A slightly panicked netball parent approached us one weekend.
She’d been sitting in the stands at a training session, chatting to some of the other parents, when a couple of them must have mentioned “THE PATHWAY”.
The P word.
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Depending on your club, netball league or circle of netball acquaintances, you may have heard about “pathways” – it’s the all-encompassing buzz word for the generally accepted route and progressions a player might take on their way to netball’s higher levels, whether that be state league, state teams, national teams or even higher.
In your state/region, the defined pathway through your governing state netball body might look something like this:
Domestic netball –> Rep netball –> Zone/talent academies –> State schoolgirls/boys teams –> State 17/U or 19/U teams –> State League –> Australian Netball League –> Suncorp Super Netball –> National team
Now for this parent, it was all news to her. And as no one had ever mentioned it to her previously, there seemed to be a fear that her daughter – at 16 years old – might already have missed the boat when it comes to furthering her netball.
The insinuation often seems to be that if you’re in “the pathway”, you’re sitting pretty and on the road to success, and if you’re not, you may as well hang up your Netburners now.
Well we can tell you that while pathways are all well and good, and many are certainly great ways for players to put their name out there to coaches at the next level who might be casting their eye over some of the talent coming through, they’re but one of many ways that players can achieve their netball dreams.
And increasingly we’re seeing clubs pump up their own “pathway” as a recruiting tool – suggesting that if players want to gain selection at a higher level, they’ll only achieve it if they sign on with them now.
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Have players who decided not to accept a spot with a club that relentlessly spruiks its own pathway still managed to go on to bigger and better things regardless? Of course they have. So try to temper that FOMO and look at things rationally.
And as a coach and club, it’s your responsibility to provide players with the information they need to help them make the best decision for them, without placing undue pressure on them to join your club.
The message we often give to players who aren’t in the “pathway” that’s been promoted to them is this: Good players have the talent and work hard will almost always find a way. Coaches aren’t going to ignore an obviously talented player simply because they haven’t been in the same teams as the players around them.
There are many, many players who bloom late or were simply never given a look-in at certain levels of netball, but then find their way into teams further down the track. Maybe a new coach sees something in them, or maybe their game has come on in leaps and bounds and they’re now ready for that spot. Either way, not being on the same trajectory as other players right now doesn’t mean they’ll never get there.
Take Collingwood Netball goaler Gabby Sinclair as an example (and check out her shooting sessions here!). She didn’t make any state teams on her way through, and constantly missed out or was dropped from the teams she was in. Now she’s a Super Netball star. Melbourne Vixens captain Kate Moloney is another who often talks about missing out on teams as an under-age netballer – and therefore being out of the “pathway”. Now she’s a Diamond.
WHAT CAN WE DO AS COACHES?
Coaches and clubs can help players and parents by educating them about where they can potentially look to next when it comes to furthering their netball.
That means collating a list of dates for academy trials, state league club trials, state team trials or any potential higher teams the players might wish to put themselves forward for. Not all players and parents are “netball heads”, and many simply don’t realise what else is out there beyond the level they’re currently playing at. Showing them what’s available at least gives them a choice about where they go from here.
So help them out by putting all the options on the table, and encouraging them to go for it.
And then, most importantly, remind them that there are many, many potential “pathways” to achieve their netball goals, not just the ones they hear about from the players and parents around them!