VIS Netball Development Squad learn from New Zealand’s best

The Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) Netball Development squad travelled to New Zealand earlier in the year to play against international competition and experience a different high performance training environment.

The team was coached by former VIS scholarship holders and Melbourne Vixens players, Caitlin Thwaites and Elissa Kent, with VIS Sports and Exercise Physiotherapist Manager Steve Hawkins and VIS Physical Preparation Coach Lindsay Clarke also supporting the team on tour.  

The key objective of the tour planned by Kent, was to expose the developing netball group to other styles of match play whilst providing them the opportunity to develop touring skills and foster independence.

“We wanted to create a trip that provided the squad with an opportunity to continue to develop their self-awareness while increasing their cultural competencies,” Kent said.

“We were also keen to have a variety of experience, observing training, competing in match play and involvement in trainings.”

For most players this was their first international netball trip, including Australian U19 squad member Zara Walters, who grew up in Colac, a country-town in Victoria’s southwest.

“This trip allowed me to build upon my leadership skills, working with a team that hasn’t played and trained very often before whilst also being in a very foreign environment,” Walters said.

The squad played three practice matches and trained with some of New Zealand’s best netball teams, which included the 2022 ANZ premiers (New Zealand’s premier netball competition) – the Robinhood Northern Stars Netball Club.

The practice matches challenged and tested the Development squad and their ability to adjust.

“Training with the Robinhood Stars we noticed their training environment was very fun and relaxed which allowed athletes to feel comfortable in taking risks and making mistakes enabling athletes to grow and develop their game,” Walters said.

The trip included performance analysis sessions as well as the opportunity to work closely with VIS experts Hawkins and Clarke.

“A trip like this allows the performance team to engage with the athletes in a hugely beneficial way, working on things in a condensed time period that can often take a long time with the limited access to the athletes during a year,” Kent said.

Some of the key highlights of the trip came from the culture experiences the athletes were able to undertake, taking in the stunning natural scenes of the North Island and visiting the Whakarewarewa Village in Rotorua; a living Māori village where the group were welcomed to a performance of cultural dances, including the Haka.

“My favourite moment from the trip was going to the living Māori village and experiencing them doing the Haka and cooking food for us using the geothermal lakes,” Walters said.

“Being able to listen and learn about the culture of the Māori was an amazing experience.”

The trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the athletes that provided them with a unique opportunity to learn new netball skills while growing their self-awareness and life skills.

“This was an incredible growth opportunity for the athletes both in terms of their technical knowledge gains and in terms of the off-court opportunities around independence, culture, self-awareness and the opportunities that exist for them within sport,” Kent said.

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