Knights Netball: Tallisa Haynes on being a female coach for a men's team in a “woman’s” sport
A female coach, for a men's team (the only one), in what is ostensibly a woman's sport. It couldn't happen, could it?
Well actually, it has. Tallisa Haynes, a former Superleague netball player, is the new head coach for Knights Men’s Netball, the only men’s team in the UK.
“The men are brilliant they are fully on board, they support everything," says Haynes. "They are not afraid to question, which I absolutely love. But they also know when they are being put in their places as well, I am very lucky.
“They know what I'm about which is brilliant. Your relationship builds from that and that's what helps push. They push me as much as I push them.”
Haynes has played for top Superleague teams throughout her career including Loughborough Lightning, Surrey Storm and Saracens Mavericks, before taking on her first coaching role at Storm in 2014.
Since then every team which has been under her leadership has had an unbeaten season or has been narrowly close to winning major championships. Two years ago she made the decision to step down from coaching in the Superleague and started her role as a games teacher and netball specialist at St. George’s College.
Then came the greatest challenge of her career, the Knights.
Knights consists of three teams made up of 19-40 year olds. They play against sides in the Women’s Superleague as well as travelling to Europe to play against other male sides.
For Haynes, there was no template to call on: “It's completely of the unknown, there is no ‘this is how you do it’ which I think is probably the most exciting part. We’ve got this opportunity and we just need to make the most of it now.
“The guys are fully on board and they are so keen to push the sport as well and I think ‘right let's do this’ and actually get a name out there.
“The best thing for me is that they are a complete blank sheet, they have never been coached, they are players and they have picked up things from here, there and everywhere but not as a whole group before or as a team.
“That’s one of the biggest things me and the club have been in contact about. We want to make it ‘what is Knights men's netball, what is it you want them to be renowned for, what is their style of play that you want the Superleague teams to be coming up and playing against?’
She has only ever coached female teams but claims there is no difference between coaching a male side and a female side.
“With the men, at the moment it's that they’ve never had an outside coach so it's been a very much a player-coach for them for the last 2-3 years. Which is so hard to be a player and coach at the same time. Whereas with me coming in they’ve got that outside view looking inwards.”
With there being no other men’s netball teams in the UK, they have to turn their heads to the women’s league, who have been very accommodating. They play week in and week out matches with top teams in the Vitality Superleague with the likes of Mavericks, Team Bath and Manchester Thunder.
“The head coaches and the directors of netball within the franchises are so supportive. On a daily basis, there is contact.
“What is so good about it is that they are so willing to get us on board, they aren’t like ‘oh no this is our sport'. For us, we almost want to reward them and be some competition for them.
“They are close matches, they [the men] won’t say we are beating them because we are not but we are getting closer, we want to be contesting with them and this is where that whole structure of court and principles will help them do that.”
Even though the Superleague teams are on board, the governing body of the sport, England Netball are less so.
“They are as supportive as they can be as a national governing body," says Haynes. "They are not against it but in regards to really getting behind us, it is the NSL which do.
“But in regards to funding and things like that it is completely down to the guys themselves, it's self-funded. We have to find courts to play on and times that we can all get together.
“These guys are from all around the country, it's not as easy. We have got guys coming from Leicester, up north and down south.”
Even though the men are gaining exposure to the women’s top tier teams, Haynes claims that making that “next step” is proving the most difficult thing.
“On social media we don’t get as much attention as the female version but there is definitely some now we are having more games with the NSL and travelling to international teams.
“It really helps showcase the men’s profile but we are still very much a minority when it comes to a female-dominated sport.
“We are good though, every time there is a game there is a match report, we have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. People who do know about us do help spread the word, but you know its just that next step.
“Unfortunately, until there is a professional league or even just a men’s single league, we are just going to have to keep pulling at those strings and naturally try and get it out there as a men’s Knights team.”
So, what of the future?
“These things don’t happen overnight. I fully believe a well thought-out structured plan can get us a men’s league without a shadow of a doubt.
“However at the moment it is very much random [where we train]. We have a training session coming up in half-term and one of the guys has managed to get hold of a hall so we can go and train.
“I’ve said to the guys that for us to be able to compete and push now we need to train. There is only so much a coach can do on game day, it’s the stuff behind closed doors that actually gets you the results. That’s the kind of attitude that we’ve got moving forward.”
As a result, the team will be featuring in Britain’s thrilling Fast5 All-Stars netball tournament for the second year running, taking place today at the Copper Box Arena. The tournament will see the top eight Superleague teams going head to head for the title.
The top 20 Knights men have been invited to play in a match against each other before the women’s final to showcase their skills to a wider audience.
“We have been really lucky to be given a slot before the final. With Fast5’s there’s not a huge amount of coaching that can be done with it, so it's about the exposure more than anything.
“But I actually want the Superleague teams to see the difference in style of play, the speed of the ball, the movement on court and so for me I want the guys to have a lot of fun with it. But I also want them to remember that they are there to showcase what we are about and what we are pushing forward.
“What is also so nice is that the men play against the women regularly so they all know each other and they are so friendly towards each other. They will always wish one another luck and have a conversation in the corridor or on the way down to the changing rooms, it’s brilliant!
“For me it shows what the men could really have.”