Karen Atkinson aims to take Superleague franchise Strathclyde Sirens to the next level

Last Updated: 12/06/19 2:02pm

Serena Guthrie discusses Tracey Neville's departure and the squad's reaction to the new
1:07
Serena Guthrie discusses Tracey Neville's departure and the squad's reaction to the new

Karen Atkinson aims to take Strathclyde Sirens to the next level and the new Technical Director firmly believes that the foundations are in place to help do that.

The former Loughborough Lightning Director of Netball and ex-England international was announced in the role on May 30 and Claire Nelson, CEO of Netball Scotland, was the one to reach out to her about the prospect of working with them.

Nelson's ambition is to develop and evolve the structure at Sirens in order to "raise their game" and her new Technical Director quickly saw the potential at the franchise.

"What was immediately apparent to me was that they have all the bones of a fantastic program up there and probably more so than some of the other franchises," said Atkinson to Sky Sports.

"They just need a little bit of guidance on turning that into the best type of performance program that they possibly can."

Sirens finished the recent Vitality Netball Superleague season in ninth position. Although they only secured three victories during the course of the season, they competed hard with some of the more established outfits as a four-goal loss to Team Bath and a five-goal loss to Saracens Mavericks highlighted.

For Atkinson, the structure that is in place behind the scenes at Sirens is another promising factor and something that provides a solid platform to help achieve future success.

"I think that they've got brilliant people, people who work for Sirens. They've got full-time staff, dedicated to Sirens as well," noted Atkinson, who was awarded an MBE in 2014 for services to netball.

"They've got fantastic facilities, all of the support services that they need from nutrition to performance lifestyle, everything that they need there.

"It's just working out how to put that together to form the best programme, recruit the right players to join the Scottish players and work out a plan of how to realise all of those Scottish players' potential."

Strathclyde Sirens' ambitions are lofty, both on and off the court in Scotland

The movement of Sirens to a Technical Director and Head Coach structure is another sign of the ever-developing nature of the Vitality Netball Superleague and its franchises.

This dual senior leadership format is commonplace in other sports, particularly in rugby union, and is the format that Anna Carter will be adopting at Leeds Rhinos Netball too when they arrive in 2021.

With professionalisation being an aim for Superleague, and the league's ongoing development towards that, having somebody fully focused on the team's performance on court and someone else taking on the strategic leadership makes so much sense.

The demands that they require mean that they are separate roles in their own right and demanding roles at that. Another bonus of the structure is the opportunity for two sporting and netballing brains to come together and thrive at one franchise.

Atkinson, her husband and their two young children are based in Italy and have been there for around 18 months now.

As a mother of a five-year-old and a two-year-old, the ability to be at heart of family life and be there for her children while they are growing up in a new environment is vital and this Technical Director role allows that.

"I think that it will provide me with a really good challenge and something to get my teeth stuck into," noted Atkinson.

"I think that it will help my growth as a coach and also as a leader to do something very different like this. And, they are willing to make it fit in with my current situation in my family life."

Atkinson earned 122 caps during her international career

After the announcement that Tracey Neville will be stepping down in July, Atkinson's name - rightly - is one that many are speaking about when it comes to succeeding the Roses' head coach.

"As Tamsin [Greenway] has highlighted it's the ultimate netball coaching job and I would probably never say never. But, at this moment in time I'm excited about working at Sirens," said Atkinson on the subject.

Neville's four years in charge have seen the Vitality Roses reach unprecedented heights and heights that they hope to eclipse after a successful World Cup final on July 21.

"It is a very tough gig [the next coach in]. Both because Tracey has been so successful and has done a great job but also because it is a huge job... it's not just a nine to five. It's all-consuming," added Atkinson.

"Although it's very topical at the minute to say why can't people do both? And, I think that it's important that women are allowed to do both if they want to. But, this is a huge job."

"It is a huge decision for her. I think that it's important for people to realise that being involved in sport and having the opportunity to be so is important.

"Also, so is having the opportunity and the right to step away when you need to and then come back. I've no doubt that she'll be back in the future within some capacity."

Under Neville the Roses' World Cup preparations are firmly underway; they are in camp right now before a public warm-up match against Manchester Thunder on July 6. And, with almost every squad having been announced publicly, the march towards Liverpool is quickening in pace.

"It's unbelievably exciting. One, because of the quality of the squads. Two, because of how much at the forefront netball is because of England's gold medal and also how much at the forefront women's sport is currently and how much it's developing," said Atkinson, who won bronze medals with England at three Commonwealth Games.

Serena Guthrie discusses Tracey Neville's departure and the squad's reaction to the new
1:07
Serena Guthrie discusses Tracey Neville's departure and the squad's reaction to the new

"I'm 100 per cent behind Tracey, Serena and the England team. I definitely think that they can do it.

"Then you look across at some of the other teams… I think that Tracey mentioned it recently, it will just come down to one per cent or something even more minuscule than that on the finals weekend. And, England obviously have to get there first."

Atkinson herself will be over from Italy for finals weekend and like all, will be gripped by a World Cup that promises to be the most competitive and enthralling the sport has ever seen.

Alongside her support for the Roses, she will no doubt have her Sirens hat on too and will be keeping a firm eye on Scotland and all of the other sides that will be taking to the greatest stage of them all.

The Vitality Superleague returns in 2020 but before that Sky Sports is your home of netball starting with every match of the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup live and available via our YouTube channel. Coverage starts on Friday, July 12 right through to the final on Sunday July 21.