop off rate in youth sports, but in all the literature I have read, the conversations I have had with different players and parents and my experience in coaching, the underlying factor seems to all come back to their perception that they “haven’t made it”.

What is “made it” and what does it mean?

This article is my opinion as it relates to netball in the Darling Downs. It comes off the back of a few months of preparation of players vying for selection in QLD underage squads.

Let’s put it in perspective. Out of the 50000 odd registered members of Netball across QLD, only 24 players will be given the honour of representing their state in 17 and 19 years in a given year.

Players start at club level. This is really an area of development and participation. Everyone gets a go. Happy days.

Then we move onto Representative level. Some associations could have upwards of 200 players trialling, hoping and dreaming of making a team to represent their association at State Age. Not every player makes a team. For the ones that do, training and carnival preparation begins, and they must work to secure as much court time as they can.

For the 15 and 16 Year olds, the journey to ETP begins. Again, upwards of 50 player’s trialling for one of 12 spots in each Region.

Off the players go to the U/16 State Titles.  12 Regions with 12 players in each team. That’s 144 athletes. For 12 places. In the U/18 State Titles, 7 Regions with 12 players. 84 athletes to be considered for 12 places.

Now I have laid out those few facts, it is clear to see that more players will not “make it” than the ones that do.

Where to from here?

I have always been very passionate and proactive about retaining our players in the 14-19 year age bracket. The statistics are real. The drop off is phenomenal.

At the end of the day, our programs are designed to keep girls in the game, and playing at their best level. For some players, their best level will be local netball. For others, the best they will achieve is Panthers level. A very small handful may move onto to Sapphire level.

Why is there so much emphasis on going to the next level? Sure, have your dreams and goals and keep one eye on the prize. But also be proud of the fact that you have worked to achieve what you have. Love the sport, stay true to yourself, and you never know what opportunities may come knocking. There is no shame in being grateful for the opportunity you have now, right at this minute, and working hard within that environment to be the best you can be.

Let’s talk about Brenda. We will call her Brenda because that’s her real name. Brenda played State League Division 1 Level Netball for over 20 Years. Brenda never made a State team, or the Firebirds, but she was an adversary to many players that have gone on to achieve higher honours. Brenda had a family, she worked a job, had kids, trained alongside her team mates with no exception or excuses. Why? Because Brenda loved the game. She thrived off the level of competition. She was a leader and role model that many looked up to. She led by example and was the best version of herself every time she stepped on the court. At no time did Brenda stop playing netball because she didn’t “make it”, or go any further.

Now let’s talk about Mary. We will call her Mary because that’s not her real name. Mary was a promising young junior player. She had talent and she worked hard. Mary trialled for a team that in her perception was an important step in her pathway. Unfortunately, she was not selected. Over the course of the next few months, Mary seemed disinterested in netball and begun focusing on another sport. Her coach asked her at a tournament if she was she really wanted to be there. Mary’s response was “I love my netball but I’m never going to make it. I may as well have a crack at Rugby, I have more chance of making it there”.

You are probably thinking why are these stories about Brenda and Mary relevant to player retention?

They are relevant because Brenda chose to play her netball at HER best level. Mary decided to walk away from the sport she loved because she didn’t make a team that she perceived as vital in her “making it” in netball. Mary could potentially be a solid State League level player, with a long career within that environment.

Laura Scherian is a shining example of perseverance and resilience, albeit at the highest of levels. I feel it’s an important story though. Laura began her journey on the National arena in 2007. She dabbled in and out of teams (including the Firebirds) until she was contracted by Sunshine Coast Lightening in 2017, as the last contracted player. 10 Years hanging around the fringes. Laura has, for the first time, been named as a member of the Australian Diamonds. She is 31 years old.

31 Years old……let that sink in. There are no fairy tale roads to the top. At any level. The very small number of stories you hear about players being elevated with exciting opportunities and various levels, never really tell you about the hard work, perseverance and sacrifice it has taken to get there. It doesn’t tell you about the coaches that knocked you back, didn’t appreciate your body type or style of play. It doesn’t tell the story of sitting on a bench for whole season’s never stepping foot on the court, but attending every single training session just to try for that small chance of getting some minutes on the court. It doesn’t tell the story of how it affects a person’s mental health, the negative, self-doubting thoughts that creep in wondering whether it’s all worth it.

I always say to players when they are going to trial for something, it’s only one person’s opinion. Never let it define you.

“What Comes Easy Won’t Last Long, and What Lasts Long Won’t Come Easy”.

Netball is a team sport. Sure, we have individual goals and aspirations, but at the end of the day decisions are made on what is best for the team. As a coach, I make decisions all the time that I am sure parents and supporters are thinking “what the hell are you doing Bec?” As a parent, I am guilty of watching a game and questioning some coach decisions (in my head, of course) and wondering what they are actually looking at. It’s a whole different ball game sitting in the hot seat as a coach, at any level. The coach is focusing on 7 players on the court, and 3 on the bench……the parent is focusing on 1.

I think a lot has to be said about parents in sport though. In my time, I have met some amazing parents, who are committed, supportive and just there for their kids. I have also met some doozies, who would run over their own grandmother to get their kid an opportunity for something greater.

Parents really need to learn how to take a back seat. So many parent hang ups and negativity is put onto their kids, whether directly or indirectly. It’s bloody tough sitting back and watching your kid struggle. I know this, because I am also a parent who has shared the high’s and lows of not only netball, but basketball and AFL with my boys. At the end of the day, WE choose what type of parent we are going to be and how it will influence your child’s journey not only in sport, but in life.

In my opinion there are two types of parent (emphasizing MY opinion based on MY experience):

Parent A supports the team and the child. Parent A respects the decisions of the coach (even though they may not always agree), and offers alternate solutions or rationale to their child if things aren’t quite going their way. Parent A doesn’t make excuses or blame others. Parent A encourages their child to maintain a good, open relationship with their coach to seek feedback and guidance.  

Parent B sits in the stands criticizing the coach and decisions, pulls other parents into the conversations, makes their kid privy to the negativity in the car on the way home, makes excuses, criticizes other kids. Some do it “out there”, others are doing it more quietly behind the scenes. Parent B may approach the coach, but more likely to be a keyboard warrior sending dirty texts or emails.

Which parent will you choose to be?

I can tell you now, not much good comes out of being a typical Parent B. Over my time as a coach and parent through sport, the players with Parent B’s generally drop off the radar. I have never NOT chosen a player because of the parent, but by God it can make it difficult. There is just a constant, underlying threat of disrespect and manipulation which affects team harmony. It’s a sad fact that a parent with a “reputation” can directly affect outcomes of selection and elevation through teams and pathways. There is nothing more heart warming, as a coach, to see the parents sitting together in the stands united and the body language positive. The players see and sense it too, and it makes a huge difference in the team performance. On the flip side, there is nothing more demoralizing to see parent divide, small groups fraught with negativity, making crappy comments about other kids, talking behind their hands and alienating other parents.

Resilience, problem solving, effective communication, working within a team environment, respect…..these are skills developed through sport that are transferable to life.

All this also ties into a love of the game. The enjoyment, the satisfaction and the sisterhood that this sport brings. In this Region, girls go to boarding school, they leave town to go to university……and you know what they’ve got? They’ve got netball. To join a team, whether it’s school team, a university team or a State League team, is a fantastic start to meeting new people with a common interest, exercise for mental health and taking the skills learnt to a new arena.

To me, “making it” is being the best version of yourself in whatever one chooses to do, working hard within the level you are at, and being a good, respectful person to go with it. Parents – my message to you, is to let things be, trust the processes and support your child to be the best they can be.