As July draws on, I am encountering several “lasts”; last Sunday at Haddon; last Friday at the Library; last Saturday at Waterloo Netball.
Before, I didn’t these “lasts” would affect me that much. “Last Sunday” is, in fact, the last Sunday until (a probably jet-lagged) Christmas Day. I’m hoping to work at the Library in my months between returning from abroad and going to University.
But this Saturday, knowing that the earliest I might return to Waterloo Netball is January, I felt undeniably sad.
I’ve been with Waterloo Netball since its inception five years ago, one of the original members. I can count on one hand the people who were there in the beginning who remain. To be honest, the small collection of people – a rag-tag by any estimation – didn’t feel like the start of something that would last. I was sure the club would falter, and a series of coaches and locations and times seemed to reinforce that.
But the club has grown. From no more than fifteen members to a membership of more than eighty girls. We now need four courts and have five coaches – three of us who started as players or in admin.
I started as a player, trained on Monday evenings in the pouring rain under the new floodlight, Captained at my first and last London Youth Games. New players joined, putting me in the steadily dwindling older minority, until Hemi was the next oldest player. We only had one group at that time, and so it felt a bit unfair – and it was sometimes complained about – that I was playing with girls four years or more my junior.
I started coaching. First as an assistant, then taking on the year 3 and 4s by myself before gaining much appreciated support from Hinei as she worked towards her Level One. For the last term, we’ve shared the responsibility between us. In the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve gained both my Level One and Level Two coaching qualifications – both nowhere near me, leading to early mornings and long train journeys to reach the courses.
I’ve watched and supported the girls as they grow from shy newcomers with no idea of the rules who were afraid of the ball, cringing away, so that many initial games included the phrase “the ball isn’t going to hurt you!”. Now they are confident – and often very loud! – players who can work together as a team, encouraging each other along.
To see this, to be a part of helping them develop as players and people, has been an immense privilege.
I am sad that I won’t see the next stage of their journeys. Many are progressing into Lyn’s year 5 and 6s, depleting our 3 and 4s. The rest are either the eldest of their groups, the role models for the new girls to look up to and help them along. I am speaking about both the current year 3s and the current year 5s, who were the first girls I ever coached on my own.
This next year won’t be void of Netball; I’m hoping to introduce the sport at KISC and work with Netball Nepal; I want to gain my C-umpire award when I return to the UK; my plan is to coach at Waterloo Netball when I’m in the UK. My luggage includes five Netballs, two sets of bibs, several rule books, a whistle and a stopwatch.
However, I am going to miss the community of Waterloo Netball, the energy and the commitment, seeing the same faces every week. Every week, we all grow in the sport together, and no one is exempt from this process; whether that’s the girls understanding new rules or perfecting their shooting technique, or we coaches picking up new drills from each other or taking tips for how to be a better coach. Most importantly, we are simply learning how to be better people; better at working as a team, at being more encouraging , and communicating better and making new friends.
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone for all the support I’ve been given, and for everything I’ve learnt. I hope some of the things I’ve tried to teach have been retained – even if “chicken wings” is a mistake that can be smoothed away during skill practices only to return in matches. To everyone, I wish the very best for the upcoming year.