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Nelson Netball paves way for successful season

As the season gets underway, recently appointed General Manager of Nelson Netball Centre Ani-Marie Waitai talks with enthusiasm about the new competition rules that will help her teams navigate their way through a Covid-19 affected season.

The changes have seen club trials start later than usual to reduce the season's length, the ability for teams to take players from higher grades or even from another club and a designated on-court warm-up time for teams ahead of each game.

"The goal is simple. We just want to see people out on court and if it means we have to change our rules, then we will do that. After two disrupted seasons, getting everyone back playing keeps people healthy, gives people something to look forward to each week and hopefully means we get to semi and finals stage without drama," said Waitai.

Bold changes have been made to their player eligibility rules, with the centre employing a three-step system should teams have players unavailable due to Covid-19.

In previous seasons, players could only play up a team. However, this year the first step will be to ask players from lower grades. If unsuccessful, they can then ask players from up to two grades higher, and as a final resort they can request players from another club. Teams apply to a panel for dispensation to allow this to happen, with the panel reviewing any changes made.

"We trust and expect our community to keep the integrity of the competition. I think Covid-19 has taught us that we need to be flexible and trust that people will do the right thing.I think Covid-19 has helped the wider Netball community relax on the rules and treasure what we do have, we are lucky to be playing Netball and so whatever we need to do to make it happen, let's do it."

Waitai says that establishing a Focus Group to help with these changes has been key and it's thanks to clear communication and listening to what the community wants that has enabled their season to go ahead with increased confidence.

" The reality is that Covid-19 is rife here at the moment and trying to do make-up games and postponements can be a nightmare - our community understands that. We will review at the end of the season and change it if we need to. "

Another valuable change has been allocating warm-up time on court ahead of each game, this was successfully trialled at the Geraldine Hodgson College pre season Festivals.

"Each team will get 20mins of warm-up and 5mins of cool down. Plus, we have allocated a free court for umpires to warm-up and cool down. We want to create a really relaxed game day atmosphere. This is about being NetballSmart and keeping players and umpires injury free, as well as reducing the Covid-19 risk."

The other focus area for Waitai and her team has been educating coaches on how to best return players to the game after having had Covid-19. A national NetballSmart resource called Covid Care was sent to centres in April. This provided clear Netball-specific guidelines on how best to return to play after having had Covid-19.

"We sent this resource to everyone on our database and it went on our social pages, and was also discussed at our forum. We had conversations with some of our coaches regarding the information in it - we now know that if we don't take care with returning our players, they will be out for longer."

"This resource helps start a conversation around the return to Netball and makes coaches and those supporting a player, stop and think about where that player is at, how they are feeling, and that's so important."