As the Suncorp Super Netball standard continues to rise, so does the challenge of preparing and developing the next wave of Melbourne Vixens for the rigours of the world’s strongest domestic league.
Now, ahead of the 2020 season, we can answer the question of how best to do so: through the establishment of the Vixens’ Academy.
From November to February, and perhaps beyond in some cases, 10 athletes - including signed training partners - will join the Melbourne Vixens core contract group of 10 in both their physical preparations and on-court programs.
They will be immersed in the elite training environment overseen by head coach Simone McKinnis and assistant Sharelle McMahon and exposed to a high performance system that has produced the likes of Diamonds’ regulars Liz Watson and Jo Weston, as well as squad members Emily Mannix, Kate Moloney and Tegan Philip.
“The idea behind it is to really start to integrate those young players who are coming through and to make sure that they’re as much a part of the Vixens’ program as possible,’’ says McMahon, the former Australian captain and club great.
“So it’s about providing greater opportunities for the training partners that are officially with us, but also the next group that’s coming through, so that the development pathway and the opportunities there are just continuing to grow for Victorian athletes.’’
With SSN team lists limited to 10 players, McMahon admits there is a challenge to find the right balance and positional mix, while seasons like 2018, for example, in which the Vixens were beset by multiple injuries, amplify the need to have replacements ready for promotion at any time.
“It’s making sure that those athletes who sit around the program, outside the 10, are more and more ready to step in, making sure they feel part of the group and that that step isn’t too great,’’ says McMahon
“The girls who come into the Vixens’ program for the first time kind of go ‘wow’. It is a bit of a shock to the system sometimes as to how intense it is and how they actually go about their training.
“So by exposing the athletes to that early - but not too early - they’ve got that understanding of things as they come into the program, and when they do actually get the opportunity to take that step it’s perhaps not such a great one.’’
The Vixens Academy will effectively extend the Netball Victoria development pathway right to the high performance door. Players eligible to receive invitations from the list management committee must be 16 years or over, registered currently with Netball Victoria and have the potential to be current or future Vixens.
Working in such close proximity to established stars provides both example and incentive, with the added benefit of access to support services such as sports science, psychology, and strength and conditioning.
At a time when competition for young female athletes has never been greater, the Vixens are committed to identifying and developing the standouts from the state’s extensive talent pool, with an eye to the long-term as well as covering what may be more immediate needs.
“The environment that we’re operating in in women’s sport in Australia has changed - there’s no doubt about that,’’ says McMahon. “So not just necessarily for netball, but for women’s sport generally, it’s making sure that those pathways and the opportunities for our girls and our women coming through are just as great as what the boys and the men have.’’
Written by Linda Pearce