Jess Thirlby on leading England Netball from afar

Jess Thirlby speaks to Sky Sports News about leading from afar after a positive coronavirus test left her unable to travel to New Zealand with her team for their forthcoming series against New Zealand.

The Roses are taking on world champions New Zealand at the end of the month, live on Sky Sports, and shortly before their departure it was announced their head coach would not be able to go with them.

After following as many precautions as possible ahead of the tour, and not having had any symptoms, Thirlby said she was “shocked” by her test result. In her absence, Kat Ratnapala and Colette Thomson were selected to lead the Roses on the ground in New Zealand.

  • Thirlby tests positive for coronavirus
  • Roses to face New Zealand, live on Sky Sports

Just over a week on, Thirlby spoke to Gail Davis for Sky Sports News and discussed how she is feeling and what it is like leading from afar.

“I feel absolutely fine, physically I’m absolutely fine,” Thirlby said. “It’s been more challenging mentally for me.

“As a family, we’ve all been in self-isolation, so the children have been thrown back into home-schooling of sorts. If I’m honest, if I thought it was tough a few months ago [it wasn’t].

“At the minute, they’re certainly not seeing the best version of mummy because I’m headstrong in connecting with the group overseas and playing my part in terms of leading them in the ways that I can. The children and my husband are getting the morsels left at the end of a day I think!

“As you can imagine, we’re just finding our rhythm [connecting with New Zealand] but I couldn’t be prouder of the group.

“They are only a few days in over there, so they’re coming out of jet lag and are adjusting their body clocks. There’s a lot to still deal with… the group are still going through a really vigorous process around Covid-19.

“With New Zealand having no cases, you can imagine there’s a lot in place that the team are having to deal with. That takes its toll. I’m just trying to give them a bit of time and space, then in the background I’m chipping away.”

The fact that we have actually got the squad over there, and they’re preparing for an international Test series in this current world, is quite an incredible feat really.

Jess Thirlby (Photo Credit: Laura Malcolm)

Ahead of this Test series, Thirlby and her team were tremendously thorough in terms of their planning, which included a plethora of different scenarios, however she admits her not being able to go, was not one that she wanted to pay close attention to.

“If those in the netball world have talked about the ‘what ifs?’, I think that we’ve covered a lot of them and more,” she said.

“We’ve been meticulous as well as being agile and we remain really flexible. It is, and will continue to be, a very dynamic landscape and environment that we’re working in.”

I genuinely believe that down the line, this presents a huge opportunity which actually might strengthen this team in the months and years to come as we head towards Birmingham. We didn’t ask for it but I think that there will be a lot of good that comes out of it.

Jess Thirlby

As a head coach, Thirlby is an exceptionally detailed and thorough one. She is someone who takes the time to consider her own actions and what impact they will have on the team, which is highlighted by her approach to leading from over 10,000 miles away.

“The most important thing, is that everything I do and my role in this situation, needs to be purposeful and have the team front and centre,” she said.

“I don’t want to be taking on roles that just don’t make any sense, I’m not there and I’m not on the ground.

“Kat and Colette are not inexperienced coaches. I have more than enough confidence in them to execute the things that we had planned.

“I just really want to be there to support them and relieve pressure, so that they can get on with the job on the ground of actually delivering to this group of players and getting them ready.”

England’s Vitality Roses live on Sky Sports

Thirlby is covering all bases to ensure she can be ‘present’ and gain as much information and value as possible from this tour. She has worked alongside England Netball’s performance analyst to be able to watch training live and is using video-conferencing to the max.

“The live streaming of sessions isn’t because I’m not confident in everybody, it’s so that I can be really efficient in terms of how I give feedback and it helps inform the planning,” she said.

“It’s not because I place that much self-importance on the impact that I can have, it’s more for awareness so that I can contribute to the best of my ability.

“As I said before, I think that this will be the making of us, both on the court and off the court.

“When it comes to the next Commonwealth Games – Birmingham 2022 – I think that we will look back on this journey and realise that these were the moments which strengthened the team and led to some success.

“The group are all on board with that and I couldn’t be more impressed with their approach and attitude right now.”

Live netball returns to Sky Sports with the Vitality Roses taking on the Silver Ferns in a three-Test series at the end of October. Join us for the first Test on October 28.

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