Netball: Fitness and skills key for new national coach Natalie Milicich

New Singapore netball head coach Natalie Milicich, at training last week, is impressed with the commitment of the players.
New Singapore netball head coach Natalie Milicich, at training last week, is impressed with the commitment of the players.PHOTO: NETBALL SINGAPORE

New netball coach aims to lift No. 18 rank and achieve top-two spot in upcoming big events

It is her first time leading an international team, but newly appointed netball head coach Natalie Milicich is not afraid to be ambitious in her targets for the Singapore players.

These goals include top-two finishes at the Dec 3-9 Nations Cup and at the Sept 1-9 Asian Championship next year, both of which Singapore will host.

Singapore last won the Nations Cup in 2007. Their best result since then was second place in 2014.

The top two sides at the Asian Championship will earn a ticket to the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool. At the last edition of the World Cup in 2015, Singapore were 15th out of 16 countries.

New Zealander Milicich also aims to improve Singapore's world ranking which lies at No. 18.

Her immediate priority, however, is to get to know the players better on and off the court.

"The biggest thing for me is that we're (physically) very small in comparison to some of the more competitive countries, so one thing that's going to be important is we work on our fitness and skill level," said Milicich, who observed training last Tuesday and led Thursday's session.

GIVING THEIR UTMOST

I'd like to build a positive team environment that's built around trust and inspire the players to try new things and push themselves out of their comfort zone.

NATALIE MILICICH, on her plans.

"But the first thing I've noticed is that we have very committed players who are very willing to give new things a go, so I like that they have interest and that they like to be taken out of their comfort zone."

The Singapore side are a team in transition, after veterans Micky Lin, Premila Hirubalan and Chen Huifen retired last year. At last month's SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, the team lost their crown after falling to the hosts in the final.

Milicich had watched the semi-final (against Thailand) and final on YouTube, and revealed that she was excited by the players' enthusiasm on court.

"(In the final) I think it was just a bad start, and sometimes when you have a bad start it's really hard to pick up and believe you can win if you've had a 10- or 15-goal difference after the first quarter," she added.

"That's something I hopefully will be able to work with them on - that mental game and that belief."

The 50-year-old is undaunted by the prospect of having to rebuild the team. She has administered the development and successful implementation of programmes such as Auckland Netball's High Performance programme and Zone Player Development Plan, and believes her experience will help Singapore's netball players.

"As far as taking on a young group goes, that is one of my strengths as I've worked on a lot of development roles and I can give confidence to players, so hopefully they get the best out of that," she added.

"I'd like to build a positive team environment that's built around trust and inspire the players to try new things and push themselves out of their comfort zone."

Milicich will be aided by assistant coach Yeo Mee Hong, who took over as interim coach after former national head coach Ruth Aitken left at the end of last year.

The biggest challenge Milicich anticipates is the limited time that she will have with the players.

"They're not full-time athletes, so when we're together it's extremely important that we make the most of that time together," she said.

She will get a chance to do that when the team embark on a training trip to her home city of Auckland from Nov 18 to 26, where they will meet Aitken and ex-Silver Ferns coach Yvonne Willering.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Fitness and skills key for Milicich'. Print Edition | Subscribe