The loss of Ballarat representation in the Victorian Netball League has the potential to have a damaging effect on future netballers rising through the ranks.
In early-September Netball Victoria announced that the Sovereigns’ VNL licence would not be renewed, denying it the chance to partake in the state’s top netball competition.
While much of the club’s championship side was made-up of recruits, the division one team and particularly the youngest of the three divisions – the 19/unders – were largely made-up of talent from Ballarat and surround areas.
The recently-handed out licences span from 2019-2023, meaning the pathway to higher levels of netball will not be available for at least five years. Former Sovereigns board member Jo Bayles said the most disappointing part of the decision was the fact that many promising young netballers will be lost to the game, simply because of the lack of accessibility to the elite pathway.
There are some girls that are choosing not to play, which is a real shame...my fear is that those girls will be lost to the sport.Former Sovereigns board member Jo Bayles
While the natural stars will always be discovered by Netball Victoria’s talent identification, it’s the “rough diamond” or the late-bloomer that looks set to suffer.
With a plethora of sports on offer to young girls now, many talented athletes will turn their hand to another sport – and Bayles is seeing it first-hand.
“There are some girls that are choosing not to play, which is a real shame,” Bayles said.
“There’s so much talent, not just here in Ballarat, but the surrounding regions. My fear is that those girls will be lost to the sport. If there are more accessible and available options, they’ll move codes.
“The rough diamond who perhaps needs access to good coaching and guidance, strength and conditioning. That pathway and that ability to support regionally-based athletes is no longer an option for them.
“Any future rough diamonds, the pathway is a lot less clear for them.”
“Your natural stars are going to be noticed, but if the competition isn’t accessible to those, my firm belief is that they’ll go to other codes.”
Bayles said while it could not be argued that Sovereigns had struggled to perform at the top-level, she felt the club was doing its job in terms of regional talent development.
The club would often see talented youngsters come through the program and be provided access to the elite coaching and conditioning, but then life would take them to Melbourne – that will no longer be the case.
“We can’t retain the girls, because life takes them to Melbourne (for university)...you’re not going to ask girls to choose a course locally because we want them to still play here.”
Bayles said a lot of the former 19/under Sovereigns were heading to play in Geelong or the west Melbourne clubs. A massive, and difficult, commitment for school-aged girls.