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Netball festival good test

Andi Thornhill

Netball festival good test

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There was not a lot of fanfare but Barbados’ success at the recent seniors International Netball Festival in Northern Ireland should be noted.
Neither should anyone look to depreciate our triumph because there were no top teams in the tournament. In fact, since we were the highest ranked side, there would have been reason to be concerned if we didn’t win the tournament.
We did what we had to do and what we were expected to do. All of this against the background that the national team didn’t play a competitive international in over a year.
In other words, it was the first real chance for national coach Anna Shepherd to see how her charges would gel as she prepares them for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Scotland next year.
It is only in competition that coaches can make a true assessment of where the team is at and what adjustments need to be made for tougher assignments and challenges.
Northern Ireland, Botswana and St Lucia aren’t world beaters at this stage so it is more likely that you would experiment with your playing systems against such opposition than if you had to play a team ranked higher.
From reports, this seemed to be the intention of the coaching staff as I thought it was quite noticeable that there was a fair amount of tweaking with the midcourt and different combinations in the goal circle.
This is what has to be done as we build towards major games and we hope to see incremental improvements as time goes on.
I think one of the weaknesses of our national teams is that we don’t prepare for international competition with any urgency or intensity until it draws near.
We have to review this policy because, let’s say in the case of the Commonwealth Games we know that there’s a four-year window between games, in reality we should start building a team almost immediately to compete at the next.
In the interim, while you may want to keep a nucleus together, it should also be a period where fringe players are given a chance to press their claims because all successful teams, whether it be at club or international level, usually have strong reserves.
Consequently, the prospective reserves must come in ready to hit the ground running if their services are required. That can only happen if they are given prior experience for them to be scrutinized. 
I think it is imperative to have national teams in training year round with the intention of finding competition. Otherwise, it is very hard to gauge our standard and it is even harder to expect performance to be on par with the stronger teams if we are going into the competition cold.
I continue to contend that if we want world-class performances we must have world-class preparations.  
We have to be more proactive in this respect because we are not always going to be fortunate to get a sweet deal like the Northern Ireland one. We have to find ways to become more responsible for our own destiny instead of leaving it to the discretion of others.
As we continue to prepare for the Commonwealth Games, it will be necessary to have more warm-up games against stronger opponents. We can strive, for instance, to have a home and away series against fourth-ranked Jamaica. They can tell us a lot about ourselves and, on the flip side, we can learn a lot about them and from them.
The more often we play against countries of that quality, the more likely we are to break psychological barriers and shed whatever inferiority complex we may have because of reputation.
Along with a carefully crafted strategic plan, we want to hit the court with the confidence to overcome all challengers. The fear factor is a big deterrent to achieving our stated goals.
As individuals, our netballers have the ball-handling skills to compete with their international counterparts but we are usually behind the eight ball because we never play enough international matches.
That’s why the success in Northern Island was so important and significant. We got a chance to put our drills to the test.
However, we must continue in earnest to create similar opportunities for ourselves; otherwise we may not show our truest potential in major tournaments when we ought to be doing better. 
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced and award-winning sports journalist.