Playing without fear will help make the step up for England's Roses, says Karen Atkinson
Watch all three of England's Tests live on Sky Sports and via our YouTube stream on November 29, 30 and December 1
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 27/11/19 9:21pm
Karen Atkinson, former England international and now Strathclyde Sirens technical director, discusses the shift from club to international netball and highlights the importance of Jess Thirlby's selection calls in South Africa.
With an intricate knowledge of Superleague netball, from both a playing and now coaching point of view, Atkinson is incredibly well-placed to shine a light on the gap between the Superleague and Test stages.
The jump up from one to the other is something many players will be making in South Africa and unlike during Atkinson's playing days, it will be done openly and be visible for all to see.
Test Series Fixtures - All will be streamed on YouTube too
|November 29||South Africa vs England||4.30pm on Sky Sports Mix, Arena & Main Event|
|November 30||South Africa vs England||12.30pm on Sky Sports Mix & Arena|
|December 1||South Africa vs England||10:30am on Sky Sports Mix|
"It's a massive step [from Superleague to Tests] in terms of the actual quality, the intensity and the spotlight surrounding international netball," Atkinson told Sky Sports.
"Also there's a big mental shift as well, when it comes to putting on the red dress; the senior England dress.
"They'll be incredibly nervous and incredibly excited. I think the players that will fare the best will be the ones who just go out there and play without fear."
Performing without fear is much easier said than done, though. Even when it comes to the very best in the world, the likelihood is that many went through a considerable learning process during their first 10 to 20 caps.
Of course, there are a fortunate few who have an innate ability to play without fear but for the majority it takes time. If England's Roses are to gain the best possible outcome in South Africa then it comes down to both the players and the vital part that their new head coach will play too.
"Jess will know how important this experience is to some of the younger players. She will want to expose them but also ensure it is as positive a start to their international careers as possible," the former England international said.
"When she plays certain players, how long they play for and within what combinations will be really key and will make the difference between them having a positive learning experience versus something that could be detrimental at the start of their international careers.
"How she debriefs with players and how communicates with them throughout the series [is also important].
"Jess will want to come away, absolutely she'll want to get a series win, but also she'll want to have gained a lot of knowledge about the players and for them to have real positivity about their early international Tests."
For the players themselves, showing balance on court will be key and Atkinson, like head coach Thirlby, is eager to see which individuals are able to get right in the heat of the Test arena.
"Players need to be able to execute their positional skills well under pressure and some of those are just the basics like the accuracy of a feed from the WA or putting up the shots in the D," noted Atkinson.
"You also want to see a little bit of 'ballsy-ness' for want of a better word! You want to see that they're willing to try things like a defender going out for that intercept or a mid-court player seeing a feed into the circle early.
"As a coach, that starts to get you thinking that there's more that you can develop with their game, but they need to have a really good balance. They can't just be going for intercepts left, right and centre or chucking balls in for fun and not sticking to task, the balance is vital."
England's 14-player squad for South Africa Series
|George Fisher||Natalie Panagarry|
|Eleanor Cardwell||Stacey Francis|
|Kadeen Corbin||Kate Shimmin|
|Sophie Drakeford-Lewis||Fran Williams|
|Natalie Haythornthwaite (C)||Razia Quashie|
|Jade Clarke||Gabriella Marshall|
|Laura Malcolm (VC)||Summer Artman|
The Vitality Roses' 14-man squad has nine players with 20 caps or fewer and the three back-to-back Tests in South Africa will be played without a who's who of English netball.
"I think it's understandable that fans would want to see the likes of Jo Harten, Helen Housby and Geva Mentor playing. They're household names now and fans have got used to seeing them and they affiliate with them.
"But, I also think that there are a lot of players within this England squad who are going to be the big names in two-years time. So, to see how they go when they're mixed in with a few experienced players, is really exciting.
"They're not going to get it right the whole time when they're in South Africa because they are young and inexperienced at that level.
"But, Jess (Thirlby) just needs to see enough from their physical capabilities and mental resilience that gives her an indication that someone has got potentially what it takes for a Commonwealth Games and a Netball World Cup.
"Some players have got a massive opportunity to just say, 'Here I am, I might make some mistakes but this is what I'm going to be capable of in a couple of years time' and I hope that they take it."
Sky Sports is your home of netball and live action returns with this three-Test tour to South Africa. The first Test from the Velodrome in Cape Town will be shown on November 29 at 5pm and will be streamed worldwide on YouTube.