Last week, we were pleased to see the return of our Wales Under 21 athletes to the national training environment following the latest easing of the government’s pandemic restrictions. As designated elite athletes, Wales U21 can now train indoors and we caught up with Wales U21 head coach, Nikki Lloyd, to see how the squad were getting on after an extended period apart…
WN: Nikki, how does it feel to be back in training with Wales Under 21?
NL: It is incredibly exciting and humbling to be back on court with for the first time in 14 months with members of the squad who are not currently training with NPL clubs. There were also a lot of nerves as for some of the players this was their first session as a U21 squad member as well as having been away from in-person training for so long. The session was great and went by very quickly and I was really pleased with what the group produced during the day and how they adapted to our COVID-safe protocols.
WN: How has the team coped with lockdown? How did you stay connected?
NL: The group have coped incredibly well and consistently impressed me with their positive, focused and determined mindsets – as well as being supportive of each other. They have had incredible support from their families throughout.
During different parts of our programme we have stayed connected: working on our development through virtual squad technical, S&C and positional sessions, as well as team quizzes and tasks such as video analysis.
As well as coach delivered content, the girls also got together virtually independently for yoga, S&C and some fun quizzes at Christmas. They also worked incredibly hard to raise funds for the Netball World Youth Cup (NWYC) and have done very well.
WN: How has the team dealt with the impact of the NWYC being cancelled?
NL: The cancellation of the NWYC, was a huge disappointment for all the group: athletes, management and the families who have been supporting our young athletes. They had dreamt of and worked hard to represent Wales at this pinnacle age group competition. However, they all fully understood why the decision was made and that it was the right decision at this time and I am incredibly proud of their response and their refocus to what comes next and the opportunities ahead.
The funds they had raised ahead of the NWYC will be critical in the development and success of the next Under 21s programme.
WN: What areas will you be working on in the near future with the players?
NL: This initial block of training is all about transitioning the athletes safely back into the training environment in a safe and enjoyable way and so we are following a graduated return to full high intensity, high contest training and play during April and May. Robust essential individual skills are essential in netball as well as working well with others so this will be our initial focus.
WN: And looking further into the future?
NL: We’ll be looking towards the year ahead, and what is the beginning of a new 4-year cycle, which includes establishing our next performance plan in line with the major competitions during that period. This will be alongside looking at the opportunities we can provide our athletes with a view to the long-term development of the next generation of our senior squad athletes.
WN: Thank you for answering our questions Nikki – anything else to add?
NL: As well as thanking our parents and athletes, I would also like to thank Jen [assistant coach] and Louvain [team manager] for all their hard work and support over the last 14 months.
Wales Netball would also like to add its thanks to Nikki, her voluntary coaches/team manager and the entire squad and wider U21 family. The support and resilience shown by the group over the last year has been exemplary and we wish the team all the best for the coming months. It is absolutely fantastic to see them together and training once again!