A Team With A Plan

By Paul Prenderville

When Sam Bird described some recent performances as clunky, she was clear in how that would be addressed – on the training court and with a specific plan in place.

And much to the head coach’s delight her London Pulse players have responded by executing those plans to perfection.

Shutting down a Cardiff Dragons team who had been hugely effective resulted in the Welsh franchise’s biggest defeat of the season. 

While there were elements of Friday’s win over Sirens that could have been better, there were certainly signs of a slickness becoming apparent in Pulse’s attacking play – something that had been the focus over the last few weeks.

It is testament to the work done on the training court and with the performance analysis team that the building blocks to a successful performance are in the execution of a plan.

As Bird explains it requires a certain type of player to carry out such instructions: “Only skilful players can do it, it’s not just a case of telling them to do something, they have to be highly skilled in order to put it into practice.

“That’s the faith we have in them in terms of their skill level and ability.”

As the professional era for netball draws ever closer, performance analysis, regular training sessions and plan implementation is vital.

Luckily for the coaching staff, the Pulse training environment has engineered a group of players that are hugely receptive to putting a plan in place – and even more importantly carrying it out.

“What we do in training is important in terms of being able to make those connections we talk about – in pairs but also in units and making sure we have the confidence in knowing what we want to deliver on game day,” captain Zara Everitt told us after the win over Strathclyde Sirens.

“If we can go out there and do it 100 times in a training environment, then we know we can do that in a match.

“During training we can be overloading the defence for example, which will feel more difficult so that when we come up against seven players in a match it should be easier for us to replicate.

“For us, performing in training is just as important as performing in a match.”

Let’s rewind to mid-March, and the win over Rhinos. After a strong first half, that included an excellent 14-7 second quarter, performance levels dipped and the second half resulted in losing both quarters.

After the game, Bird told Sky Sports: “There was some really good stuff from us, but some pretty clunky stuff as well.

“I feel like I need to look back at it but on the whole our defence did really well and I was very pleased with how we shut Leeds down.”

“I would like our attack to be a little bit smoother because we do a couple of good phases of play and then something goes wrong but our transition to goal was better and this is something we have focused on.”

What followed was a busy week of work on the training court, and then arguably the most clinical and efficient first half performance of the season when a Cardiff Dragons team that had impressed in the early weeks trailed 29-12 at half-time thanks to a very specific plan to shut down the Welsh franchise threat.

That was step up, shut down, make them feel really uncomfortable on the ball and then our attack was really good. It’s really pleasing to see the block of attack work we’ve done has really sunk in,” Bird said after the game.

Defence has very much been the foundation on which the Pulse identity has been forged. In each of the last three seasons, Pulse have conceded the fewest number of goals in the Superleague regular season.

The focus over the last few weeks for a team with championship aspirations has been making the attack end a more fluid unit and that does not just fall on the players in the attacking bibs.

In a possession-based sport, where goals are almost expected, linking play through the court is crucial and by their own admission, players and staff are keen to erase the ‘cluckiness’.

It was no surprise that Bird had told us during the build up to each of the last three games, that plenty of training has been focused on improvement as an attacking unit.

Key to that, again, is training and with three sessions a week there is plenty of time to put the processes in place as Goal Attack Berri Neil explains.

“I feel like each week it’s becoming more consistent and things are starting to flow a lot more.

“In training we are looking to get that consistency in place, and that comes from putting a lot of pressure on each other.

“Luckily for me I get to play against Funmi Fadoju every single session, so training is so hard it pushes you to your limits and that’s so important for us when we take it into match play.”

With a strong squad of international and emerging international players, the onus is very much on the players to deliver.

The last point from Neil is probably the most instructive, because the same is true of Fadoju who is testing herself against a fellow member of the England Roses squad. Not only of the Pulse desire to create the best possible environment, but also for the players to test themselves.

Taking plans and instruction onto court is not always straightforward. Opposition performance, injury and plenty more besides can affect even the very best intentions.

Bird trusts her players and her staff to put things in place. As the season approaches the halfway point, that trust is key to the plan,

“It is really important from a coaching point of view that you have got players who understand the plan but also buy into it.

“It means you have much more control as a coach, in terms of knowing what is going to happen on the court.

“The players’ understanding is really critical and it’s great when you see them execute it.”