Dear Netball Australia, England Netball and Netball New Zealand,
The Constellation Cup and Quad Series are right around the corner, and I have a proposition unheard of for the group I am about to talk about.
In April 2021, the Youth World Cup was cancelled, and while it is devastating, those teams and that talent deserve a stage to shine on.
During the International Series at the end of this year, I want to propose there be official curtain raisers for the Constellation Cup and Quad Series, which feature your U21/Youth Teams.
It creates excitement
When you have youth tournaments on a national and international level, you create excitement for what’s coming.
The last decade of netball, including three World Cups and three Commonwealth Games, has been exciting to watch because of the talent coming through our development pathways.
In 2021, the young talent in both domestic leagues has been insane.
We have seen the rise of Parris Mason, Georgia Horjus, Tayla Earle, Tippah Dwan and Grace Nweke.
They are the next generations of greats, but in order to be great and create those connections we see in our national squads, they need a stage to shine on.
The connections need to be tried and tested on a world stage, where new fans can come to light, and old fans feel reinvigorated of their team.
Why do we need those connections? Because netball is in an exciting time where Australia isn’t guaranteed a win.
Instead, we have seen some fiercely competitive games where New Zealand, England, and Jamaica have won titles.
If we want to keep this intensity and this excitement, we need to start investing in these 15 -21-year-olds fighting for a position on court with our national teams.
Yet without Youth World Cups and National Leagues, how do we (the fans) know they’re going to lead the sport for years to come?
How do national teams slot new players in when the legends retire?
To create excitement and to create certainty, you need to provide the Youth teams with opportunities.
It gives them experience
No national team wants to pick a lucky player from a pool of untested talent and say right now go and defend the world’s best Goal Shooter.
That’s not only unfair, but it is setting a team up to lose.
With the Youth World Cup, Simone McKinnis and Kiri Wills have triumphantly been able to iron out kinks in players and set them up for world dominance.
Every great player that comes to mind, Gretel Bueta, Jo Weston, Laura Langman, Sharni Layton, Katrina Rore and Jane Watson, all went through the high-performance Youth team and honed in on their skills to make them the players they are today.
Players like Gretel Bueta made headlines in their Youth Cup days for the way they changed the game.
Our Youth Development squads are why we have such great connections today and are able to professionalise the sport.
There are more opportunities
As participation increases and retirement is on nobody’s mind, it is becoming harder for these players to earn their spot in today’s team.
The Southern Steel made the ANZ Preliminary Finals with a team where many of the players do not pass the age of 22.
But without the experience on an international level, these players will fly under the radar as selectors potentially doubt their performance or ability to reset and reign it in if things go wrong.
After all, confidence and trust are found in experience, not inexperience.
This is why we need Youth tournaments played on an international level.
The next ten years could be great, but we need to invest in those players now.
We need to develop and hone the skills of the likes of Gabby Coffey, Donnell Wallam and Taneisha Fifita to ensure our place on the world stage in 2022, 2023, 2027 and 2032.
But it not just playing opportunities that a youth curtain-raiser provides; there are coaching opportunities, umpiring opportunities, technical official opportunities and sponsorship opportunities.
We all know netball is struggling financially, and we want to find ways to help.
Having a youth curtain-raiser means there are more opportunities for sponsorships and broadcast deals.
We have the Origin Energy Australian Diamonds, what about the HCF Australian Youth team or the Rebel Sports Aussie Under 21’s.
With a youth tournament, there is even more dress space to fill with sponsor’s names.
As those players rise up into our national squads, those sponsors will have a sense of pride for contributing to the world’s largest participating female sport and creating yet another champion.
After all, we have taken from our youth teams, the saying comes to mind, if not today, then when? Because I, for one, am excited about this next generation and will be screaming in the stands (if I can attend) the youth team curtain-raiser at some of our most decorated international events.
And it doesn’t have to just be in 2021, it is an idea we can continue to execute in years to come.
Ultimately, they are the future of netball; they are just waiting in the wings for their turn.