32 Nichola James, now Cooke (pictured right, previous page), as I sought to learn everything I could about netball, from grassroots to Superleague, and right up to the international stage. Weeks of research later and we were armed with an in-depth knowledge of netball’s and world sports’ best development models, including Sharni Layton’s dietary plan just in case! Crucially, in Jody Barnes (pictured left, previous page), we found the person ready to learn and sacrifice in the short-term to become the everyday professional face of female sports provision in Rhondda. Then, next up, was the Head Teachers and the PE Departments of the secondary schools as the geography of the valley and the high cost of the council’s sports centres relatively speaking, meant that schools were going to be vital in our community-focused strategy. Thankfully, the fire to see girls get equal sporting opportunities was burning brightly, and before a ball had been thrown we were able to sync up our provision according to our Head Coach availability across the Rhondda. While they may not know it yet, Rhondda’s current generation of girls owe an incredible debt of gratitude to the Head Teachers of Tonypandy Community College, Ysgol Gyfun Cymer Rhondda, Ferndale Community School, Porth County Community School, and Treorchy Comprehensive School. With an average of 200 girls taking part at our pilot age groups, Under 11’s & Under 13’s during the first few weeks of our out-of-schools provision, it was clear that in order to establish a sustainable operation for the whole of 2016/17, all Rhondda Netball needed was it's first financial result. Enter Gerald & Emma Leeke. Now I don’t want to take anything away from the excellent Netball Universe report in the next article, so suffice it to say that Gerald & Emma's willingness to get behind our vision for Rhondda Netball was the defining moment in 2016/17. Were it not for their heart, passion and commitment to Rhondda and its girls and women, then who knows... Rhondda Netball might not have made it off the starting blocks! Their decision to throw their weight behind Rhondda Netball meant we were here to stay and gave us the momentum we needed to really get the ball rolling!
Four clubs soon became five (see pages 46 & 47), assistant coaches joined our Skills, Training & Development Programme aimed at creating our coaches of the future, and girls and women flocked to take part in our provision. Every single one of Rhondda’s six secondary schools got involved in our brand new Rhondda Schools Netball League, and we even had the opportunity to incorporate two RCT schools as a pilot for our 2017/18 plans. The girls loved it, the coaches loved it, the schools loved it, the parents loved it, and even Wales Online loved it (articles pictured right)! But at its core, 2016/17 was simply a launch pad for the future... because the culture change that saw over 280 girls and women playing netball out-of-school and 400 girls playing in-school, was just the start! Sponsors and supporters rallied around the success and the platform established in Year 1 allowed us to go to an entirely new level for 2017/18. We added Under 9’s & Under 15’s provision at our participation-focused clubs and our performance pathway, welcomed every one of RCT's 17 secondary schools into the new RCT Schools Championship, started central Under 5’s & Under 7’s sessions, and incorporated a senior representative team (see pages 42 & 43) as the pinnacle of our development structure. And that’s not to forget the addition of experienced netballer, Jess Sutton joining the team as Development Coordinator, and the fact that Jody has firmly established herself as a top quality Operations Manager along the journey! In September 2017, just a few weeks into our Year 2, Rhondda Netball offically became the largest female sports participation initiative in Wales, with over 550 different girls and 33