Tracey Robinson empowering Leeds Rhinos Netball players to take control

Player empowerment is a popular chapter in the modern-day coach’s manual and for Leeds Rhinos figurehead Tracey Robinson it is a section worth abiding by – but only to an extent.

By Nick Westby
Saturday, 26th February 2022, 6:15 am

The Australian who succeeded compatriot Dan Ryan as Rhinos Netball head coach at the start of the year is still in the process of getting to know her players, acclimatising to the environment in Vitality Superleague and the culture of Yorkshire life.

But she knows her own principles and has been imparting them on the Rhinos’ full-time squad since her first training session in early January.

Those principles are allowing players ranging from veteran England Roses star Jade Clarke to second-year pros like Sienna Rushton to have the ability to think for themselves, provided those thoughts have been well practiced on court beforehand.

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Tracey Robinson, Leeds Rhinos Netball head coach. ( Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Two wins from their first three Vitality Superleague fixtures would suggest a positive start, but Robinson knows the team remains a work in progress.

Work on the practice court is therefore key to her ability to meld players who excelled last season with recruits brought in to freshen things up.

“A lot of coaches are coach-driven, whereas I’m the opposite way,” Robinson tells the YEP.

“I say to players ‘you tell me where you have a problem and let’s look at the set-up and see if you can solve it from that’. From there it’s about repetition, you keep going through it so they get used to it.

Tracey Robinson, Leeds Rhinos Netball head coach. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“Then it’s about adding my experience of saying ‘look have you thought about that, what about this, I don’t want you to do that here, I want you to do this’.

“So it’s about putting all those pieces of the puzzle together but doing it at a pace that approximates game play so they’re challenged by it.

“As I say to our leadership group: I’ll take everything you say under advisement but at the end of the day it’s the decision we take together. My overall philosophy is about making sure the individual is improving whilst in that team environment, so it’s really what’s best for the team overall.

“What we do in training they find challenging because I’m the type of coach who wants them to be thinking all the time, reassessing.

Experienced: Jade Clarke of Leeds Rhinos in action during the Vitality Netball Superleague (Picture: Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Vitality Netball Superleague)

“Aside from training, during a game they’ve got to be constantly thinking, and that’s the approach I’m taking with them rather than them being completely scripted.

“I want to have smart players, I want to have thinking players and that’s what we’re working towards.”

Robinson’s ideal is for her players to be producing consistency in performance over 60 minutes – something all coaches across sport are constantly striving for.

Player empowerment through well-drilled game-time scenarios she referenced earlier is her way of achieving that.

“A lot of players at this level have a similar skill level,” she says, “so it’s then about the determination to be consistent for that 60 minutes, it’s the mental focus to be able to apply yourself for the full game because at the end of the day that’s the difference between players at this level.

“From my perspective it’s about melding the players together and getting them to play the way I expect of them, the standard of play we’re striving for.

“It’s about sharpening up their skills and getting those decision-making elements right.”

Two wins from their first three games – offset by getting “smashed by Bath” as she puts it – suggests they are making strides.

“I think we’re on the right path, it might take a little bit longer but we’re on the right path,” says Robinson, whose team visit Surrey Storm tonight (6pm).

“It’s too early to tell where we are. I had no expectations coming here, it’s just a matter of me deciphering where the team lays.

“No 1 is trying to improve the team’s skills, No 2 is try to improve the connections between them and No 3 try to provide them with different strategies to go against teams which they can do. The difference is the consistency to do it over 60 minutes.”

That mantra again. And that’s where the players come in.