In one of the most competitive international years to date, Australian Samsung Diamonds head coach Lisa Alexander sees opportunity for the Diamonds squad, believing that an imperfect Quad Series campaign will prepare them for the trials of the Netball World Cup in July.
JANUARY QUAD SERIES
Having only won six quarters out of 12 for the Quad Series, Alexander was upbeat about having such a fixable problem.
“We’ve got massive improvement – an opportunity. When we get on top of it, it looks like our second and fourth quarters, then we’ve got a real opportunity,” Alexander said.
The defence end proved their versatility throughout the series but to make World Cup selection there was one obvious area that needed work according to Alexander.
“They have to get ball. It’s as simple as that, we needed ball and we didn’t get enough of it.
“However, I have already stated, it’s also the attack end’s responsibility. In the second quarter against England, even though it looked bad, and Rachel Dunn looked like she was doing a number on us, we were turning the ball over in our attack end. You can’t do that, you need to keep the scoreboard ticking over.”
“When there’s a change, then you have to have your attack end continuing to score and that would have helped Emily’s [Mannix] responsibilities against Rachel so much more and allowed her to settle and get on top of it over a quarter.”
Alexander agreed that in hindsight, the injuries to Caitlin Bassett, Courtney Bruce and Gabi Simpson could be seen as a positive in terms of making the team more adaptable to the different challenges of the World Cup.
“This Quad Series was completely different to last year’s and in some ways I’m buoyed by that, because last year’s Quad Series went perfectly for us. We got better every game, we increased our scores; it was nearly perfect,” Alexander said.
PRESEASON & NATIONAL VISITS
Alexander also underlined the importance of playing back to back games in the Quad Series and noted that playing consistently throughout the #teamgirls preseason tournament is a factor that could influence selection decisions for later in the year, as well as form displayed at training camps and during Suncorp Super Netball.
“There is the huge difference between week-to-week netball and tournament play. So we’ve actually got to pick athletes that are going to be able to back up day in and day out over five days when we have five matches in a row.”
In February, Alexander undertook her national coaching visits to each Suncorp Super Netball club and despite seeing athletes in different training environments, it hasn’t made team selection any easier.
“I think everyone has to understand that this World Cup team will be the most difficult to select ever for a number of reasons. Not just because of the quality of athletes – that is a big part of it. We’ve got 19 at the moment, absolutely high-quality athletes that are high-performance athletes, world class and you know you can’t get 19 into 12,” she said.
The national visits have also helped Alexander learn from other world class coaches and exchange ideas.
“We under-appreciate our Suncorp Super Netball head coaches and coaching staff, there’s no doubt about that and so I learn so much whenever I go on my national coach visits about how to coach better and by watching what they do well. Then there’s also things that I think can be improved; that’s when I talk to them and they’re always willing to discuss and get feedback. It’s a terrific collegial/collaborative system.”
The visits also reminded Alexander to create a frustrating, intense and loud environment at the Diamonds training camp to replicate the raucous English crowd they met at the Quad Series.
“It actually sparked my remembering of ‘yeah I need to do that at our camp in March’ – to put some really loud AC/DC music on. The athletes and staff will get annoyed with it but that’s the idea.”
WORLD CUP – Preparation and selection
The Diamonds squad were put through their paces at a recent camp in March, and when it comes to World Cup selection, Alexander believes that midcourters will be drawing the short straw.
“When I put the thing out about the thirteen players per team, I’m actually serious about it. I think it’s something we need to think about for the future, particularly tournaments where the centre courts really cop it because there’s only four of them.”
Alexander related it to years gone by where a squad of 10 meant each team had an extra midcourter, while now it will prove a challenge to cut worthy players as only four will have the opportunity to fill three positions.
“So, it’s tough… there will be a centre court player that misses out that is terribly unlucky.”
WORLD CUP – Hardest to date
Despite coaching the world number one side, to win gold in Liverpool will be a monumental challenge, and one that Alexander doesn’t shy away from.
“It’s going to be really hard, it’s probably going to be one of the hardest, however, as Joyce Brown always said: “it’s the hard that makes it great”. That’s it, I would rate it harder than anything, definitely, because the competition is harder, for a start, we’re in Liverpool, everything that could be against us is against us,” she said.
WORLD CUP – Coaching battles
Alexander’s respect for one of her toughest competitors, Roses’ coach Tracey Neville, is obvious. And it’s a battle which constantly keeps Alexander on her toes.
“Definitely Tracey Neville gives me a chess game to play against now. She likes changing her athletes on and off the court quite a lot.
WORLD CUP – Change over time
Currently Alexander’s contract with Netball Australia runs until the end of 2020 which will see her become a decade-long national coach. She’s a firm believer that if she had not changed her coaching style over time, that she would have been dismissed years ago.
“Definitely, if I hadn’t adapted I wouldn’t be in the job. It’s simple as that. You can’t do what I was doing in 2011 and expect to be successful today,” Alexander said.
“I love the players I got to coach in 2011 but the athletes of today are so much more high-performance focused … They are so intent on doing everything they can possible to get themselves the best chance of being selected and it’s just a joy to work with people like that. So yes, my coaching has to change, and it changes according to each individual as well, because if I don’t coach the individual within the team then I’m done.”
While fans may be nervous for the Diamonds after the retirements of some heavily experienced, key players last year, Alexander is unflappable, seeing it as a pattern over time and something that happened to even the highly successful 2015 World Cup team before selection.
“Major retirements have been happening to Australian teams for well, since 1963, when we were first in the World Cup. So it’s not a big drama, it’s actually a part of what happens in the very top teams of high performance sport.
“The group that have come through, the Bruce’s, Weston’s and Price’s, they’ve had experience now, they’ve been to the Commonwealth Games or Quad Series, so they’re ready to go.”
Suncorp Super Netball will take a four-week break at the end of Round 9 for the Australian Diamonds to compete in the 2019 Liverpool Netball World Cup from 12-21 July.
FACTS YOU MAY NOT KNOW:
At the 2014 Commonwealth Games Lisa Alexander had the Diamonds players visualise that they were scaling Mount Everest. At the 2015 Netball World Cup they were reaching new space frontiers. And this year Lisa says “I’m not telling you what it is, it actually hasn’t come yet. My inspiration for that – it’ll be organic, it’ll come out of something, it has to be authentic, so it may not come until June … But it will be something, because it is like a call to arms, it’s what connects the group together as a team in terms of our performances versus everybody else.”
Lisa Alexander sponsors a green sea turtle, Hector, through the WWF. At a Diamonds preparation camp a volunteer outside the local supermarket compelled her to donate, and this secret was unearthed by the team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, “When they all found out they thought it was hilarious. So did my partner by the way … so now even if I find a turtle on Instagram and I send it out, particularly to Bianca Chatfield and Kim Green, they just go into fits of laughter.”
Lisa did confirm Hector the Green Sea Turtle could be the team’s next mascot, after Beverley the Emu retires, “Absolutely, well we’ve got Beverly at the moment. She’s had her neck fixed which was good because it was very floppy!”