Starting out as coach to an under 9s team in 2013, Niketa Loftus was recognised as part of the 2018 Australia Post One Netball Community Awards (APONCA) for her dedication to makingnetball an option for kids from culturally and linguistically diverse backgroundsand socio-economically disadvantaged families. Niketa enabled access for these players through gainingsponsorship to fund uniforms and registration, game and training fees, and outside of coaching, Niketa went above and beyond to ensureplayers were able to attend games either by personally carpooling or hiring a bus to transport all players. She has created a family-like club and a safe space for players free of discrimination based on colour, race, ability, family struggles or financial situation.
Since her award win, the Thunders Netball Club has grown from having six playing teams to 10 teams including two tournament teams and two teams also playing under the Parkville Netball Association. The club has also secured another coach to assist with teams in older divisions.
In describing the positive impact winning her APONCA has had on her club and community, Niketa says: “The award gave our club recognition which we didn’t previously have and helped build our players’ confidence by recognising their individual hard work and dedication. The award also helped us to share what our club does with our community and gave me the opportunity to network with likeminded individuals.
“I was acknowledged by members of the Craigieburn Netball Association and our wider community. The award helped start a conversation about how our club is a little different to a typical netball club and provided some insight into how everyone can do something to become more inclusive. For us, we share the love of netball with everyone despite socio-economic factors and circumstances which may hold individuals away from the game.”
A shining example of the success of the Thunders Netball Club’s efforts is one of their older players, who has dedicated herself to her netball career through intense training and multiple games each week, which, with the support of her club, has led to her selection in the 2019 Netball Victoria Talent Academy.
Off the court, Thunders Netball Club has created a safe and stable environment and family culture for players to rely on when faced with life’s challenges. This has seen improvement in the mental health, confidence and overall wellbeing for players, helping them feel prepared for challenges on the court, in school and in their everyday life.
The club has also engaged a number of external resources to assist with the players’ success including a boxing trainer to help with fitness and footwork, a dietitian and a teacher mentor to assist with their schooling. In addition, a new coach has joined the Club to help players prepare for an elite sports career by assisting them to connect with elite sporting schools and apply for scholarships.
As part of their award win, Niketa and the Thunders Netball Club received a visit from Australian Diamonds star and Australia Post One Netball Ambassador, Caitlin Thwaites. Niketa claims the excitement of the visit still hasn’t worn off over six months later. “The visit inspired our players and made them realise that the sky is the limit in their netball careers. Meeting Caitlin was something none of them ever expected so it was a really big highlight for them.”
As part of the APONCA, Thunders Netball Club were awarded a $1000 Load&Go card which went towards new team jackets for the players, training balls and equipment and contributed to creating lasting memories at their end of year celebration.
Looking forward, Niketa hopes to continue growing the club and create opportunities for their players particularly through their expanding specialised coaching team. This includes their aim to take their older players to Fiji in 2020 for the International Netball Festival.
Niketa’s advice to those seeking to create a more inclusive community is not to be afraid to ask questions and show you care about making a difference to each individual.
“It’s the little things that add up to make the big difference”.
And to those thinking of nominating someone in the 2019 Australia Post One Netball Community Awards, Niketa’s words of advice are: “We have so many individuals, clubs and associations Australia-wide who deserve to be recognised. Please nominate those amazing people we have within our netball community. It’s the individuals that go above and beyond to make netball so special.