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Mission Foods Nations Cup 2016: A team in transition

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chen huifen Chen Huifen (2nd from right) in action for the Team Singapore netball team at the 28th SEA Games last year. Chen is one of 3 players who have since retired from the national team and will not feature in the 2016 edition of the Mission Foods Nations Cup. Photo: SportSG

Embracing pressure with confidence is key for Singapore’s national netball team, following the retirement of older players and addition of up-and-coming ones.

As if a prelude to greater things, national netball squad newcomers Josephine Yeo and Zhang Ailin both made the starting seven for their international debuts, during the crucial playoff match for third and fourth place at this month’s Asian Netball Championships 2016

Indeed, Singapore’s netball team has ushered in a new era, as it aims to reach the heights achieved by its preceding generation of players, and perhaps even exceed it.

Following the retirement of stalwarts Micky Lin, Premila Hirubalan, and Chen Huifen, the team now boasts a youthful force to be reckoned with. This up-and-coming group of players, keen to shine, are led by Vanessa Lee, who had come out of international retirement to captain the team.

Riding on the momentum of the Asian Netball Championships 2016, where they finished fourth, the team are setting their sights on a better showing at the upcoming Mission Foods Nations Cup 2016 held at Singapore’s OCBC Arena, which will be played from 4th to 10th September.

Sitting down with national coach Ruth Aitken, who has helmed the team since 2013 and led them to several successes including top spots at the 2014 edition of the Asian Championships and the 28th SEA Games, we learnt more about the importance of mental preparation and building confidence – to an inexperienced team.

“We’ve been working very hard and I think that we’ve made some great progress for the Asian Championships. It’s time for us to step it up again,” Ruth revealed.

“The players are hugely proud of being on the Singapore national team – a very competitive place to be. And the fact that they’re coming home, playing in front of family and friends as well as the wonderful squad we’ve had, is already truckloads of motivation.”

Of course, playing at home does increase the stakes as well, especially coupled with the pressure of living up to the standards their predecessors had set.

“They need the confidence to play like nothing’s at stake when everything’s at stake. And that’s really hard when you’re new to the game. When [you’re experienced] and you know pressure, you know that you can perform under pressure,” explained Ruth.

ruth aitkenNational netball team coach Ms Ruth Aitken believes that getting the players to have confidence and self belief is key to making them competitive against any opponent. Photo: SportSG

In a bid to develop this necessary level of assurance, the players have been undergoing training tailored to boost confidence, according to the New Zealander. These include simulation of scenarios such as being two goals down with thirty seconds of play left.

She expressed: “The skill-based work has been done; the fitness work has been done. Now it’s just fine-tuning. You have to embrace the pressure. It’s a challenge but you’ve got to love it. It’s all about being excited and scared all wrapped up in one.”

“For me, it’s about helping them to play their best. If they do that, then I know that they’ll be really competitive against anyone. So the main thing is getting over their own insecurities and having confidence in themselves under pressure.”

Come 4th September, with the evenness of world rankings among the contenders at the Nations Cup, Ruth noted that the competition would be close.
Nevertheless, the veteran coach will go into the competition confident, as long as her girls play their best throughout. Sharing the main advantage that her team boasted, she said: “What makes us stand out is our strength across the 12 positions. At any point, we can look at the bench and say that this person is going to make a difference on court.”

“With six games over seven days, we will need to rotate and everyone’s going to have to contribute. The gap between our top seven and the bench is very small, and I’m expecting everyone to contribute. That’s going to be our strength.”