Posted 6th Mar 2024

How Team Bath Netball’s thriving athlete development programme is helping to Inspire Inclusion this International Women’s Day

We are celebrating International Women’s Day 2024 this week and this year’s theme is Inspire Inclusion, with one of the focuses being on elevating women’s and girls’ participation and achievement in sport.

As one of the country’s leading women’s sports clubs, Team Bath Netball has been providing opportunities for people to train, compete, develop and thrive for the past 25 years with hundreds of women being part of the Blue & Gold programme as players, coaches and staff.

A key focus of the franchise has always been on nurturing young talent and the athlete development programme has gone from strength to strength during recent years under the guidance of Academy Head Coach Natalie Roddy.

Team Bath Netball Academy Head Coach Natalie Roddy (right) and her coaching team give a team-talk to the U21s during their NPL victory over Severn Stars
Team Bath Netball Academy Head Coach Natalie Roddy (right) and her coaching team give a team-talk to the U21s during their NPL victory over Severn Stars

Since launching with five regional training hubs in 2017, Team Bath’s Athlete Development Centre (ADC) network now has nine centres of excellence – one in every district of the South West of England – providing netballers aged from 14 to 18 with local access to top-class coaching plus lifestyle and sports science support.

Many of those players go on to represent the Blue & Gold in NPL competition at U17, U19 and U21 level, as well as at the National School Games in the U15 age group, but there is so much talent within the South West that Team Bath have also launched three additional squads this year – a Player Development Programme (PDP), split into Junior for U17s and Senior for U19s, plus a Team Bath Futures squad for U23 players.

“The programme has at least doubled during the past five years,” said Roddy. “There are more than 200 young women within our Team Bath pathway and over the past four years it’s become far more connected, so there is a clear progression and opportunity to move up.

A picture of the Team Bath Netball Junior and Senior Performance Development Programme (PDP) 2024 squads at the University of Bath
The Team Bath Netball Junior and Senior PDP squads, which provide more development opportunities for young netballers

“It’s a direct response to how much talent we have identified. We’ve built from the bottom – we’ve increased opportunity, which has led to the standards going up and a need to provide more ways of retaining those players.

“I’m really proud of the programme and it’s exciting to see the talent we are producing. The most recent England U21 squad that competed at Europe Netball featured four Team Bath athletes and it’s probably a decade since we’ve been in that situation.

“Our NPL squads are certainly in the top half, if not top two or three, within their competitions and it’s just so exciting to see all of this work coming together.

“It’s producing results in performance and, yes, that’s important as our teams want to win but we want the girls to develop as people as well and I hope we’ve got the right balance.

“We’re really investing in them as individuals. They’re supported and challenged to be good people, good team-mates, good participants as well as good performers. We’re also providing that opportunity to be part of a really close, connected group, whether in the ADCs or the age-group squads.

“That is something I grew up with. I made friends for life through my netball and I hope our players get that out of it too, it’s the kind of thing that keeps people participating.”

The Team Bath Netball U17 squad pictured after their 2024 NPL season-opener victory over Severn Stars
The Team Bath Netball U17 squad pictured after their 2024 NPL season-opener victory over Severn Stars

That is particularly important in the 15-18 age group, which statistically sees a greater decline in sporting participation and engagement.

“The drop-offs can be enormous at those ages,” said Roddy. “They are stages of life when there are big changes, either finishing or changing schools and then choosing to go to university or into work.

“We are creating more opportunities for athletes in those age brackets to try and encourage participation and retention. We’re also part of a genuinely connected club – I work in the same office as [Super League Head Coach] Asha Francis and [University of Bath Student Performance Programme Lead] Anya Le Monnier, and all the squads have a shared culture and ethos.

“If you’re in that kind of environment, you have to really not want to continue because the opportunities are there for the taking.”

Making those opportunities accessible is also important to Roddy, who said: “I grew up in Cornwall and played regional and County netball, so the travel I undertook as a 16, 17, 18-year-old, looking back, was ridiculous.

“The size of our region is an ongoing challenge but we have worked proactively to try and localise performance netball. We’ve got an ADC in every county and our younger development groups – the U17s, Junior PDP and Senior PDP – are all based in Taunton, in the middle of our region.

“I’m fortunate to also have some great coaches working with me. When I took over my job was half the size it is now and I couldn’t do it without their support. They take ownership for their region or squad and always seek a solution rather than just look to us to solve things if problems arise. They are a dedicated, talented group of women.”

Visit netball.teambath.com/futures-pathway to find out more at Team Bath’s talent development network.

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