Pre-season is a word all athletes associate with blood, sweat and tears, as their coaches enforce an intense training regime designed to eradicate the effects of a slothful off-season.
Emmitt Smith, a former American football player said that “all men are equal, some work harder in pre-season”. At the risk of sounding like some sort of crazed feminist, us women unfortunately are not exempt from the brutalities of pre-season.
However, I definitely agree with Emmitt in that I am always grateful for the hours I slogged away during preseason when it comes to taking to the netball court.
Our Jets’ pre-season started in October when a long squad of players were put through their paces by our coach, Anna Carter. As Christmas approached, our numbers were whittled down to the final 15, yet the demands of training got increasingly rigorous.
A particularly memorable session was when the formidable bleep test was only considered the warm up and actually the real challenge was the following conditioning session. This consisted of a good hour of Anna’s favourites, including court sprints and countless 30-second bursts of intense ball skills.
For most, the festive period is a time for indulgence but us Jets girls were set a strict Christmas schedule.
On Boxing Day I started with a lengthy endurance session culminating in hill sprints, followed by a skills practice.
About 20cm of snow then descended forcing me to retire indoors and finish off with a weights session! I got a lot of strange looks from the neighbours, but according to Anna this was an entirely reasonable programme – after all, she’d been kind enough to allocate Christmas Day and New Year’s Day as rest days!
Fortunately, the results of this training were felt by all the squad as we had two great wins over Scotland at the start of the year. It was a great opportunity to practice tactics that we’d been developing in training and gain valuable match practice experience.
I’ve played against Scotland on numerous occasions, mainly in an England dress when I represented England’s youth sides.
I was first selected for the England programme when I was 15. Even at this young age we were expected to travel to the opposite end of the country for intensive 10-day training camps which were incredibly daunting.
Fortunately, my room-mate for the first camp was Natalie Haythornthwaite, who has been my team-mate and close friend ever since.
‘The Nat’ I first knew was someone who spent all her time worrying: worrying that we were going to be late for training, worrying that she wasn’t playing well, worrying that she’d said something offensive or just simply worrying about worrying.
Nowadays, there’s still an occasional worry but she’s grown into someone who is confident in herself both on and off court.
A couple of summers ago, she even captained the England Under-21 team at the World Netball Youth Championships.
Nat’ is a key member of the Jets team both at GA and WA and is known for her speed and intelligent play. She’s certainly always there for me when I’m desperate for someone to pass the ball to!
As my vice-captain, Nat’ is extremely supportive off court as well, and I completely trust and respect her.
Together, Natalie and I will be stepping out to lead the Yorkshire Jets in our first match on Friday against Loughborough.
I can’t wait to finally get the Superleague season started and officially leave that dreaded pre-season behind.