England Roses head coach Jess Thirlby looks at big picture after whirlwind start
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 12/02/20 10:00am
After a whirlwind start as the Vitality Roses' head coach, Jess Thirlby now has a chance to sharpen her focus on the bigger picture and link in with the Vitality Netball Superleague environments.
Thirlby's first five months in charge saw her lead tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as guiding her side to a third-placed finish at a home Vitality Nations Cup.
She has rapidly put together a 'new' squad, one which has included some younger faces after senior players' decisions to take time off, and has set about laying the foundations for this next four-year cycle.
It has been a busy time for the former international and now, alongside focusing on the on-going evaluation of the Roses players, she's turning her attention on other areas that support and impact her role as England's head coach.
"I think that people think I'm just going to have my feet up now!" Thirbly told Sky Sports with a smile.
"I came into the post on September 1, and there's been a lot of 'doing' since with tours and camps. I've been right at the heart of it and set about getting to know the players as quickly as possible.
"It's been very much about our training and performance and alongside that, it has been about trying to drip-feed in and work on our culture and setting a direction for the next four years.
"Ultimately, during this time now it's really important to reflect on what's happened and it's the time to ask myself, have we got what we needed to out of the last couple of months?"
The advantage now is that I've lived and breathed the environment and the role. We’ve shared a lot of experiences so there’s some real evidence around what we’ve felt so far. I think that’s going to be really helpful [moving forwards].
With the timing of Thirlby's appointment, and the schedule straight after, plenty of the Roses' early logistics were already in place.
Now, with two tours and a home competition completed, there's a chance for Thirlby to gain further answers and react to an ever-changing netball environment.
"I've probably driven people mad with a lot of questions," she said. "It's not questions to challenge; I'm interested in why we're doing what we do.
"I'll be looking at how effective it has been and what it needs to look like moving forward because as we know the landscape changes and it's pretty dynamic.
"We want to get into a World Cup final, which we haven't done, so it's about asking those questions in a really constructive way and inviting people's opinions who have been part of the journey so far."
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When it comes to the national programme and the success of it, the Superleague environment forms an integral part of that picture.
Thirlby's two decades at Team Bath Netball as a player and a coach means that she is well-placed to understand and appreciate the opportunities and challenges Superleague franchises have.
"I'm really passionate about building the relationships with the clubs and getting out into the Superleague environment," the Roses' head coach said.
"Not just watching games because that is a given, but actually getting stuck in with the roles that I can play to support the clubs and the development of players. If and where needed, supporting the coaches too."
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"I welcome supporting the direction of travel of our Superleague environment because it will play such an integral part of the next four/five years and beyond.
"If we can make sure that we're supporting the quality within those club environments and helping to create a landscape which moves more towards professionalism, it will provide a boost the Roses programme and the quality of players who come out to us.
"I think what the club environments have done until now is pretty special, and it's off the back of not very much, financially and commercially.
"We've been reliant, and have done well, because of the good nature of so many people and not just coaches."
Alongside supporting this area of the club environment, Thirlby will be keeping a close eye on all of her Roses players.
The week immediately after the Nations Cup housed a wealth of conversations and meetings in order to commence that process.
"That handover period is to ensure that there's a smooth transition and an understanding of where the players are at from our point of view," the head coach said.
"Also, it's about hearing from a club's point of view about the role they see that player having within the club environment over the next four to five months."
Thirlby will also be maintaining close relationships with the Roses who are plying their trades in Australia.
She has a 'good understanding' of where those individuals are at but, as you'd expect, is keeping her conversations with players confidential.
"I've been passionate around both England and Superleague for my whole coaching career," Thirlby added.
"So to be able to hopefully impact on both is a fantastic and privileged position to be in."
Sky Sports is the home of netball and the Vitality Netball Superleague returns on February 22 with five back-to-back matches from Arena Birmingham to commence the new domestic season in England.