By Orville Higgins
Following their 2-1 loss to England in the just-concluded Test series away, the dream of the Jamaican Sunshine Girls to one day be the best netball team in the world continues to elude them.
It is not an unrealistic ambition. We have been hovering between the No. 3 and 4 ranking for years. At times, we have been seperated by mere single digits from the big two of Australia and New Zealand.
For Jamaica to climb to the top, we have to do things a little differently, or definitely improve on some of the things we are already doing well. We must now have a definite mission to beat Australia and New Zealand in the next World Championships in 2015, which might prove a lot more difficult since it will be in Australia. But certainly by the next Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2014, we should see anything less than getting into the final as a disappointment.
It is high time we stop being bridesmaids to those two. Not that it will be easy, but getting to number one in anything is never easy.
Having watched the Jamaican netball senior team over the years, I have my own suggestions on ways to improve the team. Maybe our biggest problem is concentration over long periods.
Very rarely are we blown out right throughout a game. We are usually right there with the very best, but at key moments our skills desert us. You could teach all the skills you want. Catching and passing and defending are crucial, but we have to be able to execute until the final whistle. Our fitness surely must improve, but we must also make better decisions under pressure.
One local coach told me that most of our players are not in management positions in their everyday work, which means they are always taking instructions as opposed to giving them. This doesn't necessarily help their decision-making skills on court. I am not sure that we pay enough attention to the mental side in our training.
Another thing that we must improve on is the quality of our top leagues. Waulgrovians, Jamalco and Tivoli are the three strong teams in the island, but there is too wide a gap between them and everybody else. You need at least six strong teams.
BRINGING TEAMS UP TO SPEED
The Jamaica Netball Association (JNA) needs to do whatever it can to bring some other teams up to speed. The stronger and more competitive the league, the more the top players have to master the art of grinding out wins, week in week out, and that can only help when they get to the national programme.
Except when any of the triumvirate play each other, the average league game is a cakewalk, especially now that Windalco is no longer a real force. These three top teams are coached by three men: Winston Nevers of Jamalco, Patrick Brissett of Waulgrovians and Sylvester Campbell of Tivoli. If the JNA insists on having women in charge of the programme, it should still find a way to meaningfully incorporate these talented male coaches. It cannot make sense for the top netball coaches in Jamaica not to have any real coaching input at the national level.
We also need more tall and quick girls to play in all positions. Traditionally, we have had tall shooters from the days of Patricia McDonald down to Elaine Davis and now to Romelda Aiken and Jhaniele Fowler. That's good, but height in netball is an advantage everywhere, not just in the shooting circle.
People like Nadine Bryan and Simone Forbes have stood out for Jamaica for years, despite their relative lack of height. But these two are brilliant readers of the game, and make up for their height disadvantage with speed and game intelligence.
With Simone gone, and Nadine on her way out, the hunt must be on for replacements who are tall and agile, even if they don't have the greatest of skills right away. Neither Romelda nor Jhanielle was a great player when each started the national programme, but they have learned and are now among the best in the world.
I am convinced that if we implement some of these recommondations, being number one in the world is ultimately achievable.
KLAS sportscaster Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.