Hubert Lawrence: New era in netball
Paula Daley-Morris has a big job ahead of her. As the new head of Netball Jamaica, her task isn't just to maintain existing standards of performance but, if possible, one day to exceed them. It won't be easy.
Under the erstwhile Marva Bernard, Jamaica kept its time-honoured position in the world's top four. Most recently, Jamaica was fourth at the 2015 Netball World Cup and third at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which is a virtual world championship.
Daley Morris' mission and that of her Netball Jamaica team will be to move the Sunshine Girls up to the top step of the podium.
Astute as she is, the new president will already know the obstacles that lie ahead. Unlike Australia, New Zealand and England, Jamaica plays most of its netball outdoors. The open air makes the ball act differently and the preponderance of hard concrete court surfaces lend themselves to knee and ankle injuries like the one centre Paula Thompson seemed to suffer from at the World Cup.
At the same time, the rest of the Big Four have professional leagues at home which allow their netballers to focus on the game, while ours juggle timetables that include school and/or work. Therefore, the edge Jamaica might have with talent is covered by extended practice time by players in Australia, New Zealand and England.
One worry is that other teams who go professional and indoors can catch up.
A semi-pro league was recently started in Jamaica. In its first season, it was contested outdoors. Hopefully, it will simulate world- level competition and go indoors next season. If it does, it would stretch candidates for national team places and be better preparation for international play.
The solution to both going indoors and going professional is money. As with Bernard, the new president will have to do a major marketing job to convince the public and sponsors to contribute to netball. Existing programmes to raise new talent and more qualified coaches should be retained and strengthened. New ones will no doubt be conceived, too, as the need arises.
With the next Commonwealth Games set for 2018 and the next Netball World Cup coming in 2019, it would be great if financial solutions could be found early on. With more full-time players practising and competing indoors and with a wise choice of national coach, Jamaica could step up in 2018 and 2019.
This year, despite the 2014 Commonwealth bronze medal, Netball Jamaica had to make a public appeal for funds to cover its Netball World Cup expenses. The new president will have seen that and will know the hurdles that lie ahead. Everybody who wants Jamaica to be world number one in netball will wish her the best of luck.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at court side since the 2003 Netball World Cup.