A Day in the Life of a Superleague Netballer

  • Feb 18,2021

A Day in the Life of a Super League Netballer: 

Niamh Cooper


After a long wait and plenty of guesses, the secret is out!

The February e-zine interview is with Niamh Cooper: NI Warrior and Surrey Storm player.

Niamh has been playing in the Super League since 2013 and has now signed a two-year contract for Surrey Storm.

Here you will read about Niamh’s commitment to Netball and this season’s Super League.


Q: When did you play in your first netball super league? 

Niamh: My first ever super league was in 2013, where I played for Team Northumbria. At the time we had Kate Carpenter, who was the Northern Ireland senior international coach. Kate came over and coached us for a year before the Commonwealth, and she was also head coach at Team Northumbria – which doesn’t exist anymore.

The following year I played for Loughborough Lightning, just for the year.

After that, I took a few years away from super league because I had to finish my medical studies, so I was not able to go back and forth as I was expected to be in class based in Belfast. It was last year, just after the World Cup that I had finished my medical studies and was able to work anywhere after that.

After that, I reached out to Surrey Storm and have been signed with them last year and this year and I have just signed a 2-year contract for them.


Q: When did you begin playing for Surrey Storm?

Niamh: So, I started playing for Storm last year, from 2019. But we only got 4 matches into the season whenever it was then cancelled because of covid, so unfortunately didn’t get to see that season out and I have now resigned with them on a 2-year deal.


Q: What is your typical routine in the run up to the Vitality Netball Super League? 

Niamh: So, most days I have training of some description. There are really 2 types of days for me.

I have training in the morning which could be, court work, this could be simple conditioning which is typically a running session – the worst session for me (laughs); or it could be court-based sessions with other teammates working on defensive or attacking stuff. These are usually an hour.

Followed by an hour to 2 hours in the gym working on strength and then I’ll come home – have a nap and usually a bite to eat. I then go in to work in the evenings.

I work in A&E in Surrey now – I work from 3pm to midnight and then the next day I will not work.

So, my next day, I would have a lie in, get up, stretch, eat and do some sort of admin tasks from home and then train in the evenings with the rest of the team.

They are my 2 days, and they typically happen with rotation. Usually when I’ve training in the evening I don’t work and then vice versa.

 

Q: How do you balance all of your training alongside your job?

Niamh:  It can be difficult sometimes, don’t get me wrong. But I think it is a really good distraction as it helps me manage my time: if I know I’ve work in the evening ill make sure to get to the court in the morning.

My recovery becomes really important, and I am a big fan of a nap in the middle of the day. Especially when I know I’m working until midnight; and making sure that I’m eating right, so eating plenty of high protein and carbs after training, making sure I don’t feel really hungry during a shift or feeling tired.

But I think the main thing I like about having both things going on is it puts everything into perspective – especially when I’m working in the hospital in A&E. Because some days, even with netball it can be real highs and lows. There are days when you come away from training on a high feeling on top of the world, whereas there are some days when you don’t play as well, you know you’re worried about how you played – that kinda thing.

Then you go in to work and it’s a completely different environment, where they don’t care how you got on at training that day and ultimately you just have to treat the patient in front of you so you might see someone who is very sick – so it completely distracts you from what happened earlier on. So, it helps me keep things in perspective and take a different look. So, then when I am back from work, I’ve completely forgot about that training session, and can move on to the next day.

I’m lucky that they are two completely different environments and that they do not overlap, allowing me to have that distraction from both aspects. It allows me to bounce in and out of both of them and take the positives out of both.

 

Q: What / how do your train during the Vitality Netball Super League?

Niamh: Ok. So, we train twice a week together as a full group –Tuesdays and Thursdays are for on court training, working on tactical and technical stuff, such as set plays, backline passes, general skills – all that sort of stuff.

We then have to do 2 strength sessions as a minimum per week, and that’s with the strength coach. But due to covid, we can’t all go together, as they’re trying to minimise the numbers to like 2 or 3 of us.

We also have to do 2 conditioning sessions. I choose to do them on a court – some people choose to do them on a treadmill. Again, that’s not with the whole squad. There is usually 1-2 bonus sessions, which are court work sessions where the coach will be there and they will work things through with you: like, ok Niamh, were going to work on round the circle stuff for you as a WD or actually today were going to work on the GD bodying up the GS. It’ll be very technical 1-1 type stuff.

But generally there are 6 compulsory sessions a week alongside some extra if you want.

Aside from that, I really enjoy getting a longer recovery session in, so for me this would be going for a run, slow paced 5 or 6k – not beating any records but going out and running; keep the legs moving.

