The Netball Nations Cup will burst onto our screens this weekend as England begin the tournament by hosting New Zealand at the Nottingham Arena. It will also be a landmark moment for Jess Thirlby, who will attempt to lead the team to silverware for the first time since taking over from previous coach Tracey Neville.
Thirlby oversaw the Roses' Test series win in South Africa at the back end of 2019 and now will look to lead her side to success as they take on world champions New Zealand, Jamaica and South Africa in the tournament that has replaced the Quad Series. Having won bronze at the World Cup on home soil last year under Neville, England will be looking to once again challenge themselves against the world’s elite.
Thirlby is the first netball coach to graduate from and be selected from the UK Sport Elite Coaching Programme, which has gained a whole heap of recognition over the past couple of years. Targeted at established coaches, the course spans three years and aims to take coaches up to the highest level via training, lessons and experiences. The last group of candidates were even taken to an army base where they were put through their paces!
The most high-profile graduate to date is current England men's football manager Gareth Southgate, who began his course in 2016 before getting the Three Lions job on a full-time basis. Even after leading his side to the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup, he went back to finish his course and graduated in April of 2019. Speaking at his graduation he said told UK Sport:
“It has been a fantastic experience to be part of the UK Sport Elite Programme.
“I’m the first person in football to be involved in this course so that has not only been a privilege but also a great opportunity.
“We have coaches in our country who have won Olympic medals and coached world champions so it has been great to tap into that knowledge and it is something I hope to continue to do in the future.”
Across British sport we can see graduates from this course. Anthony Joshua’s coach and GB Boxing performance director Rob McCracken graduated in 2016, former England cricket coach Andy Flower passed through the course one year later and David McNulty, the national lead coach at British Swimming, was also an early graduate.
If the first three years are anything to go by, UK Sport have developed a programme that is seriously improving the quality of British coaches. Now Thirlby is the latest graduate to test herself in a major head coaching role, she could inspire more people to consider taking this course. Speaking to the BBC on her appointment, she said:
"This is a great time to be taking on the role as we head into an exciting next chapter and my focus will be to harness and build upon the momentum and solid foundation gained over the past four years."
New Zealand will provide the perfect test for England this weekend, and with Sky Sports providing coverage of the tournament there will be plenty of attention on Thirlby's team.