Girls wooed to take the cup challenge

26th May 2006 at 01:00
Netball Scotland is courting players and coaches in schools, from primary upwards, to ensure a firm footing for the game, writes Roddy Mackenzie

Netball Scotland will be trawling Scottish schools for talent as it tries to put the game on a stronger footing.

While there are 1,800 registered players in Scotland, it is estimated there are 20,000 playing regularly in schools.

The game was once thought to be the preserve of the west of Scotland but has spread considerably since it was established here just after the Second World War. It is now strong in Edinburgh, Perth and Aberdeen.

This season, 115 teams from 55 schools took part in the schools' cups tournaments, but Netball Scotland wants to increase the number of schools taking part.

Marion Thomson, the schools' convener for the governing body and a PE teacher at Gryffe High, in Houston, Renfrewshire, has overseen the schools'

competition for 10 years. She has seen the competition for S1s-S3s take on different guises and it is likely that the format will change again for next season.

"We started a B competition last year as we were finding that some schools who were new to the game would have the misfortune to be drawn against one of the more established schools," she explains. "It could result in one-sided matches and was off-putting for new schools, so we have worked to change that.

"We've tried, where possible, to regionalise the early rounds so that schools do not have too far to travel. We also have round-robin groups in the early stages so that schools are guaranteed matches.

"Shetland's Anderson High competed for the first time and we also had Kirkwall Grammar of Orkney taking part again.

"Geographically, it can pose a problem, as it can be a four-day round-trip for schools from the islands to compete. There is also the expense involved.

"Ideally, we'd like more schools from the islands to take part so that we can have a round of matches on the islands."

There is talk of dividing the cups into gold, silver and bronze competitions if there are sufficient entries for next season.

Ms Thomson is convinced the sport is making inroads in parts of the country not historically strong in netball but emphasises that there is a need for more coaches and administrators in what is still very much an amateur game.

"There is still the issue that teachers in some areas are paid for taking extra-curricular sport and others are not.

"We have come on a lot but still need more teachers and coaches on board.

Some are put off by the amount of form-filling and administration involved, but it can only be a good thing that children are more protected.

"We are bringing in the UK coaching certificates next year and that can only bring more credibility for our coaches."

In her own area, Renfrewshire, which traditionally has been strong in netball, there is no full-time development officer. In spite of that, four girls from the area made Scotland's 12-strong squad for last year's World Youth Championships in Florida .

Renfrewshire Council funded the area's under-17 squad for four years through its junior groups programme for talented athletes. That funding is no longer available for netball, which will hit the sport.

Gryffe High won the Scottish Schools' Cups at S2 and S3 levels at Linwood sports centre last month and Gleniffer High, another Renfrewshire school, won the S1 trophy.

In terms of recruiting players, netball has to compete against basketball and the high profile of the Scottish Rocks, Scotland's only professional team.

However, Ms Thomson believes that it is possible to play both games at school without too much difficulty and cites her own school as an example.

"There is competition from basketball, as that sport gets such a big profile in the media and it is seen as cool," she says. "Basketball has all the gear and the street cred. It's such a big sport in the US and, of course, unlike netball, boys play it.

"But we have shown that the sports can co-exist, at least, at schools level and there are a lot of transferable skills.

"It is possible for girls to play both sports right through school and, in fact, Gryffe High have done a triple double, where we have won the Scottish cups for S1s three times in both sports."

Netball Scotland is also looking at interesting primary children in the game. Its Thistle Netball initiative - an early touches development which links into the Active Schools' programme - is bringing more primary schools on board.

In addition, there is a Netball Nippers programme for P4s-P5s which develops basic skills for sport - throwing, jumping and running - with a netball slant and provides a solid fitness base.

"I'm optimistic about the future and I think we are heading in the right direction. Now we have a strong youth framework with squads at under-15, under-17 and under-19 levels.

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