I’m one of those players who doesn’t really like to stop; if I took 2 days off in a row, I would feel really stale. This year it’s been really useful, since I’m with Emma Magee from NI is here with me and she also enjoys doing that – so we get to do it together.


Q: What is your diet like during the Vitality Netball Super League? 

Niamh: I’m not one for focusing on nutrition too much, I’m one of those see food eat food type of people but I do think it’s important to get it right. I will make sure that I have food to eat straight away after training, for example – if I know I’m going to be straight home its ok, but most of the time I do like to have a shake, not even a protein shake, I am a fan of the Yazoo or yoghurt or something just to eat as I walk out.

I’m really lucky this year I live really close and can straight away have a proper meal. Or when training is late at night, I very often just have something small like a lunch but then would have had my dinner during the day instead.

I love chocolate, and I’ll have chocolate most days, but just nothing excessive. I would eat a few squares, but I wouldn’t eat like a full large bar – or treat myself to a mousse because I’ve such a sweet tooth!

Don’t get me wrong, it is very useful having a nutritionist – but a lot of people assume with the word nutritionist you have to lose weight, but you don’t, they help you eat the right foods, for example you can’t eat a full bag of sweets before training, but it’s useful to have a couple of sweets during training to up the sugar levels to keep us fuelled.

 

Q: What is your biggest challenge during the Vitality Netball Super League?

Niamh: I think the biggest challenge is the unknown of it all, so up until this year, you could sort of predict what was going to happen – but this year it’s very different, there will be no crowd. I really enjoy a crowd, and it really hypes me up and helps me to play better so that’s something as a team we’ve been working on – trying to build our own atmosphere and energy. We are having to travel a lot more to games, so last year you might’ve travelled every other week, but this year it’s going to be every week for about 10 weeks; then we will swap around. They are all long journeys, we’re travelling from London to Wakefield which is about 5 hours by coach, and we will be staying over and playing a lot more double header matches – so going up there and playing 2 matches in 2 days, which didn’t usually happen. It is also about how we recover, to make sure we’re putting out the same levels of effort.


Q: What are you most looking forward to during the season? 

Niamh: I think we are all looking forward to showing off all of what we have done, and all the work we have been putting in over the last year. We have basically been doing preseason for the best part of a year since we had to stop match play due to covid.

I am just so excited to get out there and put what we have been practising behind closed doors out on court, where we can show what we have been doing!


Q: How are you feeling about the Vitality Netball Super League being covered by Sky? 

Niamh: Last year it would be that you had the fans and the crowd, but like I’m from Northern Ireland – my mum might’ve come to 1 or 2 games, but she couldn’t get over for them all. Only the odd match was streamed on Sky last year, and this happened around 4 times in the season.

So, I just think that this is so good for Northern Ireland netball, in terms of all the Northern Irish teams being able to see our players playing in every game. Also, its brilliant for women’s sport in general, and having it on TV for 4 days every week Friday – Monday.  Netball on TV is such a huge leap forward from where we were even this time last year and I’m so excited about that and what might come off the back of it. Will there be increased funding? Netball might become more professional from this so, yeah, I’m really excited to see where it takes us.


Q: Do you have any pregame rituals? 

Niamh: I usually just like to get a ball in my hands and get moving. I don’t like sitting around for too long. When I’m sitting around it makes me feel more nervous. I like walking out on to the court and playing with the shooters. Although this year with the covid protocols, I don’t think that will be able to happen – so it would be good to stay nice and relaxed with a bit of music with the guys in the changing rooms.

I don’t actually have any lucky underwear, or I don’t put my left sock on before the right one (laughs). I’m not superstitious in that way. My routine is quite relaxed, I strap my ankles and have a chat.

No exciting hints or tips or anything! (laughs)

 

Q: How is it when you come up against other NI Warriors? 

Niamh: I think it’s really fun; it makes it feel homely when playing against them. Last year we played against Pulse and Thunder - so I came up against Caroline O’Hanlon and Michelle Drayne. Last year I was never really marking Michelle as such because she was the opposing WD. But especially last year, you were able to catch up with your teammates afterwards – it’s that fight to the death on court, but back to friendly fire. The craic is good too, in the group chat with a bit of friendly banter between the teams, especially with Dan Ryan being the head coach of Rhinos now.

I love seeing any teammates from NI, and knowing that there are 6 girls from home now taking the court – it is such a leap forward for NI netball and the best thing would be to have an NI super league team. Until then, it’s just so good seeing the other girls out and playing so well and doing well!

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