IN THEIR minds, Scotland’s elite netball players have been preparing for these Commonwealth Games for a number of years. But their bodies really only began the intensive work needed at the end of last year.
The hard work and dedication that had taken then to the cusp of selection was cranked up several notches with the arrival of Gail Parata as coach. With twice daily training sessions, five days a week, with game time and recovery sessions also factored in at the weekend, there is a greater intensity to the build-up.
One of the last sports to name its athletes, the 12-woman Scottish Thistles squad was revealed at a Team Scotland photocall at Stirling Castle this week.
It was a relief to finally have the names out in the open, according to captain Lesley MacDonald, who says there is great excitement in the squad. “We’ve been preparing for this for a number of years and it’s always seemed a long way away but, since the turn of the year, it’s been hectic,” says the 33-year-old sports development officer. “Our preparations have stepped up and the buzz around the squad has just been fantastic. As we go into the next few weeks, it’s just going to build and build.”
Coming from New Zealand, where netball is one of the biggest female sports, Parata has imbued the Scots with an even greater work ethic and self-belief, urging them to get the very best from themselves despite the drawback of having to juggle training with full-time jobs or studies.
“We are more physical when we’re on the court. Able to last the game for longer and have even more power and speed. That’s one thing Gail has made sure she has nailed with the institute to ensure our bodies are at their peak when they go into games.
“She’s been cracking the whip and, to be honest, that’s just what we needed. The style is slightly different from what we were used to, as she’s from New Zealand.
“It’s one of the top sports over there – you see it across billboards, in newspapers and on TV. A lot of the promotional stuff is second nature to her and she wants to make sure she brings some of that to us.
“The coaching style is different and, to be honest, it’s only since the turn of the year that we’ve got used to that and been able to adapt and take it onto the court. We’ve seen our results shift significantly – we’re 12th in the world but we’ve been beating teams who are seventh and eighth in the world.
“We’ve just qualified for the World Cup. We didn’t qualify for the last World Cup so the momentum is moving and it’s really lifted everyone in training.
“New Zealand are No.1 in the world and we played them twice in Glasgow early in the year. The top four nations are quite far ahead of everyone else. So, for us to get matches at that level was fantastic. It was a big learning curve. Those guys are a lot stronger, a lot fitter and it was a lot harder. For us to adjust to that, we had to learn very quickly. It’s something that’s going to happen at the Commonwealth Games – you have to learn from the first two or three minutes of a match and make that adjustment for the rest of the game.”
But, while matching the players at the absolute pinnacle of the sport is a virtually impossible task, Scotland are making inroads on some of the teams above them.
Last month they defeated Northern Ireland by one goal in the World Cup qualifiers in Cardiff. It is another tangible sign of how things are progressing, says MacDonald, who plays as goal shoot or goal attack. “We beat Wales back in February and have just beaten Northern Ireland. It’s been three or four years since we’ve been able to compete with these teams consistently. For us to be able to beat them both is fantastic.”