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Melissa Bessell of Severn Stars.

Melissa Bessell, Coach of Severn Stars during the Vitality Super League match between Severn Stars and Wasps at Studio 001, Wakefield, England on 14th January 2021.

Severn Stars are a relatively new addition to the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) having joined the league in 2017.

Setting up a team from scratch can be a burdensome task for those behind the scenes but, just a few years later, they are an instantly recognisable member of the division.

Their seamless embedding is testament to the hard work behind the scenes and they have appointed a coach who mirrors that work ethic on the sidelines.

Melissa Bessell started her coaching journey 11,000 miles away in her native New Zealand where she was being raised by a mother who was equally transfixed with sports.

“I first got into coaching through my mother who was also an international coach and played at a very high level. She was a fanatic of all sports and we were doing all sorts as a family, you even had to win at Monopoly,” she said.

“It was embedded in me early on to get active and began playing netball at the age of six. She was also my coach and had a huge influence on me. I just fell into coaching after that.”

After working in New Zealand, Bessell made the bold move of applying for her first-ever international job with Fiji in 2007.

She got the job and worked on the island until 2009. She still has a connection with the country and even has a Fijian international in her Stars side in Adi Bolakoro.

Her first foray into international management provided a good starting point for the up-and-coming coach.

“I was coaching at a high level in New Zealand and had Yvonne Willering as my mentor, coaching alongside her for four years. I just wanted to challenge myself so I decided to take an international role,” she said.

“I was very lucky to get the Fiji job as my first rodeo amongst the palm trees and white sand. I was there for 18 months and just loved the experience. It was a great start and great platform for me.”

“I knew I had to find more experiences and just took a challenge which is what you have to do as a coach. I decided to take a gamble, put my name in the hat and sometimes you get lucky.”

In 2010, she swapped the sunny beaches for Cardiff when she appointed as the first full-time High Performance Coach of the Welsh netball team.

Bessell truly caught the eye with her work in Wales and quickly set to work on improving the team’s position and also the infrastructure within Welsh netball.

She coached Wales to an unprecedented ninth place at the 2011 Netball World Cup and even won their first gold medal at the Netball Europe Open Championships in 2013, helping to achieve a world ranking of eighth.

“It was one of the most extraordinary journeys of my career. The Welsh are so passionate and are so similar to the Kiwis. They are so passionate about life in general,” she said.

“It was a fantastic journey to help with the infrastructure and I’m still involved with some of those kids. It was definitely a change in climate from Fiji but I loved it. It’s made me stronger, a better coach today and I’ve still got three Welsh girls in my team at Stars.

“The beauty of our sport is that each culture is different. They all bring their own flavour into it and that’s what makes our sport so great. As a coach, I get to get involved in those communities which helps me grow. It’s the same sport, we just bring different dynamics to it.”

Part of her role also had her coaching at Celtic Dragons. Bessell guided the team from towards the bottom of the league to the team’s only-ever Grand Final in 2013.

“The beauty of our sport is that each culture is different. They all bring their own flavour and that’s what makes our sport great.” – Melissa Bessell.

Dragons missed out to Team Bath Netball by five goals at the University of Worcester Arena, where Bessell now resides as Head Coach of Severn Stars.

She was appointed in July 2019 after spells with Team Northumbria and London Pulse as an Assistant Coach.

“The last time I was Head Coach was at Dragons. When the Stars job came up, I wanted that opportunity to be a Head Coach again. I just love the franchise and I have so much in common with them. I love the players, team management and the franchise itself,” she said.

“They had already built a strong culture before me and I felt it straight away. You just have to look at who came first in Pam Cookey who started building with Anita Navin. They saw what was needed and started building those foundations with the Novas.

“It was nice walking into a team that took me with open arms. I’ve brought a bit of me into the club and the Pathway which is something I’m passionate about. I’ve given the kids a good opportunity this year and building in our own area is something I identify with.”

Bessell’s debut campaign was cut short due to Coronavirus but she now has the opportunity to see what her Stars side are made of in 2021.

One of the leaders of the group is fellow New Zealander and captain Liana Leota who joined Stars from champions Manchester Thunder in 2019.

“As soon as I got this position, I knew exactly that Liana was the one I wanted. We’re from the same and are determined in what we want. When she said yes, I knew that was going to be a massive tick for the franchise and our players,” she said.

“It’s important to have a relationship with your captain – I trust her and if she disagrees with me, she will tell me. You want to create a group of strong women who give their opinion. That’s what she brings.”

Due to her influences and changes in environment, Bessell says she has changed heavily as a coach over the years.

Her coaching methods and opinions around social media have also had to change because of the current circumstances.

“I’ve drilled it into the girls that they need to go for it on social media this season. They need to put as much as they possibly can. If people message them, they need to make sure they go back especially with our young community. They are now embodying them.

“We’re making sure we can really connect with them so they can feel like they’re playing. They are more than just role models now so it’s really important. I’m just very lucky to have Nia Jones on that front!

“That core message of #RiseAsOne is beyond important for our sport and holistically. We play netball because there are seven on court, 20 that come to training and even more behind the scenes. We will rise like never before and the sport is going to go crazy.”

Make sure that you get the news as it happens by following us on Twitter and Instagram. Find out more about the #RiseAsOne campaign here and read from the leaders of the league here.

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