Oaksway Netball Club and the Hartlepool community unite through lockdown to keep youngsters active and engaged
They may have had no semblance of normality since March 2020 - but that isn’t stopping Oaksway Netball Club.
With netball across the country having been paused for much of the last twelve months, it’s been a different period for the Hartlepool-based club as they look to keep their junior and senior sides engaged.
But not only have they developed some innovative ways of ensuring their players can stay connected during lockdown, they’ve also ensured that the whole town stands to benefit too.
Players aged from five up to 30 have been taking part in virtual training sessions on Zoom, and a number of these have been held in partnership with some of the town’s other sporting institutions in West Hartlepool Rugby Club, Hartlepool Athletics and Hartlepool GetActive.
“We've had no normality really since March,” explains coach Jill Foreman.
“We obviously have indoor facilities, but we've been upside down since then - especially for the seniors, they haven't been able to train indoors at all.
“The juniors, we've had a couple of spells back inside but the majority in the first surge was Zoom sessions. We got inside for a little bit, and now we're all back on Zoom.
“The coaches have done a fantastic job of keeping the variation there across the age groups and there's been a lot of social stuff, as well as fitness and strength and conditioning.
“We've been working for the last couple of weeks with West Hartlepool Rugby Club, doing some joint-sessions with the little ones.
“There's a lot of transferrable skills and more recently we've had some guest coaches as well - we had one of our 18-year-olds who is currently in the England Roses programme who led a session for our primary school kids which was fantastic.
“We've had Dan Ryan who's a coach at Leeds Rhinos and he did a session for all the senior players.”
And Oaksway’s impact on the local community has extended beyond joint virtual training sessions too.
The club have recently bought a car parking space at West Rugby, purchased a desk for the new Hartlepool Mavericks Dodgeball centre and continue to support local charity Alice House Hospice.
And they’ve also forged vital links in regards to facilities - an area which was a big concern for the club during the time they were allowed to train together.
“It's been incredibly difficult,” admits Foreman.
“Facilities were the first barrier for us. To be fair to Hartlepool Borough Council, we normally have Brierton Sports Centre and very quickly in the beginning that was unavailable so we had no sports centre that we could have used.
“ But they were quickly able to accommodate us at Mill House Leisure Centre for the juniors, and we actually took a lot of sessions to the outdoor courts at Brierton.
“ We got a court at St Teresa's Primary School too - the headmistress got in touch and said 'why don't you come here, you can have our court on a night time'. We did that for a number of weeks and we bought them some netball posts to say thank you and forge some links. The community have been absolutely brilliant.”
Now the focus turns to trying to get the teams back into action on the court once it is safe to do so.
Elite netball returned earlier this month as the Super League season kicked-off at two neutral venues, but Foreman doesn’t envy the job on the hands of England Netball in the coming weeks.
But regardless of how long they have to wait, Oaksway will continue to keep their players active and engaged - as they recognise how important it can be for physical and mental well-being.
“I think from a governing body perspective it's been incredibly difficult because it's the ball-handling, working in twos,” adds Foreman.
“We weren't allowed to use balls for a little while - they actually physically changed the rules of the netball game so in the summer you weren't allowed to stand near your opponent.
“That's alien to the children, but we did it because it got them back on the court. It wasn't easy, but we've just done everything we can because it's just so important for everybody.”