Lisa Smith hoping to lead netball evolution in Antigua and Barbuda

By November 10, 2022
Lisa Smith (right) Head Coach of Antigua and Barbuda along with her daughter Lauren, the assistant coach and members of the Antigua and Barbuda netball team. Lisa Smith (right) Head Coach of Antigua and Barbuda along with her daughter Lauren, the assistant coach and members of the Antigua and Barbuda netball team. Contributed

Lisa Smith has a vision that Antigua and Barbuda netball can one day be a force to be reckoned with in the Caribbean and by extension, the world.

However, it will require massive investment and patience if the tiny Caribbean island famous for its white-sand beaches and iconic cricketers is to achieve its goal of producing world-class netball players.

Smith, an experienced Level 2 United Kingdom Coaching Certificate (UKCC) netball coach, volunteered to lead the Antigua netball programme in August and nine weeks later took a team to the Americas Netball Qualifier in Jamaica in October.,

With only a few weeks to prepare, the team lost all seven matches it played but Smith came away feeling optimistic about the future, at least from the perspective of available talent.

“I keep trying to remind myself that I arrived in Antigua nine weeks ago and put a team together with people that had played on some international stages at the OECS but not necessarily this level,” she said after the team had suffered its third loss, a 62-29 defeat against Grenada.

“This is a whole new level for Antigua netball. I am seeing so much about that team that is potential for the future. I always knew there was going to be an immense amount of work. That’s the exciting part. That’s the part that I love.”

Subsequent losses to Jamaica (80-29), Cayman (47-42), St Lucia (54-32) and Barbados (68-29), along with opening-day losses to Trinidad and Tobago (55-24) and the United States (34-22) meant that Antigua will be looking to the future fully aware of the significant work that lay ahead.

Smith provided a frank assessment of the team’s performance afterwards.

“The Antigua team by their own admittance were grossly under-prepared when I arrived to coach them in August,” she told Sportsmax. TV

“However, all we could do is set some plans, carry them out and make the first steps to encourage the players involved to see themselves and treat themselves as national athletes.

“The creation of a squad and effective working units were paramount to the coaching team having achieved any of the targets we set for ourselves.

“The standard was expected to be high and it didn’t surprise me to see losses but we stuck to regular quarter-by-quarter, match-by-match plans.”

Notwithstanding the challenges, Smith revealed some positives that she took from the tournament, the building blocks for a foundation to build on for the future.

 “(We) achieved defence targets by holding off goals and managed to in some cases exceed our goal targets,” she said.

“We suffered early losses but learnt how to fight through third and fourth quarters with resolve and physical strength. Rotations were tough due to several mid-week injuries and the frequency of matches with zero recovery took a heavy toll on players.

“We used all our reserves and saw advantages for using our younger players proving we no longer need to worry about the loss of seasoned players from the team but use their experience to develop and encourage the next generation.”

For that development to become reality, many changes are necessary for Antigua’s netball to grow. For one, there is a desperate need for even more funding.

Netball on the islands does not get enough support and is almost entirely dependent on fundraising efforts and the generosity of benefactors.  However, some financial backing is provided by the Antigua Olympic Committee and other sponsors, for which Smith has expressed her gratitude.

"We’re grateful to all our sponsors, in particular the NOC in Antigua, who have shown continuous support to our programme," she said.

But more is needed.

Shortly after Smith arrived in Antigua in August, she launched a GoFundMe account to raise £1000 to assist with getting the team to Jamaica. Each player on the squad was also tasked with raising US$450 to fund the trip.

Somehow, they managed to raise the estimated EC$100,000 needed but going forward things will have to change.

“We have pencilled together a 10-year plan but obviously it takes a lot of funding and I am listening to the Jamaican head of netball and the president of netball telling me how difficult it is,” Smith said.

“Times that by a million because it’s me that’s been able to be out there getting sponsorship in the last nine weeks. We didn’t know we were coming until (the week before the Americas Netball Qualifier) and we physically did not have the funds in order to get here until we got the last few sponsors on board by begging, stealing and borrowing. I am going to be dead honest about that, that shouldn’t be the case.”

The islands also do not have a structured grassroots programme, something that Smith hopes to correct.

“That needs putting into place hugely,” she declared.

“There’s a schools’ netball programme which, from my point of view, should therefore be feeding into a higher programme of performance so that we could take those best players from those teams in the village leagues and the schools and be producing more of a performance academy of those players from U14, U16, U18, and start to develop that so that they’re feeding the national team and that is where my focus will be next year.”

It will take years for Antigua and Barbuda to raise the level of play to the desired standards but the goal is to become the next ‘Jamaica’ in the Caribbean.

 “The comparison is huge but it’s where we want to get to. I always enjoy watching the Jamaica Senior team when they come over to the UK. I have watched all of their matches and been courtside watching them. I absolutely love watching them play,” she said.

Smith was very impressed with the Sunshine Girls and how well they performed at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England in August.

“Their style of play is what is so attractive to me and that’s why I like being out here coaching because of the style and flair that Caribbean netball brings. Then the structure that we then put in place from a lot of the UK and Australian netball, I love the blend of that.

“Jamaica has got it right. They took the Commonwealth by storm and I think they came out with a bit of a hard match on that last one but we were all rooting for them.”

Referring to the young Jamaican team that went unbeaten in their exhibition games in the Qualifier, Smith said: “They put so much athleticism into everything. Those girls there out on the court look world-class. To have that as your next generation brings goosebumps and I would love to be in that position one day.”

 

Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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