The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with the world of competitive sports, forcing teams and associations to cancel tournaments and forego training sessions. So how has Vodafone partner Wasps Netball coped during lockdown?
For Coventry-based Wasps Netball, which Vodafone sponsors along with Wasps Rugby Football Club, it meant missing out on the Vitality Netball Superleague – the UK’s most prestigious netball contest.
Being unable to train on court or play in front of their fans made 2020 a tough year for both players and coaches.
“A massive part of my identity is the fact that I’m a netball player,” says Wasps Netball captain Sophia Candappa.
“I’d been working really hard to get back on court after having a baby, and to have that whipped away was quite difficult.”
Behind the scenes, the management team was also grappling with the financial challenges of being locked down.
“We had to learn a whole different way of doing things,” says Sarah Taylor, franchise manager at Wasps Netball.
“It was a period of real uncertainty. But it means too much to us not to give it our absolute all. We’re 100% committed to getting back to doing what we love.”
For a team, being unable to train together is obviously a major drawback.
“From an athlete point of view, they have had to be really driven and self-motivated,” says Andrew Holbrook, Wasps Netball lead physiotherapist.
So, as for so many of us, technology has played a vital role in enabling the Wasps Netball team to stay connected.
“It’s been really important keeping in touch with people,” says head coach Mel Mansfield.
“Some players lived on their own throughout lockdown – that was really tricky. But we had a nice system set up of checking in on players, and that worked really well.
“Keeping in contact with all our players was essential to make sure everyone felt they were a part of the team.”
And being part of such a close-knit squad helped them to get through it – together.
“I think our team members have supported each other phenomenally well,” adds Amy Flanagan, Wasps Netball vice-captain. “If we didn’t have that team culture we would have struggled a lot more.”
Video calls also proved invaluable for training purposes – letting the coaches work with the players to ensure they stayed on top of their game against the odds.
“Life has been a challenge both on and off the court,” says assistant coach Bianca Modeste.
“But we’ve worked really hard on ensuring that the focus still remains on being the best that we can be.
“Obviously we couldn’t be on court together, so it was about having training programmes in place and having those one-on-one conversations.”
Going for gold
With 2020 behind them, the team is now focused on making 2021 a year to remember.
“The whole team is just absolutely buzzing to get back on court now,” Ms Flanagan says.
After missing out on the Vitality Netball Superleague trophy in 2019, when Manchester Thunder beat them in the Grand Final, two-time champions Wasps are determined to regain their title this time around.
“I’m more determined than ever to help Wasps win back that trophy,” Ms Candappa adds.
“Just getting back on the court with a group of people who are your friends more than anything is just really exciting.
“I’m really proud of where we’ve got to – 2021 is the season we’re going to go for it.”
And even with COVID-19 restrictions continuing, they are committed to putting on a great show for their fans in this year’s tournament.
“It’s going to look slightly different this year, but it’s happening and we’re really excited to see what the girls can do,” Mel Mansfield concludes.
Follow @VodafoneUKNews on Twitter.