It’s not yet halfway through the year, but as a netball coach you’ve probably already got a fairly good grasp of your team’s ability, and how the rest of the season or year is likely to play out.
For some coaches, it’s one of those years where you’ve been handed the keys to the kingdom: a good team in the right competition or section, which allows you to build on skills learned each week and gives you the luxury of looking at the team’s overall picture and planning well ahead.
But if you’ve coached for long enough, you’ll know that those seasons are often few and far between.
Some seasons, through player attrition from the previous year, selection decisions or a lack of depth, your team will find itself outmatched most weeks, and on the receiving end of some heavy losses.
Those results might be hard for coaches and players (and some parents) to take, week in and week out across a whole season, however just because your team might not be figuring in finals, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing that can be learned or gained from the season.
Here are some strategies and ideas that can help you get the most out of your trainings and games when your team just isn’t quite up to it.
You don’t need to improve everything at once
If you’ve just been hammered by 25 goals two weeks in a row, it’s tempting to try and fix all the team’s issues at the next training session. If the margin is that large, chances are that the team has struggled at both the attacking the defensive ends of the court, and you’ll want to work on everything to avoid it happening again.
Pick one focus area, and base your next training session around improving it. If your team is younger, it might be their basic skills, so work on their passing, catching and landing techniques and then slowly add pressure once they’ve started to master them, so that they’ll be better equipped to execute those skills in the next game. Remember, improvements can often take weeks or even months, so it pays to regularly revisit things you’ve worked on.
THE ‘F’ WORD: FUN IN NETBALL TRAINING, AND HOW TO USE IT
If your team has just given up 40+ goals in a 40-minute game, your defenders probably weren’t getting a lot of assistance from their teammates to slow the ball down on the way to the circle. So spend a session on one-on-one defence and work on each player’s defensive skills, intensity and positioning, because good defence starts with your goalers the moment your team turns the ball over.
Set different goals
Forget about the result. If your focus is purely on winning, but your team just doesn’t quite have the ability to compete at the same level as their opposition, you’re going to have a lot of very disappointed players most weeks.
So give them smaller, more achievable goals. For some teams, that might mean winning one quarter, and you can celebrate that little victory as a team and then after the game talk as a team about what was different/better about that period of play, in order to replicate it next time.
Take it quarter by quarter
For other teams, you might set a target of a certain number of goals per quarter, or a certain number of positive turnovers, or a certain number of shots put up. Again, taking the focus off the overall score can provide players with smaller successes more often, and allows you as a coach to highlight measurable improvements from quarter to quarter or week to week.
Structures are your friend
If a team is having ‘one of those weeks’, the first thing that usually goes out the window is any type of structure or team play.
Can’t get the ball out of the defensive third? Your WA probably thinks they’re helping by coming way down the court to provide an option on the defensive transverse line, but they’re just clogging things further. Or perhaps you can’t get a centre pass away because your players have stopped working to create space for each other and are just running blindly over the line.
When things hit the fan, players tend to go into survival mode, lose focus on the overall goal, and run around without considering what’s actually happening on court. But if they can stick to some sort of basic team structure, whether that be for centre passes, defensive throw-ins or general play, they’ll at least have some idea of where their teammates should be, and where they should drive themselves.
It takes practice and experience for players to continue to stick to the structures and team rules you’ve taught them, so it’s important to persist and remind them constantly about how you’re expecting them to play, particularly under pressure.
Little tasks, big rewards
Give each player a specific personal focus area before each game. For a defender, it might be ‘boxing out’ for a rebound. For a goaler, it might be re-feeding the ball to work it closer to the post a couple of times a quarter. For a centre, it could be blocking their opponent and stopping them getting onto your team’s defensive goal circle.
Whatever it is – give each player a small, achievable task that you (and they) can assess throughout the game and at the end of the game. Once they’ve achieved it, it’ll give you something to build on for the next quarter, or in the coming weeks.
Focus on the future
Again, as much as we’d all like to, you’re not going to have a dominant team that cruises into finals every year.
But what you will have is a team of players who’ll likely want to trial and be selected again at the end of the year. So rather than measuring success by your team’s results, think about how your training sessions and feedback can best prepare each player to take the next step the following year.
If you know a player is going up an age group but struggles with physicality, work some more physicality into your trainings. If one of your better goalers might not be selected in a higher team because they never seem to shoot well at trials, incorporate drills that place pressure on their shooting at training, so that they feel more comfortable under pressure in front of the selectors.