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Kat Ratnapala: “Without volunteers and fans, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. We’re just proud to step out on court on behalf of them.”

WAKEFIELD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: X during the Vitality Netball Superleague match between Surrey Storm and Saracens Mavericks at Studio 001 on February 14, 2021 in Wakefield, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Vitality Netball Superleague)

For netball players at the elite level, perhaps it can feel like the head coach should have all the answers. 

Yet despite reaching the pinnacle of club competition in the UK, Saracens Mavericks boss Kat Ratnapala insists it’s a constant educational process: “There are a lot of people who think we know everything and we don’t,” she states. 

“We are really human and it’s important that we get that across to our players. We’re learning on the job as much as anyone else and there is only so much you can do on court; you just have to trust the players to deliver the messages you’re sending across to them.” 

The Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) is entering its 16th year and Ratnapala has witnessed a significant shift in the netball landscape during that time, which demands a need to always be learning. 

“The VNSL has changed massively. I was involved when it was the Super Cup as a player many moons ago, so it’s changed dramatically along with women’s sport,” she says. 

“The number of eyes on netball has changed which is fantastic. Moving into that semi-professional era is really exciting for the game and everyone involved.  

“I’ve changed massively growing up in the role and learning on my feet. It’s trial and error, working through obstacles. It’s a real honour to work with Mavericks, represent them on and off court, and to be in a job I love doing.” 

Appointed as Mavericks’ Director of Netball in 2017, Ratnapala’s history with the franchise stretches back further with a two-year stint as an assistant coach from 2011-2013 and she returned to the club in that role for the 2017 season prior to landing her current position. 

“It’s not a one-man show, it’s the support network around me that makes Mavericks what it is.” – Kat Ratnapala

The journey to this point began at the University of Bath where she struck a bond with the person who would become her most inspirational figure within the sport. 

“I went down to the University of Bath, studied there and we had the amazing Lyn Gunson as our Director of Netball. She was a formidable coach, person and mentor,” exclaims Ratnapala. 

“A number of VNSL and England coaches have come through her pathway – she’s left a massive legacy with all. She would be the main person I looked up to.”  

Working with the legendary Gunson for a number of years at Bath’s high-performance centre, Ratnapala’s talent was clear but it wasn’t a continuous ascent to the top of the domestic game. 

“I had moved back home and had stopped doing everything with netball for a couple of years, and then went back in as the pathway coach for the South,” she explains. 

“I then got in touch with Mavericks and started as an assistant coach working with Karen Atkinson, Camilla (Buchanan) and Maggie (Jackson). It was all one snowball effect if I’m being honest.  

“It’s not something I thought I would ever get into but it’s something I absolutely love. I love working with people, getting the best of athletes and as a team on court.” 

The year 2020 was difficult for everyone across the world and Hertfordshire-based Mavericks did their best to ensure the future of netball in the area. 

Ensuring their participation in the 2021 season is a success alone and Ratnapala is keen to praise all of the people that contribute to the development of the franchise. 

“It’s not a one-man show, it’s the support network around me that makes Mavericks what it is,” she says. 

“It’s not just the coaching staff – it’s the physios, the psychologists, the team manager. Every single person plays a huge part in what we deliver. It’s down to everyone.  

“We have an amazing volunteer network within Mavericks and they are a massive reason why we are on court. Without them and the fans, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. We’re just proud to step out on court on behalf of them.” 

Unfortunately, supporters can’t follow their team from inside the arena but with every match broadcast live as part of a landmark partnership between England Netball and Sky Sports, they won’t miss a moment of the action. 

And that is excellent news for Ratnapala: “The Mavericks fans have been insane. The biggest thing is seeing the fans engaging with us. They might not be in the venue but they can still tune in,” she says excitedly. 

“The numbers I’ve seen from YouTube and Sky have been fantastic. To be able to get our players out to that many people is great for us. We feel your presence and want to do the best we can for our fans.  

“That’s what lovely about it this year. The amount of comments I’ve had from fans from other teams saying how amazing it was to see Mavericks on court is amazing.  

It’s been really heart-warming. The support has been really positive and I can’t thank fans enough for their support.” 

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