M1 Asian Netball Championship 2018: What it takes to bring a title home | Sunday Observer

M1 Asian Netball Championship 2018: What it takes to bring a title home

The spectators are in a frenzy. With just under one minute on the clock the girls aggressively pass the ball from one to the other. Singapore has the ball now. And they make an easy goal. Sri Lanka soon follows with another goal. Their fans shout out in glee.

The camera pans briefly across the bench on which the Sri Lanka team coach Thilaka Jinadasa sits. She is calm. She was calm during most of the game- the anticipated finals of the M1 Asian Netball Championship 2018. At times she was even seen studying a document she had placed on her lap.

Singapore has the ball again, and it almost reaches the goal ring when the hooter goes off. Sri Lanka emerges the reigning champions with 69 to 50. Amidst the cheers you hear The Script’s ‘Hall of Fame”. No song would be better suited for the occasion.

Asia witnessed this winning moment. Sri Lanka welcomed the team with garlands and smiles. There are photos of them with Sports Minister Faiszer Musthapha and Sports Ministry Secretary Kamal Pathmasiri. The President’s Media released photos of the team with President Maithripala Sirisena, on Thursday (13).

Country proud

But, not everyone knows that this victory was not a Walk in the Park for the girls and their coach. It is not always so for anyone playing any game, but the Sri Lankan team has thus emerged victorious in M1 Asian Netball Championship 2018 through unnecessary hurdles. “I always told the team that we will show they are wrong through action, and not in words,” coach Jinadasa told the Sunday Observer. Before anything else, let’s meet the warriors: Chathurangi Jayasooriya (captain), Darshika Abeywickrama, Tharjini Sivalingam, Gayani Dissanayake, Thilini Waththegedara, Gayanjali Amarawansa, Sureka Gamage, Hasitha Mendis, Dulangi Wannithilake, Nauchalee Rajapakse, Dulanga Dhananji and Elilenthini Sethukavalar. Stand by Ruvini Yatigammana, Shamalee Rathnayake and Resuri Wijesundara.

When coach Jinadasa was in Brunei sometime back, working as the netball national coach, she did not feel contented. There was always this urge to return home and put together a Sri Lankan team to play in international games, and, to make her mother country proud. When she applied for the coach position, on the first occasion, the sports authorities denied her a Skype interview. They needed a face-to-face interview with the applicants. This was followed with two other let-downs.

But, in 2017 when the management changed, under the leadership of the then Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara, Jinadasa had confidence that something positive would happen. She applied, and the authorities agreed to set up a Skype interview.

There was no doubt that she had the qualifications for the position. Besides other qualifications, Jinadasa is the first female Olympian in Sri Lanka, she was behind the team that won the 2009 Asian Netball title, and she received coach accreditation from Netball Australia where she had spent a year studying new techniques.

When the team won the title in 2009 Sri Lanka was ranked 14 in the world and today it is 25. Just last year, youth netball players of Sri Lanka even failed to reach the top 5. However, Sri Lanka proudly holds the record of winning the most Asian titles- 4.

Jinadasa knew the team had the potential to take the title home but needed the right guidance. When she watched the team playing in one of the international games and saw their mistakes and weak points, she made a mental note of them. When she was given the word that she was selected as Sri Lanka’s National Netball coach she was thrilled. She immediately gave notice to Brunei and returned home. But, she was not happily welcomed by all.

“They called me an ‘outside coach’. I was not an ‘outside coach’. I am a Sri Lankan,” Jinadasa was hurt, but she took up the job promising herself that she will show those who doubted her abilities. And she did show just that. When the girls secured the big win she felt as though a ‘mountain had been taken off her back’. “I finally did it,” she said to herself.

On the other hand, the girls did not have it easy either. “My team came from all over Sri Lanka. We had rigorous training sessions six days a week throughout the season. They did not even have a proper place to stay,” Jinadasa said. Twenty-four-year-old Gayani Dissanayake remembers how hard it was. Originally from Kandy she was boarded in a house in Mount Lavinia. She had to take the bus at 5 am to be at the place where they practised at 6 am sharp, because for Jinadasa, ‘6 am was 6 am not 6.05 and definitely not past that’.

“It was hard for us. We did not have enough facilities here, but despite all that we did not miss any sessions,” she added.

Total dedication

Captain Chathurangi Jayasooriya shared the same sentiments. “There were rats in some of the places we stayed. It was very hard. But we had total dedication for the sport. The whole team knew they had to bring the title home.”

When they did win, Jayasooriya felt extremely happy. Their coach always said they had to win first and then voice their hardships. ‘When we win they will ask us if we faced any hardships, then we will pour out everything,’ she has told the girls. The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has, however helped the team, keeping their indoor stadium doors open.

For months they practised at this stadium, and during those months the SLAF postponed other programs that were to be held there. It was important for the girls to stay together for team-building. That is when they stayed at the Sports Ministry Hostel in Torrington during the latter part of their training. The ‘team-building’ needed science and technique. That came through a ‘dear friend’ of the coach Jinadasa. Nalaka Hewamadduma is a Mental Resilience Coach and Trainer, currently based in Torrington. When Jinadasa called him he said, he will help her because their ‘friendship goes back a long way’ but warned that she will not be able to afford him, which she really couldn’t. Then they came to an agreement, that he could be paid after they bring the title home.

“I had several sessions with the team, and they welcomed my approach,” he said.

Hewamadduma adopted a special technique he had developed, known as ‘Mental Process Re-engineering’ for which he has the patent. The technique takes a scientific approach to building resilience within the sportsperson. Mental wellbeing is key for best performance, and the team knew this.

Hewamadduma custom made a programme for the team and kept in touch with them throughout the season. Two hours before the final tournament he spoke to the team on FaceTime. This is how the team built up the synergy they needed to face an equally competitive Singapore team.

Hewamadduma knew the team will win. He saw how mentally prepared they were. “And I told Thilaka that she had a group of warriors”. She already knew. The next step for them is to win the Netball World Cup in Liverpool in 2019, to which both, Sri Lanka and runners-up Singapore have qualified. The girls have a realistic vision for that.

“Our hope is to be in the Top 10 at the World Cup,” Jayasooriya said.

If the team has the backing of coach Jinadasa whose contract will soon expire, and Hewamadduma who does not want to continue to work ‘voluntarily’ the team would have a better chance at bringing another title home.