A Week in the Life of the SWNTP: Facing new (and unexpected) challenges!

The new season is well underway as Clubs and players strive to achieveHazel Gow whatever targets they set down at the outset. But what about the Senior Women’s National Team Programme?

The high of clinching second place in the Small Countries Qualification tournament in Malta back in June has long gone. The players enjoyed their summer break and the spectacle that was the London 2012 Olympic Games. Then, as soon as September began, it was back down to business with successive practice sessions on 2 and 9 September at The PEAK in Stirling. This excellent venue will continue to be our base throughout the 2012-2013 season and we are extremely grateful for the continued support of Active Stirling.

19 players, excluding those with contracts in Europe, were on the squad list for the start of the new campaign that will culminate in the Small Countries Final in Malta in June 2013. With the momentum generated by the success of qualification all was looking good as we faced up to the challenge of reaching the next level on the journey towards our 20:21 Vision. Or, at least we thought it did.

What was achieved by the Programme last season cannot be underestimated. The bar was raised considerably and, as a result, the expectations placed on the players were ramped up. We knew it would take time for things to be embedded and for the players to understand the way they would be required to function both on and off the court. At the 2012 Novotel Cup in Luxembourg we performed extremely poorly but it was a timely lesson that everyone, players and coaching staff alike, took on board. That was why we were successful in Malta!

The bar has most certainly been raised but the reality is that by achieving our goal in Malta we raised it even higher. The summer gave players time to reflect on what they had contributed to that success and what they would be required to give in the season ahead. The further up the ladder you climb the more work you need to do and the more attention you need to pay to the fine detail. That comes at a cost. The reality is that National Team players don’t live normal lives. They have to balance so many aspects that others won’t think twice about. Family, friends, partners, full-time and part-time work, University, club volleyball, social life and holidays, to name but a few, may have to take a back seat for a National Team player to achieve what they want to achieve. For some that is a really big ask.

So, at the start of September, a number of players made the difficult choice to withdraw from the Programme or decline the offer to join the squad. While this was disappointing it was understandable. It is much better that players are honest, especially with themselves, rather than to pretend they are fully committed. But the Programme has to move on.

While attendance at the initial sessions in September was very low the quality of work done was extremely high. It did take a few sessions before the players switched back fully into the SWNTP mindset but they are most definitely there now! One of the key areas of focus this year is to look at our physical preparation. Our third session of the season, held at the University of Stirling, was led by Neil Donald, Strength and Conditioning Coach with the sportscotland Institute of Sport. Neil set out the physical preparation programme which will be developed over the course of the season using on-line technology to monitor the players. In addition, we welcomed Susan Fotheringham back to the Programme as Physiotherapist and she and Neil will work closely together to ensure that the individual physical needs of each athlete are addressed.

Alex & CaitlinOctober saw a short weekend Camp held at The PEAK where the focus moved away from individual work to re-establishing the systems of play that we will be working to develop further for the competitions that lie ahead. First up will be the 2013 Novotel Cup in Luxembourg from 4-6 January. Final selections for this event will be made after our next practice session on 18 November. Future plans include a possible Easter Camp in Paris playing against some local club teams and playing host to a Canadian University side in June as part of our build up to the SCD Final in Malta from 28-20 June.

There are some significant challenges ahead but in reality we have already had to deal with one that was completely unexpected. The players and coaching staff have pulled together and been successful in overcoming the reduction in numbers. Some new players have been invited along in order to gauge their potential as future National Team players. This is something that we will continue to do throughout this season and beyond as we look to build the squad that will push the bar even higher and take us closer to our 20:21 Vision.

As Head Coach I am always looking to make things better. But sometimes you need to reflect back on where you came from. The reality is that if we consider where we were at this time 12 months ago and look at where we are now then there is no comparison. Fact!

Details of Practice and Competition dates can be found in the National Team tab on the home page under SWNTP Programme. As always, there is an open invitation to all coaches to come along and observe any session.

Look out for future SWNTP updates in the weeks ahead!

Craig Faill
Head Coach
Senior Women’s National Team Programme

8 November 2012