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Sam Bird

Sam Bird has led Pulse to their first ever play-offs. Image: Ben Lumley

Irrespective of what happens during this week’s play-offs, it has been a season to remember for London Pulse.

Sam Bird’s youngsters will compete in the club’s first-ever play-offs this week as their boundless energy and high-tempo netball have taken the Vitality Netball Superleague by storm.

Bird beams with pride when talking about her exciting crop of players, but isn’t content with just making up the numbers at the Copper Box this weekend.

“I’m sort of like a proud auntie really, as well as a coach,” said Bird when speaking ahead of the play-offs, which will see Pulse travel away to Loughborough Lightning on Friday night for a place in the Grand Final.

“It’s a testament to our performance group for enabling the club to be in this position – I’m very proud of them.

“We’ve made history in terms of it’s the first time our club has qualified for play-offs and the players have a sense of that, but equally for us this is the business end of the season.

“We want to really shine in the play-offs and nobody can deny, whatever the results are in the play-offs, that this is a team that is going to continue to grow and improve, and we’re still improving now.

“If we get our timing right, we might just cause a couple of surprises.”

If anybody didn’t see Pulse as serious contenders at the start of the season, they certainly do now.

Bird’s team have won 39 points – more than in their previous three seasons combined – and can now boast four Vitality Roses players, as well as four Futures players too.

For head coach and CEO Bird, the success comes as no shock; it is simply reaping the rewards of years of hard work and putting faith in talented young ballers.

“I came in as head coach and I said if we’re going to come last, we need to come last with young talent so that they can learn,” said Bird.

“We deliberately recruited some of the country’s best talent and the reason I’m not surprised they’ve done so well is that they are genuinely so exciting to work with.

“They have absolutely worked their socks off in training and the club giving them the confidence to believe they are good enough to become Roses and Future Roses, and we have lots of England players on our pathway as well.

“They are so driven, they are absorbed in netball, they want to represent England, they want to give their very best.”

While Pulse have consistently shone on court this season, the Pulse boss places equal importance on what happens off court.

Social media is regularly alight with Pulse players – and Bird – appearing in TikToks and Instagram stories, that reflect the tight bond the players have away from matches.

“Really importantly, the chemistry is really right and that’s something over the years in coaching I’ve learned that the chemistry of your squad is super important,” added Bird.

“Underpinning that is the competitive nature in training. You’ve got so many talented athletes all around the same age, all have a really strong desire to improve, they’re all really passionate about representing Pulse.

“Every training session we have is just a real privilege to be there, they push each other, they help each other, they celebrate each other’s successes and there’s a lovely attitude to growth as a team and as individuals.”

Bird has earned plenty of plaudits for Pulse’s performances this season but insists she has simply laid the foundations to allow her talented squad to excel.

“The biggest thing is the belief but underpinning that is the values that we’ve given them,” she said.

“It’s been about that we know you’re talented, we’ve selected you because you’re talented, but this is about hard graft and they’ve just been ready to take any opportunities they can have, they’ve pushed each other.

“We brought Lisa Alexander in who is an ex-Aussie Diamonds head coach and she was very influential in terms of the planning and pre-season work.

“They’ve responded well to the hard work that we’ve put them under and they’re reaping the rewards now.

“Creating the right environment was always going to produce good players.”

Pulse are now just two games from the most unexpected of Vitality Netball Superleague titles, and while Bird is firmly focused on upsetting the odds at the Copper Box, she knows the best is yet to come from those in pink and black.

“We’ll be demanding more of the players we’ve got,” said Bird on her plans for next season.

“This is a great take-off point for them to continue to improve, a lot of them are going to be in the Roses environment so they’re going to have that elite environment as well

“We’ll have an elite club environment, matched by the Roses environment which is just fantastic.

“The key things we’re looking at working on is developing our coaching expertise through our pathway, because we know we have so many talented players in our area. We need the coaching to match the talent we’ve got.

“It’s new for them to be in the play-offs, next year there will be an expectation that they perform well, and we’ll have to give them the strategies to be able to cope with that different pressure.

“That’s great because they’re all the things that we need our England Roses to be able to do to perform at international level, and that’s the sort of thing they need to become better players overall – it’ll be a new challenge, one I know they will relish.

“It’s just part of us growing, and becoming more successful as a club.”

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