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Netball Journeys with three Welsh Feathers

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Wales are currently at the Netball World Cup in South Africa - the first time they have qualified for the tournament since 2015.

For the Welsh Feathers players, it’s the high point of their careers and the culmination of years of striving.

But they all have something in common with every school and club player in the country – their netball achievements began with creating a love and passion for physical activity and the fun it could offer.

Most of the players tried a variety of sports at school and one or two – like captain Nia Jones – were even good enough to represent Wales in more than sport. In her case, it was football and netball.

Three Welsh Feathers – Phillipa Yarranton, vice-captain Bethan Dyke and Clare Jones tell us about their netball journeys and what makes a healthy sporting environment.

What other sports did you play as a youngster?

Phillipa: I played a lot of football and did a lot of athletics when I was growing up. If there was a sport that might get me out of lessons, I’d go and do it!

I’m a netball performance manager at the University of South Wales and I see quite a lot of girls now have both a dance and gymnastics background before they come into netball and that’s really useful. 

By the time youngsters get to 18 and come to college, they have started to specialise, but it’s certainly a benefit to learn different skills from different sports before that.

Bethan: I got into netball through watching my mum play. I used to watch her in the local leagues in Bridgend with my sister.

I played netball through primary school and also joined a club outside of school. 

But I also did a lot of other sports growing up. My sister and I both did a lot of gymnastics, trampolining, and swimming.

Eventually, it got to a stage where things started to clash, and I chose netball as my main sport.

As a PE teacher, we offer a range of sports in school. There are a lot of people who do a range of activities. That's important because of the transferable skills across all the different sports.

Gymnastics certainly helped me with my flexibility, although maybe I’m not so flexible as I once was! But what also helps is working with different coaches in different sporting cultures and environments.

Clare: I played more individual sports when I was growing up – like tennis and athletics.

I actually played tennis for my county back in the day and still have a decent backhand! It helped me with balance and co-ordination.

When I first saw girls playing netball, I thought it looked incredible. I went home to my mum and told her I’d seen this game that looked energetic, looked fun, and there was a ball involved. I wanted to have a go.

Rather like Beth, I think preferred the team environment to the individual sports. I wanted to be part of the buzz of being in a team. Netball and hockey became my two major sports, while athletics and tennis were then more for just leisure.

I was lucky enough to attend Wales talent centres for both hockey and netball. I found that netball gave me a fantastic release from academic pressures, so that became my love.

Who are the people who helped you along the way?

Clare: My first netball coach was a teacher – Rebecca Sear. She got me started at around the age of eight and she’s still watching me now, bless her!

Phillipa: I properly fell in love with netball in my first year at Uni at Cardiff Met. Nia Jones – who’s now our captain – was my head coach. The environment was very high performing and I loved it.

As a kid, my mum was a massive influence, and also Karen Moore, who was my U16s coach at Worcester.

Bethan: My mum was also a huge support, growing up. And so, too, was Gail Calford, my first club coach and the first person who really believed in me. She gave me the belief that I was good at this, and I could continue to enjoy getting better.

But she also always made the sessions fun, too. It made players want to go back.

Bethan Dyke catching a netball
Bethan Dyke playing against Malawi at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Photo credit: Steve Pope at Sportingwales

What makes a good and healthy sporting environment?

Bethan: The best sporting environment is one where it feels fun and enjoyable to be there. That’s what I try and create in the school.

You want children to be enjoying PE, enjoying sports, and hopefully they'll be hooked and they'll engage in that healthy, physical lifestyle for life.

I think our Wales netball environment must be a good one, because we have become close and spend time together off the court as well as on it.

Phillipa: My experience of the netball environment has always been a positive one.

Most of my coaches have always been able to differentiate their tasks. That’s to say, they have challenged the players who were competent and also enabled less confident players to feel they are making progress and succeeding. That’s vital.

You want to create a culture where people can understand that there are going to be people who are better than you, or are good at one thing, but you also have other strengths, too.

I think that it's really important for coaches and teachers to get to know individuals, so they will know how much you can challenge them, or what kind of challenge they're going to take on and be willing to do. 

You need to know what kind of experience they might perceive to be a negative experience and I think that’s about building relationships. It’s massively important.

What kind of influence is your own captain, Nia Jones, as a leader?

Clare: Nia always invites everyone to bring their best self into the environment. She’s very encouraging and very fair. And she’s hot on leading by example. She is meticulous and leaves no stone unturned.

Everyone has huge respect for her within the sport.

Phillipa: Nia is super professional, regardless of whether she is playing football or netball. She’s respected by all athletes and all coaches.

What would your key messages be to coaches working with youngsters?

Clare: Know yourself. Be confident in knowing what you want out of the sporting environment and what the players want.

Keeping it fun is key. The best way to get the best out of anybody is by ensuring a relaxed atmosphere, and a calm atmosphere. 

Then, you can build the intensity. But you should do that by keeping it fun, by setting boundaries, setting values, and setting a culture where athletes can feel as if they can be themselves.

You want to bring out their character and have a place where everyone is accepted. It’s massively important that females have a leader figure they can look up to and feel safe with.

Bethan: Just keep it a fun, enjoyable environment.

Phillipa: They’ve summed it up!

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