The instant nature of today’s society can often make it extremely difficult for one to be truly reflective. We’re all eager to get whatever we want instantly, like right now! We might not realise it, but this often hinders our ability to be objectively reflective and we tend to judge progress in minutes, hours and days, rather than weeks, months and years. But in preparing to write this article I had the great opportunity to look back over Rhondda Netball’s incredible first year and some of the amazing highlights from an unfinished Year 2, and I’m delighted to report that the progress has been quite amazing! But the really great news is, the best is still to come, because we’ve only reached the end of the beginning!!
Looking back on my own involvement in netball over the years I’m really grateful for how Becky Davies and the female Marvels brought netball into the mix at Sporting Marvels – another charity I head up -who’ve played a huge support role in helping Rhondda Netball establish itself. I’d been of the belief for some years that a charitable operation focused around netball and female sports provision had big potential in Rhondda, especially so given the almost non-existent opportunities for girls and women compared to those available to boys and men. But I hadn’t contemplated establishing and driving something like Rhondda Netball myself, until the decision was made in Sporting Marvels to cut its netball activities.As the MD, such a decision was all set to make Sporting Marvels and me in particular, very unpopular with the girlsand women who were involved!
It wasn’t something we wanted to see happen so instead, we decided to have a crack at building what we believed was possible. And like I said in my main editorial on page 9, if you want to go anywhere, you’ve got to start somewhere!!
Days were spent with my Dad in what can only be described as a refresher crash course of his entire history building successful community/sports initiatives out of the professional rugby clubs he worked for. Hours were spent with former Superleague player and Welsh International, Nichola James, now Cooke, above far right, as I sought to learn everything I could about netball, from grassroots to Superleague, and right up to the international stage.
Weeks of research later and we were armed with an in-depth knowledge of the best development models in netball and world sport, as well as Sharni Layton’s nutrition plan just in case!
Crucially, in Jody Barnes (pictured above, bottom right), we found the person ready to learn and sacrifice in the short-term, to become the everyday professional face of female sports provision in Rhondda. Then, next up, were the Head Teachers and the PE Departments of the secondary schools, as the geography of the Valley and the high cost of the council’s sports centres, relatively speaking, meant that schools were going to be vital in our community-focused strategy.
Thankfully, they shared the same desire to see girls get equal sporting opportunities in Rhondda, and before a ball had been thrown, we were able to sync up our provision according to our Head Coach availability all across the region.
While they may not know it yet, Rhondda’s current generation of girls owe an incredible debt of gratitude to the Head Teachers of Tonypandy Community College, Ysgol Gyfun Cymer Rhondda, Ferndale Community School, Porth County Community School, and Treorchy Comprehensive School.
With an average of more than 200 girls taking part in the pilot age groups (Under 11’s & Under 13’s) during the first few weeks of our out-of-school provision, it was clear that in order to establish a sustainable operation for the whole of 2016/17, all Rhondda Netball needed was its first financial result.
Enter Gerald & Emma Leeke. Gerald & Emma’s willingness to get behind our vision for Rhondda Netball was the defining moment in 2016/17. Were it not for their heart, passion and commitment to Rhondda and its girls and women, then who knows… Rhondda Netball might not have made it off the starting blocks! Their decision to throw their weight behind us meant we were here to stay, and gave us the momentum we needed to really get the ball rolling!
Four clubs soon became five (see pages 46 & 47), assistant coaches joined our Skills, Training & Development Programme aimed at creating our coaches of the future, and girls and women flocked to take part in our provision. Every single one of Rhondda’s six secondary schools got involved in our brand new Rhondda Schools Netball League, and we even had the opportunity to incorporate two RCT schools as a pilot for our 2017/18 plans. The girls loved it, the coaches
loved it, the schools loved it, the parents loved it, and Welsh Media loved it too!
But as far as the big picture is concerned, 2016/17 was simply a launch pad for the future… because the culture change that saw over 280 girls and women playing netball out-of-school and 400 girls playing in-school, was just the start!
Sponsors and supporters rallied around the success, and the platform established in Year 1 allowed us to go to an entirely new level for 2017/18. We added Under 9’s & Under 15’s provision at our participation-focused clubs and our performance pathway, welcomed every one of RCT’s 17 secondary schools into the new RCT Schools Championship, started central Under 5’s & Under 7’s sessions, and incorporated a senior representative team, the Rockets, as the pinnacle of our development structure. And that’s not to forget the addition of experienced netballer, Jess Sutton, joining the team as Development Coordinator, and the fact that Jody has firmly established herself as a top quality Operations Manager along the journey!
In September 2017, just a few weeks into our Year 2, Rhondda Netball officially became the largest female sports participationinitiative in Wales, with over 550 different girls and women taking part in our weekly out-of-school provision. It’s incredible really, because 12 months earlier, Rhondda Netball was just an idea… a vision in the hearts of a few!
When I asked Jody about how she felt about all the progress, she was understandably emotional when reflecting on what she, and our amazing Head Coaches, had achieved in such a short space of time. “It’s hard to sum up how I feel,” she said through glazed eyes. “One of the great pleasures in life is achieving what people say you can’t, not to prove them wrong, but to prove that if you put your heart and soul into something, that something will become your passion and then, it’ll eventually become your reality. I’m grateful for all the support I, and we, have had, because to a certain extent I’m now living the reality of my passion. And I really can’t wait to see what the future has in store!”
As we look out on the remainder of 2017/18 we can’t help but turn our attention to bigger things. There’s no time to waste standing still and, while we’ve seen plenty of success, there are still so many developments we have to make, and plenty of components in the Rhondda Netball operation that need significant improvements. Attention is turning to our performance pathway and we’re already hard at work shifting position in readiness for a better day,where Rhondda catches up with the rest of Wales.
At present there is not one single girl from Rhondda involved in any of the Welsh international age group squads. This is something that’s going to change over the next few years as we inspire our younger generation of girls to dream big! There are currently no avenues where genuine financial sustainability is available for a sports initiative revolutionising female participation in sport on a huge scale. Another thing that will change as we continue to break down the
barriers of inequality! Without going into specifics, I can confidently say that as good as our beginning has been, it will pale in comparison to the future.
But if Rhondda & RCT want to shine as a beacon for female equality in sport and lead the way, they will need to be just as hungry for change as we are at Rhondda Netball. The UK has spoken.
The media has spoken. Now, Rhondda & RCT’s girls, women and parents have spoken too.
It’s time to join the cause!