Netball in Northern Ireland received a massive boost in 2019 when the team took part in the Netball World Cup Finals in England. The tournament was broadcast on Sky Sports, backed by major sponsorship and really struck a chord.
Netball NI did not sit on its laurels and has now produced a new strategic plan with the bold aim of establishing the Northern Ireland team in the world’s top eight netball nations.
Called Strongest Together, reflecting the hashtag the Warriors team has used in recent years, the plan also sets challenging targets in relation to growing participation, developing a vibrant domestic game and enhancing performance pathways.
The girls in green reached an all-time high of eighth in the rankings in late 2017 after qualifying for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and winning silver medals at the European Championships in Cardiff.
In spite of having a smaller player pool and fewer resources than most competing countries, Northern Ireland has repeatedly punched above its weight at international level and the team finished a respectable 10th at last summer’s World Cup.
Their placing would have been higher but for two agonisingly narrow defeats and Netball NI is determined that the national team will continue to dine at the sport’s top table, including qualifying for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and 2023 World Cup in South Africa.
Speaking at a virtual launch attended by the Chair and Chief Executives of the International Netball Federation (INF) and Netball Europe, Netball NI Executive Manager Karen Rollo admitted the plan reflects how the bar has been raised on and off the court in recent years.
“We have experienced growth in all aspects of our business and showcased our ability to compete on the world stage, and our expectations have changed considerably over a short number of years,” she said.
“Now we expect our Warriors to win against strong teams and, likewise, within Netball NI we expect a quality workforce to deliver our sport in a professional way to the ever-increasing number of participants, support a thriving domestic game and stage excellent events.
“Strongest Together has become a well-used hashtag in relation to the Warriors team and it was a natural name for our new strategy as strong relationships and collaboration between Netball NI, our members, stakeholders and partners are crucially important.”
“Netball NI has spent several years focused on growing our game, establishing our expertise in hosting international events, putting our financial house in order, revamping our governance structure and building the Netball NI and Warrior brand.” Much has been achieved, but to fully realise our potential as a Top 8 netball nation, it was important to ensure that we maintained momentum and created a sustainable strategy that supports our sport as we continue to move forward.”
“Key to achieving our goals is having a team of professional, passionate people, properly resourced and working in a positive environment, with a relentless focus on delivering each aspect of this strategy.”
“We want to grow participation, not just in schools and clubs but through the expansion of social netball and development of a masters element, to enable those of all ages to access and enjoy netball.”
“Enhanced performance pathways, including an academy structure, will be a vital element in seeking to maintain the success of the past decade at international level and the national team must be underpinned by a strong domestic game.”
“To do those things, however, it is also critically important that we excel as a sport business by having a high-performance culture, effective governance, good financial management, an expanding commercial portfolio and achieving visibility in the media.”
Netball NI Chair Geoff Wilson is formerly of the IFA and works a consultant with UEFA as well as being involved in a number of sports and tourism initiatives in Northern Ireland.
He explained that the Strongest Together strategic plan was the product of extensive consultation involving the board, staff, members, clubs, schools, officials, Sport NI and other funders, commercial partners and the media, with input also sought from the INF and Netball Europe.
“We consulted widely over 12 months and this is a plan for netball in Northern Ireland, not just Netball NI. Our mission is to develop and grow netball here to achieve our vision of having a Top 8 national team, supported by a strong school, club and league foundation,” he explained.
“Our goals are to excel in the business of sport, to grow participation, transform domestic competition and develop enhanced performance pathways. This is an ambitious strategic plan and the responsibility to deliver on it is both exciting and challenging.
“It has been developed in uncertain times with the backdrop of the pandemic, but we must take this opportunity to drive Northern Ireland netball forward, develop our people and provide an engaging, sustainable sport, accessible to everyone.
“As we strive to deliver this plan with the support of our staff, volunteers, stakeholders and partners, everything we do will aim to reflect Netball NI’s core values of respect, equality, accountability, excellence, passion, integrity and a team-first approach.”
Speaking at the launch INF President Liz Nicholl commended Netball NI’s new strategic plan and endorsed its vision, saying: “Top eight is within Northern Ireland’s reach, a tough but realistic target.
“I have been impressed with how Netball NI is an ambitious organisation, which has built strong partnerships and is taking a strategic, creative approach in striving to improve and contribute to a better world through netball.”
The Strongest Together strategic plan was also commended by the other guest speaker, Sport NI Chair George Lucas, who congratulated Northern Ireland netball on the impressive progress and achievements of recent years.
The full strategic plan can be downloaded at http://netballni.org/strategic-plan/