Mention netball to some and they might shudder as they’re hit with semi-traumatic school PE memories. But the sport deserves better, with a thriving netball culture in swing across the UK – and Glasgow knows women and girls can be the first to be shut out of professional sport. That’s why the Strathclyde Sirens team was launched by Netball Scotland in 2016 with Claire Nelson at the helm as CEO.
The Sirens women – based in Glasgow but hailing from New Zealand, Australia and Jamaica, to name a few – have the opportunity to come up against the best players across England and Wales. It’s the only Scottish women’s sports team to have a Sky Sports deal, making regular appearances on the channel as part of the Vitality Netball Superleague.
Gail Parata of Scotland’s national squad also coaches the Sirens, and the team sees support from the Scottish Institute of Sport. It’s also the only professional netball team in the entirety of Scotland. That means world-class strength and conditioning training and physiotherapy, plus video analysis and lifestyle support.
The team, based at the £113m Emirates Arena, consists of ten professional and semi-professional players plus five training partners, with a game each weekend. Home games are plentiful, giving fans the chance to head along and support the team (and meet the players post-match in the fan zone).
Young players are supported through the selections process from district and national level, and wider outreach efforts are a core part of the team’s operation with engagement programmes run in collaboration with local schools. Think masterclasses, coaching sessions and even Sirens camps. But it’s not just about getting the best players on side for league games – the team was set up with the intention of using netball as a vehicle for greater good.
‘Netball’s played mainly by women in Scotland, which gives us a unique platform for women to challenge gender stereotypes and succeed competitively,’ says Sirens player and part-time administrator Ella Gibbons. She adds, ‘to be strong, confident and inspire others.’ When she’s not playing or training for netball games with the team, Ella is studying a Masters degree in Equality and Human Rights at the University of Glasgow or volunteering with gender equality groups, like Women’s Aid in the east of the city.
The Sirens For Success programme targets young girls in the first few years of high school who are disengaged from sport and physical activity. Netball is the name of the game, but it takes a back seat to issues which could be holding girls back from taking part, either in sport or other areas of their life. They help girls tackle issues affecting their demographic which, if gone unchecked, could follow them through the rest of adolescence – body image, confidence, resilience, plus physical and mental health.
‘Women’s sport receives less media coverage, less sponsorship and endorsement. We’re trying to challenge this with Sirens, reaching new audiences and trying to inspire the local community,’ says Ella, a self-described advocate for a fairer, equal society. That being a professional netballer is now an option for young girls is exciting, she adds, which she would have only dreamt of when growing up. ‘Being a Siren for me means pushing the sport to new levels, to give the next generation of players even more opportunities for the future than what I’ve had. And I’ve been incredibly lucky!’
The people behind the Sirens hope that the pressures and setbacks of elite sport (such as injury, disappointing performances and non-selection for the team) will help develop resilience and the ability to overcome adversity in young women. And it works. Ella says, ‘Playing sport has improved my self confidence, my ability to approach and talk to new people, has helped me make many close friends. Exercising and being active are generally great ways to look after both your body and your mind.
‘Sirens Netball aim to inspire other women and girls to be active, to feel confident with their bodies, and have the confidence to achieve their goals.’ The team is also partnered with leading children’s charity NSPCC Scotland to help deliver their groundbreaking campaign Speak Out Stay Safe, which teaches children what abuse is, how to identify it in all its forms and helps develop their confidence in speaking to a trusted adult who can help.
A sports team with a cause, the Sirens carry the girls and young women of Glasgow on their shoulders through every win and more importantly, every loss.
The first home game of the new season is Friday 11th January 2019 versus Team Bath, at the Emirates Arena, with tickets up for grabs online now. They’re Strathclyde Sirens – are you with them?