Rather than taking her usual seat beside Simone McKinnis for Sunday’s Suncorp Super Netball contest in the Sunshine Coast, Melbourne Vixens assistant coach Sharelle McMahon will be at home in Melbourne, laptop and notebook on hand, analysing from the couch.
Instead of spending the fourth round against the Adelaide Thunderbirds on the bench, long-serving head physiotherapist Steve Hawkins will also be about 1700km away. Until round one, he had not missed a Vixens game in person since a full-time stint on Diamonds’ duty back in 2014.
And while Jamie Bahnisch, too, would typically be there in person on match day, the performance analyst has handed video duties to his multi-tasking VIS colleague, strength and conditioning expert John Tascone. In his sixth season, Bahnisch will be monitoring and supplying data remotely, but still in real time, as always.
Thus, while seven coaches and support staff accompanied the 14 athletes to the Vixens’ Queensland hub last month, the extended team is far bigger. That includes those who, for various reasons, have remained in chilly lockdown in Victoria but are contributing just the same.
McMahon, for example. For family reasons, the mother of two young children was unable to travel for such an extended period, leaving her predecessor and current Victorian Fury coach Di Honey to fill the breach.
Yet McMahon continues to work from a distance, and specifically with the shooters. Once the reviews are complete, the emphasis - shared with fellow assistant Susan Meaney and Bahnisch - shifts to looking ahead to the next game of a condensed season in which turnaround times will be halved.
“To be honest, it will be an evolving kind of role, depending on what’s required and what works,’’ says McMahon. “I mean, we’ve never done this before, so we’re kind of feeling our way through it.
“Simone and Di have the reins, obviously, and we’re being quite mindful as a broader coaching group not to have too many voices, too. So feeding information back but not overloading it.
“I want to be as flexible as possible with the support that I’m giving to both the athletes and the coaches. I’m certainly here to give lots, but then some weeks that may not be needed, depending on what the situation is.’’
It felt “very weird” not to be physically present in round one against the Magpies, McMahon admits, but she was pleased with how the goalers shared the load and the rotations.
Then, ahem, there was the Super Shot.
“The Vixens were the team that put up the most attempts from the two point zone - 20. Now, would I like the percentage to be a bit higher (than 50%)? Yes, I would!’’ McMahon quips.
“But I’m really happy that they backed themselves to take those shots, because shooting from distance is quite a natural part of their game, anyway, and as the season goes on I think it’s something that we can really try and exploit.’’
Hawkins is another long-serving Vixen with a modified role for 2020, having been appointed just over 12 months ago to the newly-created position of lead physio at the VIS. He has been heading - with Dr Sue White - the institute’s medical response to coronavirus. Long hours. Big job.
Hence, along with family considerations, and with Kath Taylor also unavailable to travel, the appointment of Emma Iacovou at late notice to head north. The younger physio was known to Honey and the Vixens’ training partners via the Fury, having also had experience of the Netball Victoria development pathway.
Iacovou was thought to be the right fit, personality-wise, and also willing to collaborate closely with Hawkins in a clinical sense. “So we’ve been having lots of co-consulting over video or phone or text message, and lots of mentoring or debriefing, from a distance, to get Emma up to speed and talk through the various intricacies of dealing with the girls and managing their various issues.’’
Everyone is adjusting. It was a tense Sunday in the Hawkins’ family lounge-room before the Vixens’ late acceleration away from Collingwood, with Hawkins admitting it is challenging, after all these years, not to be physically on hand.
“I love watching the girls play. Fantastic. But I hate not being there,’’ he laughs. “I’m comfortable admitting and accepting that I am a bit of a control freak, and…sitting almost 2000 km away in front of a TV screen, that takes the loss of control thing to a whole different level!’’
Grateful to the 21-strong touring party for their efforts to keep the Victorian-based staff involved, Hawkins says that, in a professional sense, it’s just about getting on with the job. “And while there’s elements of the job that are much more enjoyable in a face-to-face setting, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be just as effective.’’
Bahnisch has the happiest reason for staying home: wife Sarah is 22 weeks pregnant with the couple’s first child. The performance analyst/services co-ordinator praises the club’s support of his decision to skip what will be a lengthy time away.
While he found himself watching game one through his fan goggles at times, it is otherwise (almost) business as usual for Bahnisch, who has also been helping to co-ordinate other service providers, such as physio, massage and nutrition, to maximise their impact.
First-up, in the isolation hub, was enlisting Tascone’s aid in setting up processes to download the player-load information gathered from the Catapult monitoring devices worn at training and during games, enabling a Melbourne-based student to process and return regular data reports.
Bahnisch admits that perhaps one of the few positive things to have come from the lengthy stretch dealing with Covid-19 was the preparation it provided in how to manage video and other information shared remotely.
Access to Nine’s live broadcast footage means that Bahnisch can still provide statistical analysis during games, as Tascone films from court-side the vision later packaged into various components for the coaches to review.
“It’s a little bit more of a long-winded effort of uploading and downloading, but it obviously works,’’ says Bahnisch.
“It’s great that we’re still able to have an impact helping from Melbourne. Our team is very well resourced, so even from back here we’re be able to support all of the Vixens who are up there.’’
Written by Linda Pearce