With sport, from grassroots to the elite, suspended until further notice, this is a testing and hugely uncertain time for everyone connected to a club. We spoke to Sian Lowe – one of the coaches, players, secretaries and founding members of the fabulous Lichfield Spires Netball Club – about how the club is coping during lockdown and what the future might hold for netball.

KUDOS: It goes without saying that sport comes a distant second to the health and safety of our loved ones – that is obviously of paramount importance. But, nevertheless, for all of us connected to sport, at whatever level, this has been a very strange time. The rug has been pulled out from under our sporting summer and it’s left us all in a position none of us have been in before. Firstly, how are you coping personally?

Sian Lowe: It’s been very strange indeed and how we all cope has been completely different.  Personally, I’ve gone from being involved in netball for 3-4 days of my week alongside my job as a teacher to nothing so I’ve been trying to fill the gap with other activities (as well as my school work).  I’ve mainly been running and have done a few HIIT workouts. I attempted yoga but was useless and couldn’t cope with being that still and tried to get my husband to throw netballs at me in the garden but the dog soon put a stop to that!

This week, we’ve started a squad Zoom workout which our coach, Laura, has lead. It was pretty funny watching people disappear off the screen to do press ups and sit ups! It’s also been great doing a weekly quiz with my own netball squad each Tuesday (when we would have had our own games)  – it’s become quite competitive (as you’d expect) even down to how crazy or inventive rounds can be!

What is the mood at the club? A socially-distanced game of netball strikes us as pretty futile, indeed more or less impossible. Has there been any discussion at the club about a possible exit strategy and how the club might start to become active again, either in terms of competitive action or even just training sessions?

To be quite honest, we’ve not discussed our return in too much detail yet because, as with everything else, we just don’t know what’s to come. I suppose team sports, particularly ones where there is contact (although there shouldn’t be in netball), will need a lot of guidance and thought and social distancing pretty much goes out of the window in a competitive game of netball.

We train once a week with all squads right the way from our year 3s and 4s through to our Walkers and obviously at some point, hope to return to that. We’re a community club and all of our coaches and managers (who are mainly our parents) volunteer so we’re all eager to get back but, of course, we will only do so when safe and advised to do so.

England Netball, we’re sure, will release lots of guidance and support when the time is right so we’ll await their go ahead.

It was tough to just stop particularly when we were so close to finishing the junior leagues and the adult teams only had a few matches left in their league too. We were also in the process of having our training facilities completely regenerated which we were super excited about after a very lengthy fundraising process. We’re desperate for this to get underway again and can’t wait to use it. In the meantime, everyone’s really got on board with the coaches’ challenges in our ‘Lichfield inSpires’ series and we have a lot to look forward to when we do start up again!

We’ve seen on social media how your club has kept active with a series of challenges – can you tell us about that?

We really wanted to get something going for all our players no matter their age or ability when this started and spent a few weeks trying to work out what and how.

Whilst this was happening, our under 12 Beacons squad started a Pass it on Challenge where they made a video of their squad ‘passing’ the ball to each other (obviously this was all edited together and they were all safe in their own gardens). This has been fab and each squad have then nominated the next to have a go. All of our squads have been involved in this including our Walkers and we even had a guest appearance from an England Rose in our year 3 and 4 video. We have three or four left to make videos and I suppose in a year or two years time we’ll probably look back at these as a lovely but strange memory.

We then launched our coaches’ challenges that we named ‘Lichfield inSpires’ and again, these have gone really well. We’ve tried to make challenges that are as easy as possible to complete at home and in gardens as well as challenges that can be adapted for ages groups. As we’d hoped, squads are all super competitive and the WhatsApp groups with everybody in are hilarious to watch (especially near to the 8pm deadline). All our players have been so supportive and encouraging of each other which has just been fantastic to see. We’re now on challenge 5 and we release a video of the new challenges on a Monday and Friday morning. There’s a score table and running totals with a results video released the morning after the deadline.

How had your season been going before it all came to a juddering halt?

The season had been going really well. We’d had a really strong uptake this year for competitive netball and also introduced a year 3 training session whilst increasing our back to netball capacity.

We currently coach around 150 youngsters on a Saturday morning with many of these making up the 9 squads playing in various leagues; we have over 40 ladies registered for walking netball; 60 ladies for back to netball and then our two adult squads continue in their local league. A lot of our back to netballers had also started playing in a fun league to see whether they were up for the challenge of more competitive netball and were absolutely loving it.

As previously mentioned, we had also had to move training venues as we were in the process of having our courts resurfaced so that we had more up to date facilities and more courts to use.  This was something we’d worked towards for a while with a number of other local clubs and companies.

How do you think netball and grassroots sport will emerge from this crisis? Do you expect there to be any difference or will it be back to normal as soon as possible?

It’s quite a worrying time for netball as the last few years, particularly since the Commonwealth Games, have just seen it grow and grow in popularity. With the Superleague and Superleague franchises becoming increasingly popular, there was a little more money starting to be invested in the sport from sponsors but also revenue wise from ticket sales – fingers crossed that this will continue.

It’s going to be really tough coming back from this but the beauty of grassroots sport is that the majority of those involved are there completely for the love of their game; this passion will have only grown whilst not being able to participate so hopefully, when we do return, everybody will be revitalised, motivated and energised to see their sport flourish again. We wouldn’t have a club if it wasn’t for our coaches, volunteers, players and parents and everybody seems to have missed every part of this and are desperate to return.

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Thanks to Sian for taking the time to speak to us. She is quite right about grassroots clubs not existing were it not for the zeal of its volunteers – from players to parents to coaches and more – and it is that that sets grassroots sport apart from cash rich elite sport, which currently finds itself existentially threatened. Grassroots sport is going nowhere, no matter what happens.

These are clearly difficult times for us all but it’s heartening to see the steps they have taken to maintain engagement and morale. Lichfield Spires are a terrific club, who offer – evidently – enormous engagement with youngsters as well as more mature women. If you fancy getting involved, you can find them on Twitter, on Facebook or you can drop us a line and we’ll put you in touch.

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