As if the year wasn’t already challenging enough with the worldwide pandemic. As coaches, we are also in the middle of leading and supporting our athletes and staff, realigning trainings and programs and juggling the challenges that have come and will continue to arise for the entire 2020 year. We now have a rule change six weeks out from Round 1 of the Suncorp Super Netball season.
Firstly, I will state that I understand the need to increase the commercial viability of our sport, in particular to attract new members and fans to the game, and generate greater levels of sponsorship. This will ensure that future generations of athletes can benefit from greater pay, and clubs can reinvest in their performance and for their fan base. However, to mess with a rule of the game now and especially in the way it was done totally blows me away. Forty-eight hours on, the “how” and the “why” are the questions that I think we, as stakeholders of our sport, would like answers to.
We often hear from fans – and especially those who see our games live for the first time – about how skilled, fast and physical netball is. We are a proud game that caters for many different physical types and we work to complement all athletes in our teams to deliver an outcome to appeal to everyone, especially the future aspiring Diamonds and SSN players. In February, we witnessed the “spectacle” of the Bushfire Relief Charity match where the Super Shot rule was introduced in the last five minutes of each quarter. It was obviously deemed a success from some people and on top of the years of research that we have heard about, it is the new introduction to the best Netball competition in the world.
I am very interested in the research and evidence that this rule will make a difference for the desired commercial outcomes of Netball. I am keen to understand how we will be measuring the success, failure or indifference of the Super Shot rule in regards to competitive performance, as well as membership and audience growth? As clubs, it is our role to hold the league accountable by continually challenging new initiatives and fundamental changes to our game. Above all we need to ensure these decisions are being made with the best interest of our sport in mind, to help grow the game.
I personally believe the match construct and rules should have remained the same and that there should have been no alterations this close to a season start that we were already planning and training for. However, I also support the notion that there is a great deal that needs to be done to attract new fans to watch and attend our matches. Most importantly, we still need to invest in and retain our loyal Members and fans that we have. We also don’t do enough with the hundreds of thousands of netballers playing every night of the week or running around on a Saturday. We have a captured market that we haven’t even scratched the surface of and we need to convert our community netballers Australia-wide into genuine Members and fans of Suncorp Super Netball.
Fan engagement,interaction and greater promotion of our league should also be areas of focus, as I believe our game and “product” is already exciting. If you look at the last few seasons, the placings for the final four have come down to the very last matches of the rounds. In 2018, it wasn’t until the third quarter of our last regular season match against the Vixens that we had cemented our finals position, and the last quarter was very much alive as it determined the placings. Additionally, there were seven draws in the 2019 SSN competition and a decent number of matches won by five goals or less, that’s a pretty good entertainment product in my opinion and we need to do more to promote this.
The shooters in our competition, as some of the best in the world, will be fine. They are skilled, trained athletes who if they choose to add a Super Shot to their repertoire will now add this to their training program and we will see some long range shots rewarded with two points late in each quarter. But spare a thought for our defenders, their whole netball life they have been working on keeping their opposition away from the post. We all witnessed when Fast 5 competitions have been previously played, that the change in body positions, movement patterns and mindset to promote a one point play is so foreign for our defensive units.
So, on court now, with only 36 days to go until the first round, and with no practice matches, we have to introduce another rule change. In the past three seasons we have adapted to the addition of bonus points and time outs. This year we have been planning for the new rolling substitutions rule, and now also have a Super Shot to consider with limited time.
Some teams were lucky enough to get some practice matches in prior to the pause in our season and I can tell you that our two games against Fever were fast paced, strategic and high scoring matches with the added element of bringing players on and off at any time. However, it seems none of this was even considered when the decision on an additional rule change was made this week.
My final personal opinion is that when our season is thrilling, captivating and exciting it won’t be because of one rule, it will be because of the athleticism, skill and finesse of our amazing athletes to deliver a world class “product”.
We will make it work because we now have to, so it’s time to head back to training… there’s a lot to do!
Sunshine Coast Lightning Head Coach