If you’ve been coaching at a netball club for long enough, you’ll no doubt have experienced the acute frustration that comes when you’ve put your time and energy into developing a group of players, only to watch them walk to another club at the end of the season.
Disappointed, frustrated, betrayed – all are emotions that come to mind when you’ve spent the last 10 months pouring everything into helping a young person become a better player and then seeing them wearing another uniform the next year.
Often it seems to be the same clubs grabbing the most promising local players every year, while other clubs serve as an unwilling feeding ground.
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But are you and your club giving yourselves the best chance of retaining that talent? Have you stopped to consider why it is that players always gravitate towards certain clubs, or why it’s hard to keep them coming back to yours?
You won’t always be able to hold onto every player, but here are a few key strategies that can help make your club a place that players never want to leave.
CREATE A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT
Do your players enjoy their netball at your club? Do they look forward to attending all of your training sessions and taking part in games?
Enjoying the environment your club creates is probably the most important factor affecting players’ decisions on where to play their netball, so invest some time and effort into building that positive club culture, whether it be through playing tournaments, combining teams for training sessions, incorporating netball-specific games or any number of other strategies that are proven ways to put smiles on faces.
Also keep tabs on the other teams and coaches at your club, and identify ways to work together to ensure players are getting the absolute most out of the experience.
CREATE AN ELITE ENVIRONMENT
Losing players tends to hurt the most when they’re your best or most promising players – the ones who you know will help your top teams achieve success in the years to come.
Those players can often require a little more effort, as they inevitably progress far more quickly than other players, and are always ready for more advanced skills and challenges.
If you don’t have the caliber of coach required to give these players that next level of feedback or instruction, get them in. You might not be able to secure a higher-level coach for a full year or entire season, but you’ll almost certainly be able to find some who’ll run specialist clinics for you and help to develop specific parts of your players’ games.
Similarly, elite players in your state’s State League competition are often university students who’ll be more than happy to provide clinics and specialist sessions for a small fee. Invariably it’s these sessions that the players remember above all the others at the end of the year, and if it’s something that players understand will happen regularly, it’s a good incentive to stay put.
MAP OUT DEVELOPMENT PLANS
There are countless instances of players walking away to a new club because they couldn’t see where their future lay at their current one.
It’s important that players know that their club is planning for the future and has them included as an important part of those plans, so sit down with those players and map out a development plan.
Write down some key points around areas of their game that they’re already mastering, as well as things that they need to improve on if they’re to progress to the next level of netball, and the steps you’re going to put in place as as coach/club to help them do it.
Few things are more powerful than giving a player confidence that their development is one of your top priorities.
ENGAGE THE PARENTS
In the end, most players aren’t going anywhere unless mum or dad gives the OK, so try to engage with the parents throughout the season.
Include them in the discussion around player development plans, and make them feel as much a part of the club as their child.
When organising a team dinner or bonding session early in the season, why not invite the parents so that they get to know each other. It’ll be a much more difficult decision for them to take their child elsewhere if they’ve formed friendships at the club, too.
ASK YOUR LEAGUE TO TAKE THE LEAD
If the same clubs seem to poach the best talent year after year, while other clubs continue to struggle, why not take it to your league or association to help level the playing field?
A number of competitions and leagues have rules in place to prevent clubs from capturing all of the best players within an age group, and to encourage players and families to remain loyal to their club.
For example, some associations have rules that effectively prevents clubs from grabbing all of the representative players that play within the association.
Players who have been at the same club since an early age, or who have been at the one club for a certain number of years consecutively, are classified as “grassroots” players, and a club can have as many of these players take the court as they wish.
Players who have crossed from another club are classified as “imported” players (or similar) and a club is restricted in how many of these players it can have on court. In some leagues, only one “imported” player is permitted on court at the one time, while in other leagues it’s as many as two or three.