Scottish netball: Massive revamp allowing youngsters to make it to top quicker as Thistle get ready to end two-year hiatus

Netball Scotland performance director Karen Atkinson and national team coaches Tamsin Greenway and Sara Francis-Bayman are at the heart of “revamping” the pathways system in this country so that more young talent can be exposed to a high level of competition quicker than ever before.

Sarah MacPhail and the Scottish Thistle take on Barbados next week.
Sarah MacPhail and the Scottish Thistle take on Barbados next week.

And the governing body’s CEO Claire Nelson believes that a constant stream of robust players moving up the ranks will help the full national team – the Scottish Thistles – “really step-up performance levels and help them mix it with the best teams in the world” come the Commonwealth Games 2022 and the World Cup 2023.

Those showpiece events in Birmingham and Cape Town are still some time away, but given that the national team have not played a competitive match since the World Cup in 2019, they are very keen to make up for lost time.

The exciting journey for the Thistles under the new coaching team of Greenway, a decorated former England player who led Wasps to back-to-back Super League titles in 2017 and 2018, and her assistant Francis-Bayman begins on Thursday and Friday.

Claire Maxwell of Scotland in action during the preliminaries stage two schedule match between Trinidad and Tobago and Scotland at M&S Bank Arena on July 18, 2019 in Liverpool, England.

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The team are hosting Barbados at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena in two Test matches on Thursday December 2 and Friday December 3 and as well as the coaching duo, Atkinson – who was promoted to performance director in August – will be an interested spectator.

A number of young players are in the squad for the matches, but the trio want to grow the pool of talent even more over the next couple of years and Nelson said: "Karen, Tamsin and Sara have become driving forces in revamping the pathways system and the performance set-up in this country of late and they want to put Scottish netball on the map.

“They have completely redesigned our programme nationally, we have a lot of talent coming through from all over the country, but we need to be able to expose those players to more quality training, matches and competitions at an earlier age.

“By doing that it will mean that when they get into the Strathclyde Sirens set-up [the Scottish Super League outfit] or the national side then they will be able to go out and compete and mix it with more experienced opponents straight away.

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“What has happened traditionally is that young players have come through quickly and then have had to almost learn their craft in the Super League or at the international level.

“By strengthening the domestic pathway it will reap benefits for us in the long term and I know it is something that Karen, Tamsin and Sara are very focused on.

“They want as many top quality netball players in Scotland as possible and the next couple of years should be very exciting.”

The next couple of years might be exciting, but so too will this week be as the Thistles run out in front of a home crowd for the first time in a long time.

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They are ranked in the world’s top 10 with Barbados – known as the Bajan Gems – just a few places behind them, so they should be competitive encounters.

The Thistles will be skippered by experienced campaigner Claire Maxwell, back on the court after giving birth to daughter Lucy earlier this year.

“Claire’s return had to be on her own terms and she was very keen to get back, she is an inspiration,” Nelson concluded.

Claire Nelson was speaking as Netball Scotland announced their new sponsor Glen Luss Distillery – tickets for the upcoming Thistles matches are available via the governing body’s website