Action will be hot and hectic at `Summer Shootout’

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Netball fans should be salivating at the thought of this weekend’s matches in the `Summer Shootout’, the Official ANZ Championship Pre-Season Tournament being played in Melbourne.

Tickets are still available to go along and watch all the action at the State Netball Hockey Centre – and it should be an exciting snapshot of what we can expect in the season ahead.

All 10 ANZ Championship teams will be competing with all teams and coaches using this opportunity to fine tune their line ups for Round 1 – which is just a fortnight away.

This form of competition allows for experimentation but also gives the coaches a great insight into their preparation programs so far, the strengths and weaknesses of their opposition and also the umpiring interpretations implemented by the ANZ Championship Umpiring panels from both Australia and New Zealand.

From this weekend the coaches will also have two weeks to continue their specific preparation stage of the season to enact any further team tactical and technical work required to give them every chance of a win in the first round of matches.

It is going to be fascinating to watch as I predict it will be one of the closest years of competition in the ANZ Championship history. There could be many extra time efforts this year. Watch this space!

This also means excellent preparation for the members of the Australian Diamonds squad for our `Going For Gold’ campaign at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

While this is not uppermost in the minds of the athletes when they are competing for their ANZ Championship franchises, it is bubbling away in the background as we seek to have a fully integrated system of High Performance across the board.

It will also be terrific to see how the new recruits perform for their respective clubs. Natalie Medhurst and Chelsea Pitman will certainly add leadership, a winning mindset and attacking flair to the West Coast Fever front end.

Catherine Cox should add a great level of experience and composure under pressure to the Melbourne Vixens attack end and complement the athletic ability of Tegan Caldwell.

Sharni Layton and Caitlin Thwaites will bring enthusiasm and strength to their respective positions at the NSW Swifts, where they will also add to the mix of playing personnel at new coach Rob Wright’s disposal.

Verity Simmons and the much anticipated return of Claire McMeniman will add variety and a terrific work ethic to the Queensland Firebirds. How Firebirds use both of these athletes this season, and how they add to their game plan, will be very interesting to observe.

The return of AIS scholarship holders and Australian 21/Under World Youth Championship team members Maddy Proud and Cody Lange to the Adelaide Thunderbirds will certainly boost the youth and enthusiasm of the reigning champions.

All in all, this ANZ Championship season looks like being the best ever!

It’s amazing the parts of the world where the sport of netball is developing quickly.

For instance, I was invited by Netball Australia’s International Development Manager Olivia Philpot to travel to India and work with the Naz Foundation on their `Goal’ program.

The Naz Foundation is a New Delhi-based non-government organisation working on issues of health and sexuality since 1994. Since 2006 Naz has been implementing the Goal Program, which uses netball, life-skills and health education to empower young women from disadvantaged communities in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai.

Participants take part in a 10-month program that provides an hour of netball sessions per week.

I was invited to work with the program’s coaches to ensure these sessions are of a high-quality. Unfortunately scheduling clashes meant I couldn’t go, so Debra Armstrong is taking my place.

It’s great to see some good work being done in India. What’s also fantastic is that Sport for Development is increasingly being seen as a worthwhile investment to empower women.

Olivia will be presenting at an important conference in Kerala, jointly organised by the Australian Sports Commission and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry along with the Government of Kerala.

This conference will be followed by a `Beach Games’ festival where a round-robin netball tournament will be showcased in Trivandrum between 26 February and 2 March. Who knows what talent we might discover on the beach!

I’ll also be watching closely the fortunes of the Indian national team when they compete in the Asian Netball Championships in September, which serves as a qualifier for next year’s Netball World Cup in Sydney.

India has never qualified for the world championships, but it’s great to see new countries coming up and having a go at taking on the world’s best!