Kalifa McCollin, one of four current T&T professional netballers, recently visited with some of T&T’s young and upcoming national netballers by invitation from interim Under-23 coach Sojourner “Suzie” Hyles, who is preparing the national youth team for the upcoming Caribbean Games.
She has also been keeping fit and ‘beating the books’, however, what the most recent captain of the “Calypso Girls” has not been doing is preparing with the national training team for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in England with the netball competition set to pass off on July 29 because she has been sidelined by the T&T Netball Association (TTNA).
“When the first week of training started, school also started. In the second week, there was a meeting with the team but I had school stuff to do so I missed the meeting,” said McCollin, 26, who for the first time in five years is based at home as she is pursuing an undergraduate degree in education at the University of T&T (UTT).
“As I wasn’t able to make it to the training sessions, I asked the manager to provide me with the gym programme, the training programme to do remotely. And that I would try to organise to meet up with the team twice a week for training because this is how it’s done all over the world. Professional netballers go to school and they train with their teams.
“The manager told me ‘if I can’t come then don’t bother to come back’. I then received a message saying ‘Removed from group’ (Whatsapp).”
McCollin, who has represented junior (Under-16), captained the youth (U-21) and senior teams, shared that in the past she has missed school because of representing T&T in the sport.
“Everywhere else, players’ organisations give the players something. TTNA has given nothing. Nothing to show. It’s just us, me, giving my time, I can’t accept that,” said a hurt McCollin. “I shouldn’t have to choose between netball, representing my country, and my education.”
‘Professional’ was also the term used by TTNA president Sherry-Ann Blackburn in supporting the decision made by the manager as the goal-attack specialist has been unavailable.
“Kalifa is a professional so she should know to operate professionally. Kalifa is not the only person at school. Nothing was coming from Kalifa. If there was a conversation then it would be addressed professionally. The manager asked for details,” said Blackburn. “Training is five times a week and you can’t attend none. There needs to be a culture shift as to how we manage the sport.
“The manager made efforts to communicate with Kalifa but did not get feedback. The manager requested her class schedule to work out a compromise in terms of training. If that is not forthcoming then it’s the next step.
McCollin, who made her senior national team debut in 2014 at age 17, shared that she did respond to the manager when asked for her class schedule via WhatsApp at the time saying: “I don’t have any information at all. Normally, I have Monday - Friday from 9 am to 4 pm. But the semester ends in two weeks and that is going to change.”
She added, “I told her that I couldn’t give a direct answer as the semester hadn’t finished so I had no clue what my class schedule would look like but I will try to tailor to suit them.
McCollin, who is also a Level II coach, has also played three seasons in the Vitality Netball Superleague in England, two seasons with the Celtic Dragons and one with the benecos Mavericks, and was among the “Calypso Girls” that competed in the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool and the 2015 edition in Sydney. She also played one season with the Southern Steel in the ANZ Premiership League in New Zealand and last season competed with the Collingwood Magpies in the Suncorp Super Netball League in Australia.
The three other pro netballers are Australian-based Samantha Wallace (New South Wales Swifts), who recently had surgery on her right knee, Jameela Mc Carthy, whose debut season in England ended prematurely with the Saracens Mavericks due to an injury and Shaquanda Greene-Noel, who has been among the top defenders in the English Vitality Netball Superleague with the Celtic Dragons.
Asked if McCollin will be welcomed back to training if she was interested, Blackburn said: “The team has not yet been selected. There must be two-way communication. She needs to go back to the manager and communicate,” said the TTNA president, who also confirmed that there has been changes to the coaching staff as Althea McCollin is no longer head coach of the senior national team
Blackburn said, “She has been relieved of her duties. Part of it was that after a review of the Tri Series in Jamaica, the performance was not at the standard we want to build on so we decided to make adjustments and put systems and persons in place, then we will review. It was tough seeing the result of the series”
In October, T&T, who was captained by Kalifa, was swept 3-0 by the Jamaican “Sunshine Girls”. The national training squad, who trains Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3pm to 8pm, is currently under the guidance of an interim staff coach Kemba Duncan, a former national player who served as assistant coach in the Jamaica series, and she is being supported by Joel “Twiggy” Young-Strong.
The 10th-ranked “Calypso Girls” will open the netball competition at the Commonwealth Games against host England and is also grouped with New Zealand, Malawi, Uganda and Northern Ireland in Group B while in Group A are Australia, Jamaica, South Africa, Scotland, Wales and Barbados.
Each pool plays five preliminary matches against the other teams in their pool, receiving two points for a win, one point for a draw and zero for a loss. The top two teams in each pool qualify for the semi-finals. The remaining teams will compete in play-offs to determine each team’s final placing on August 5.
The semifinals are scheduled for August 6. The gold/silver final and the bronze medal play-off is set for August 7.