Bernard says Francis’s departure opens doors for others
FORMER Netball Jamaica (NJ) President Marva Bernard says that while Connie Francis’s departure as the senior Sunshine Girls head coach will leave a significant gap, it opens the door for others to step in.
The 54-year-old Francis, whose contract is set to expire on September 4, is without doubt Jamaica’s most successful netball coach, having led the Sunshine Girls to a number of notable triumphs during various spells as senior team boss.
“Connie had told me some time ago that she would carry the team to this World Cup and then that would be it. She has served long, and coaching is very stressful,” Bernard told the Jamaica Observer while noting that Francis’s commitment to the development of the sport is virtually unmatched.
“I respect her decision because I know she wouldn’t come to it lightly. Connie has always told me personally that netball is her life.
“I’m sure she is probably going to still do some coaching but not at the pressure cooker level. Her contribution is indelible. I have worked with Connie and so I respect her; and if she thinks it is time to pass on the baton, she knows best,” Bernard said.
Francis, a former outstanding national player, is yet to speak publicly on her coaching future. But Netball Jamaica President Tricia Robinson recently confirmed that prior to Jamaica’s bronze-medal finish at this summer’s World Cup, Francis had expressed her intent to step down after the tournament.
Francis’s most recent stint as Sunshine Girls head coach began in October 2019 following the team’s disappointing fifth-place finish at that summer’s Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England.
The Sunshine Girls have made impressive progress since then.
They won a historic silver medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.
And more recently Francis steered Jamaica to third place at the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa. It ended the country’s 16-year wait for a medal at the global showpiece.
Francis was a player in five World Netball Championships, from 1986 and 2003, before becoming head coach in 2007. That year, she guided the Sunshine Girls to World Cup bronze in Auckland, New Zealand. The Sunshine Girls finished second in the inaugural Fast Net Series in England in 2009.
Bernard, a former Americas Netball president, expressed gratitude to Francis for her service on the court as a player and from the sidelines as a tactician.
“Connie was also a player who represented Jamaica well. She came back as a coach in 2007 and won the bronze medal that year,” she said.
“I’ve been with Connie from she was a player, and when she was captain I was her manager. Her passion is netball, and I fed off of it in my early years as team manager. Connie loves netball and has given it her all, and I believe if anybody wants to leave, they should depart on a high note so we should just congratulate her for what she’s done for the sport in this country,” Bernard remarked.
Bernard stated that the departure of Francis provides opportunities for prospective coaches to grow and improve in the industry.
“Nature does not like empty space. Nature abhors a vacuum and the opportunity for other coaches to come in, and so netball will continue.
“We have had good coaches in the past who left and we replaced them with good coaches who would take some time to get their sea legs. Connie will be missed but everybody brings something to the table,” Bernard said.
She urged the local governing body to ensure that coaches are well-prepared before throwing them in at the deep end of international netball.
“One of the things I knew that happened when Molly Rhone was president was that we sent Connie and Oberon [Pitterson-Nattie) to Australia to study with the Australia Institute of Sport, to study and to develop their knowledge of the game.
“I sent Oberon to New Zealand for a week to one of the Fast5 games, to just understudy the coaches and to look at all the technical aspects of the technology that was used in their preparation of the team.
“And so this is something that Netball Jamaica should be doing, because you put people in top jobs and you don’t prepare them to do it,” Bernard said.