Spreading netball knowledge to the young women of Samoa
A training programme for netball coaches in Samoa is proving to be ‘on the ball’ in more ways than one, by helping the sport and its players flourish, and empowering young women along the way.
“Don’t laugh at me because I am older and slower than I used to be,” Megan Carter says, before nimbly executing a lightning turn and crisply intercepting a pass.
No one is laughing, but dozens of teenagers are watching her every move intently. So are their coaches.
It’s Saturday at the Tuanaimato Sports Complex indoor netball facility in the Samoan capital, Apia, and torrential rain has been falling for much of the day.
The heat is sweltering and the air is heavy but the South Australia Sports Institute Assistant Coach’s energy is palpable. She has just spent a week working with local coaches and finally has the chance to work with some players, or “athletes” as she prefers to call them.
“I have my coach face, that’s my game face,” Carter says.
She is practising what she has been preaching – entertaining 44 teenagers, with eight netballs and a kit bag of tricks learned over a lifetime in the game. As a member of Netball Australia’s International Development Coach register, this is Megan Carter’s second trip to Samoa.
She has also worked in Tonga and is a devotee of the “coach the coach to build capacity” philosophy.
The mathematics is simple: the more coaches that are trained, the more will be courtside in villages, and the more likely young Samoans are to be exposed to netball and its many health and social benefits.
“There will be high performance outcomes from it, but this is really about creating a space,” explains International Development Manager Olivia Philpott, who oversees Netball Australia’s involvement in the Australian-Aid supported Pacific Sports Partnerships.
“We see a huge dropout in Samoa in the teenage years but this is kind of a hangout for them and they are also getting that guidance from coaches.
“What other opportunity to have to come and run around in this space where there aren’t boys around, there’s no one judging their abilities?
“It is about habits and you create them at this age.” Ruta Schwalger, Samoa Netball’s development manager, measures performance on the court, but sees firsthand how the game is changing and empowering Samoan women.
“For most of these girls, they are not going to go on to represent their country so that’s not something they aspire to,” she says looking across the packed courts.
“But the physical aspect, there’s a lot of gain you can get from that. “They get to practise being committed, reaching those little goals, and nutritional education.
Once the game stops, the evidence of that is everywhere. The players break off into groups of three, five or more and find a cool patch of concrete. They chatter and laugh, relax and share. The hope is that 25 years from now, these teenage girls will still be chatting, laughing, relaxing and sharing, fitter and healthier from a lifetime involvement in netball, and the game will add an important dimension to their lives as educators, leaders and matriarchs.
*This story was produced by ABC International Development as part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.