Alongside its fantastic facilities open to the public, the Copper Box Arena is also the home ground for top performing sports teams – including London Pulse, part of the Vitality Netball Superleague. Like so many athletes, the team have faced a number of challenges over the past year, from an abrupt end to training to competing in closed-door venues. We spoke to Hali Adio, co-captain of London Pulse about her experiences throughout lockdown and what it’s like training on the Park.
What’s it like training at the Copper Box Arena?
I think it’s great! Firstly, the facilities are amazing – to be able to do a gym session upstairs then come straight down and do a court session straight after is not something I’ve had before and I feel so lucky. Another thing – it’s massive! There’s loads of space and it’s kept well, plus the staff are fantastic.
Copper Box Arena is also where loads of the big games go on, so it’s really nice to be able to say ‘yeah that’s our home!’. We also get to train on the show court itself which gets us used to it and puts us in a great position.
Tell us a bit about your experiences last year when the first lockdown came into place.
We started off the league really well last year and were near the top – we’d won all our matches. Then… lockdown happened! It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be – I was still at uni so was balancing my uni work and exams with team Zoom sessions. It was nice to be able to spend that amount of time with my family too, particularly my little sister (she’s 13, I’m 22). Spending time with her was really special, especially as we got to do some netball stuff together! I was inspired by my older sister so it’s nice to be able to do the same with her.
Did the team stay in touch much during lockdown? How did you all keep your fitness levels up?
We had a 10am zoom session every day with the squad and these were focused around fitness. I enjoyed these but they were quite long! If you couldn’t make these each day, as long as you were doing your own fitness sessions and keeping active it was OK. As a performance athlete I have to make sure I was keeping fit – I’m not a fan of running but I was going so much during lockdown that I actually started enjoying it by the end!
When restrictions eased it was nice being in London as a lot of the other girls on the team live down here too so we were able to meet in pairs or threes and exercise together outside in our local parks.
How long did it take you to get back into the swing of playing together as a team again?
It didn’t take that long, actually – the Zoom sessions helped with that, and a lot of us are in London so we’d often be meeting up in parks when that was allowed so we already felt connected. We’ve been playing together for quite a while so it was more getting to the movement and our set plays and reminding ourselves of these
Now games are back, what’s it like playing without crowds? Did it take some adjustment?
I think it’s really different. Quite a few players really thrive off the crowd and pushing on for the fans – it does motivate you! So we’ve had to learn to do that ourselves, and also to provide really good support from the bench or even on court as it can feel quiet sometimes.
One positive is there’s a bit less pressure, in a way. How you personally play might be different to what crowds are used to or expect, so there’s less pressure to change your play to perform in a way that works for the crowds.
Netball seems to be getting bigger and bigger over the last few years – why do you think this is?
It’s amazing! Netball used to be previously known as an all-girls sport but now we’ve become a lot more inclusive with boys and men playing too. There’s a whole men’s league!
London Pulse have just set up sessions for people who are visually impaired too. We’re all about trying to include different people and diversifying the sport. We’ve got a lot of football fans who support netball or the children of footballers playing netball. It’s great.
What do you think are the benefits of playing netball?
Fitness is key – having an hour a day of physical activity is really important. For me, I’ve been playing netball properly since I was in year 9 and I’ve definitely grown over time from being a bench player to being captain of a superleague team. I never saw that trajectory happening for me, but I’ve changed over time – I’m more independent, confident, better at team work, time management. It’s helped so many skills which are important in my life. It’s also helped me make close friends who I’d never normally come across in day to day life if netball wasn’t a part of it.
What would you say to someone who might not think netball is for them, whether watching or playing?
I think netball is for everyone. As mentioned, we are working hard to diversify the sport and make it more inclusive. The rest needs to come from you – you’ve got to go out there, out of your comfort zone and just try it. I tried so many different sports but it was someone telling me that I had potential to play at a higher level that enabled me to take the step. Self-belief is important but so is having someone else believe in you too.
When it comes to watching netball, particularly a superleague match, I think people will be pleasantly surprised. So many people have an idea in their head of what netball is, they just think it’s a school girl sport, but when you come and watch the matches we play it’s a completely different story. I’ve had friends come to games and afterwards they say ‘I had no idea it was like that!’. The netball we play is so fast, it’s completely different to the sort of school netball people might be used to.
The Copper Box Arena is now welcoming up to 1,000 fans back for Vitality Netball Superleague matches. To find out more about the safety measures in place and buy your tickets, or for information on how to view the matches from home, click here.