Is there anything more widely discussed amongst coaches, netballers and their families (and that causes more angst) than the issue of court time?
From players’ first forays into the game as seven or eight-year-olds, right up to elite state and national competitions, it’s unquestionably the single biggest point of contention, week in and week out.
So what’s the right approach when it comes to the court time that players receive? Many clubs have different policies that may or may not work for them, however there are some approaches that undoubtedly work better than others.
Training comes first
It’s amazing how often some players will be unwell or injured for a weekend training session, and yet never fail to be available for a game.
Giving those players the same court time as their teammates sends a message that training isn’t important and that there is no reward for players who put in the effort each and every week.
It’s important to set rules and guidelines around team expectations at the start of the season and inform both players and parents about them, and then follow through on those expectations throughout the year.
A policy that’s always worked for us is “maximum half, minimum quarter”. For players who attend training at representative level or lower, they’re guaranteed at least two quarters. However if a player misses a session or is unable to participate in a session, the “maximum half, minimum quarter” rule applies. The most court time they can receive is two quarters, and they may receive one quarter if other players who did attend training are playing well in that player’s position. This applies for players who very occasionally miss a session, and we’ve found it’s usually very effective, as players know the consequences and are loathe to miss training in case it jeopardises their on-court opportunities.
If a player consistently misses training, however, there’s cause to suggest that they shouldn’t receive any court time until their attendance improves and they can demonstrate commitment to the team.
It shouldn’t be seen as a punishment for players who don’t attend training, but rather a reward for the players who do attend training and have shown commitment to the team and their teammates.
When explaining this to the affected player and their parents, it’s important to note that at training sessions the team works on strategies, structures and on-court team chemistry, and that when players miss training it impacts the ability of every other player in the team to put those newly learned and practised skills out on court.
Of course, sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, like a family emergency, however if players know the guidelines and you’re consistent in the application of those guidelines, it’s likely you’ll have all of your players at training the vast majority of the time.
Court time isn’t everything
It’s important to remember that being on the court on match night isn’t the only place where development happens. In a 40-minute game of netball, a player might touch the ball 80-100 times if they play all four quarters. Let’s say that’s two seconds per possession, so you’re looking at a maximum of about two-and-a-half minutes to three-and-a-half minutes in which a player will actually have their hands on the ball, across a whole game.
Obviously there is movement and body positioning and other non-ball factors that are also involved in playing a game, however in terms of passing and ball skills, those couple of minutes are all you get.
At training, on the other hand, a player might handle the ball 80-100 times in a single 10-minute drill, if they’re completing pair work with a partner. That’s why I always stress to players the importance of completing each pass or skill properly, with good technique and with good intensity, at training – because that’s the real opportunity to develop and improve, rather than purely on game night.
It’s about creating good habits and techniques so that when that player receives those 20-odd possessions in a quarter during their weekly game, they can execute the pass or skill required on as many of them as possible, thus giving themselves a greater chance of remaining on the court and receiving more court time.
Should everyone receive equal court time?
Each club should have a policy that provides guidance for coaches around court time. Having a firm policy will also assist coaches when players or parents approach you to ask those inevitable questions.
We’ve always aimed to keep court time relatively even, however that’s not to say it needs to be. Players should earn their court time, and shouldn’t receive it as a matter of course.
It’s up to the coach to provide feedback and learning opportunities for players at both games and training, but it’s up to the player to take on that instruction and put it out on court. If they don’t utilise that feedback to improve, or don’t attempt to try what the coach has suggested, why should they receive the same court time as other players who do?
What can coaches do?
- Firstly, be consistent in your approach to court time. You can’t pick and choose your moments to apply team rules around court time and attendance. If one of your strongest players misses training before a big game against a close rival, whichever rules you’ve applied to the rest of the team also applies to them. It also lets every player know that it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re not above the team rules, and that if you do the right thing you’ll be given a fair go.
- Secondly, it’s important that if every player is working hard on their game at training and is doing everything you ask, then at some point each of them deserves the opportunity to prove themselves against strong opposition and in important moments or games. You can’t tell a player that they’re not quite up to playing against the stronger teams or big games if they’ve never been given the chance to show you.
- Communication is key. If a player or group of players are receiving less court time consistently, it’s important that they receive positive and constructive feedback on how they can improve and what they need to do in order to increase their court time. If the player is under 18, it can be very advantageous to involve a parent in that discussion, as young players aren’t always able to process feedback immediately, and can sometimes take constructive feedback as a put-down.
- It also pays to keep a record of the number of quarters each player receives across every game, as player and parent perceptions about court time can often differ from the reality of how much each player has been on court.
What can players and parents do?
- Be at training! You’ll give yourself the best possible chance of being on court if you’re making a positive contribution to the team at training and working hard on the skills and structures that your coach puts in place.
- Be realistic. Not every player in a netball team is of equal ability, and some years or seasons there will be stronger players who do receive more court time. However, no team gets through a season or reaches a grand final with only seven players contributing. So when it’s your turn to be out there, show what you can do, put your best foot forward and play your role to the best of your ability.
- Support the coach. Until you’ve coached a team, it’s difficult to understand the challenges that managing 10 young players presents. And there’s nothing that sucks the enjoyment out of coaching more than having parents attacking or undermining you, either directly or in the background. If players or parents have questions or queries, they should ask the coach politely, listen to what they say and take their feedback on board. No coach gives feedback because they don’t like a player or because they want a player to play worse. From there, it’s up to the player to be positive and proactive in trying to implement the feedback at training.