Can Netball in the UK ever have the status it has in Australia?

Wes Blair is the Performance and Pathway Manager and Coach at Wasps Netball Club, U.K. We recently had a chat with Wes about all things Netball, coaching and the fact that Netball is one of the rare sports which is female dominated. 

To read our full interview with Wes, CLICK HERE

Below, we spoke with Wes about how Netball has evolved in the U.K. over the last few years, and if she thinks Netball will ever have the same status in the U.K as it does in Australia and New Zealand.

Netball has taken some big steps forward with regards to marketing, getting nike on board, Vitality sponsoring the Superleague and obviously England winning the Commonwealths. So, what has it been like from, being on the inside, of being involved so closely with netball and seeing the sport grow like it has, and do you think the sport in this country will ever get near to the stature that it has in Australia and New Zealand? 

Being on this inside, and this is probably from a community perspective because I am also head coach of our local team – from a community perspective, after the Commonwealth games and even so the World Cup, the interest in our club, I speak for our club but I assume for other clubs too, was absolutely phenomenal.

Our numbers went up tenfold every week. Every week we would have a least 4 or 5 people enquiring about wanting their child to join, and our junior section grew massively. To a point where, just before COVID, we were like, OK we need to just stop. Just to see where we’re at with numbers and age groups and things like that. Particularly for our under 13’s at the moment, they’re under 14’s now, we have enough for 3 squads, and we’ve never had that before.

The whole time I’ve been coaching, leading on 26 years, and we’ve never had that before. Definitely the interest is there, and I don’t think it dropped off either, it’s just been continuous, every week there’s 3 or 4 people say “Would like my daughter to join.”, even during COVID when we’re not training. Well we’re not training, what do I say? So, the interest has definitely been there, and I think it will continue to be there. And I think once again, when we are able to get back to training, it’s gonna be something that we have to manage again, because I see numbers increasing, people wanting to get back involved.

Definitely because, again, a lot of them may not have done anything from a club perspective between COVID and now, but once we are able to I think they’re going to want to do something. So, I think again clubs, franchises need to be prepared. We have over 200 girls wanting to trial for Wasps each year, and again I can see numbers increasing with that once we come out of COVID.

Which is why we’ve tried to keep ourselves out there with brand awareness and so on, but not force the girls into wanting to take part. They have to want to take part, we’ve not said that it’s been compulsory. But again, I think once we get the greenlight, we will maintain the numbers and numbers will increase definitely, especially with the Superleague happening. Nothing else is happening but Superleague is happening I think it’s just gonna stir people up even more.

Do I think we will be the same level as Australia/ New Zealand? We can live and dream can’t we? I’d like to think we could. I think we’ve definitely make inroads and again from a netball perspective it is about us and and that we, England netball, franchises being creative in terms of their brand awareness, their commercial side of things, and how we tap into all those.

I like to think that we have to start to build on what we’re doing now. There’s a lot of work gone into getting Superleague up and running, like the world cup, you know we’ve got the Commonwealth games coming up, and we have to tap into that. And just be creative and that, I don’t know what that creativity looks like right now, but there are moments of opportunity that we can build on.

So, we can be – not be as big as Australia, but we can be as big as we can be. Whilst yes, it’s nice to be aspiring to be like Australia/ New Zealand, well actually let’s aspire to be as good as we can be within England, and then see where that takes us. Fran Connolly, she used to be my, many many years ago, when I started coaching, my claim to fame. 

With people like Fran leading things, we are in good hands. I just think people expect it to happen like now, and that’s not gonna be the case. Well actually it’s probably going to take another few years to actually be the best that we can be, not on the court as we have shown we can challenge Australia and New Zealand in thisc arena but commerically, financially and having a truly professional status for our athletes. but like I said lets try and be the best that we can be and give a good product and a good account to ourselves within England. And then I think everything else will follow.

When you look at things like facilities and things like that all have a massive impact, and the weather. They can play outside and have 14 courts that the can play on, whereas we struggle to have some really good indoor facilities where they have 2 courts, which actually would suit a lot of clubs, a lot of franchises, and have increasing numbers. Well actually we’re always putting a cap on things because we can’t cope with the numbers, you know as soon as the weather turns bad, we can’t get inside. So, all little things like that, that we have to start to address before we can even think about being as big as New Zealand and Australia.