Last weekend we went away on pre-season camp and I have to say, that in what is probably my 16th year of playing netball, it was one of the best that I have ever been on!
All athletes live in dread of pre-season and the pain that inevitably lays ahead of them during that time. Having been around the netball block once or twice before, I tend to choose not to stop training at all anymore, as the pain of getting my body moving again is much more than I can bare. I love to get in the gym and do my own thing, and my health and wellbeing is better off for it. I definitely take as much of a break from the netball court as I’m allowed, but, for me, continuing to get in the gym means that I come back in the pre-season able to shrug off any DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) much faster and can focus instead on pushing my body to continue to improve.
My main cause for concern leading into pre-season over the years has always been the pre-season camp. In my opinion, our 2018 camp and last weekend’s trip, signals an awareness that times have changed and there is an appreciation that there are a number of ways to stretch and challenge a group of professional athletes in order to reach our goals.
As I sit to think of the more sensational memories that I have of pre-season camps to share in this blog, my memory is filled with an endless amount of ludicrous activities that have been posed to supposedly challenge me physically and mentally. Images pop into my head of trekking silently through the bush in the middle of the night (WCF pre-season, 2017); being doubled over dry retching in a field/on the side of a court (too many occasions to talk specifics); watching your teammates (who are all scared of heights!) sob their way around a high ropes course (England Netball, 2013ish); being woken (from sleeping on the floor on the top of a cliff face) up in the middle of the night to simulate a night watch in pairs for an hour in the cold (WCF, 2017); participating in a triathlon in winter at the AIS and a teammate being pushed so far to their edge that they verbally abused a Coach for telling her she had gone the wrong way (England Netball, 2008), SERIOUS DRAMA!! I could go on, but maybe that’s another blog post ha-ha?! Some of the stories/memories are funny now, some of them are not, but hopefully I have made my point.
Pre-season camps have been used in the past and are still, to a certain extent, as an opportunity for Clubs to test how you react under pressure and fatigue in an unfamiliar environment with those around you. I am of the belief that that notion and the methods used to facilitate that outcome are extremely outdated, usually costly and often counterproductive. For me, a pre-season camp, or pre-season in its entirety should be used to provide a team with the opportunity to have shared experiences, build/develop your culture and learning to listen and communicate with each other (I’m talking purely off-court).
During our camp down south in Molloy, we had a couple of scheduled activities which you will be shocked to hear were not designed to make an ultra-marathon runner weep. We played games, relaxed into each others company, self-organised and most importantly had the chance to just talk to each other without distraction or pressure.
We have the opportunity now in Suncorp Super Netball to be contracted year-round and be as close to professional athletes as our game has ever been. I believe that given the lengthy period we now have for pre-season; your daily training environment should be where you are providing athletes with daily mental and physical challenges.
When we are out on the oval, in the gym and on the court, there is a ferocious level of intensity about the group and the competition amongst peers is relentless. The activities that we engage in across all those environments are facilitated in a way that we are constantly challenged, physically and emotionally and often outcomes are set that mean the effectiveness with which we collaborate with each other is vital.
I wouldn’t say that I am someone who backs down from a challenge and regardless of how pointless I have found some (okay many!!) pre-season activities over the years I will complete them to the best of my ability. However, I am at my best and most engaged when things have a purpose! Having a management team that have trust in their own planning (us!!) and the effectiveness of our training environment allowed us to take two days away from it as a group to develop our off-court behaviours safe in the knowledge that when we stepped back into the gym on Monday we were refreshed, had moved forward as a group and were prepared for the next phase of challenges that would be thrown at us!