At 15, Karen Greig was playing for England. She joined Manchester Thunder at 21 and achieved the rare feat of winning the Netball Super League as a player, assistant coach and head coach for the franchise.
The former England international is “super excited” about her latest project in setting up the Manchester Thunder Academy in Abu Dhabi in collaboration with UAE Netball and Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for us as a franchise to be a part of the movement in really encouraging girls playing sports,” Greig told The National during the Thunder’s first training session at the NYUAD indoor courts on Monday.
“I think it’s such a crucial time to be in Abu Dhabi with our girls taking part in our masterclasses this week,” said Greig, the former England international who was also England Under-21 coach and assistant for the senior team.
On the opening day, 60 girls registered for the first session of the week-long masterclasses at the NYUAD.
“We've got two of our coaches who have been part of the Manchester pathway. They have done a fantastic job in our academy and they were really good candidates to come out here.”
Emily Cowell and Joanne Dempsey are the two resident coaches of the academy in Abu Dhabi, while Greig will travel back and forth, when time permits, as the netball academy takes shape.
The academy is for young children and women from the ages of eight to 19, with the training sessions scheduled from Monday to Friday.
“It’s making sure we are really proactive in developing the talent that’s out here and making sure the levels are at the right pitch, and making sure the girls are getting developed across all of the skills you need to play netball,” Greig said.
“For them to know the basics in throwing, catching, balance, control and footwork. And then understanding the game and the tactical elements, and see them taking what they do in training to the matches.”
As part of the project, Greig plans to organise tournaments, inviting all the teams across the UAE and, potentially from around the world, to come and play in competitions.
“We will also be looking to take the girls potentially from the academy on tours to the UK or Australia to really give them a sense of being part of the Manchester Thunder and develop them,” she said.
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It’s also the first time ever that Manchester Thunder have had a pre-season tour and Greig was excited that they brought most of the first team squad to Abu Dhabi.
“Hopefully, as we continue to grow, Abu Dhabi can become the second home for us,” Greig said.
According to her, the academy will be based at venues across Abu Dhabi with the objective of bringing in a performance element.
Greig has seen the franchise evolve over 21 years.
“It has been huge,” she said. “Now being in Abu Dhabi is a kind of next step in the professionalisation of the franchise."
Having become undefeated champions in 2022, Greig said the new season, which starts in February, is a big year for them.
“We've got a new squad and some new faces, and faces that have been in our pathways and academy for a long time. They have gone away and got the experience and come back to us.
“Being here in Abu Dhabi for a pre-season is crucial for us to start rebuilding that culture in us and really setting us for what we want to achieve in 2023. We want to defend that title and hopefully come home with it next year.
“We want to make sure that we encourage both the Emirati and expatriate girls taking part in our programme. We are going into schools during this visit to promote netball among the girls."
Having been a player, assistant coach, head coach and netball director, Greig emphasised her love of competing, winning and playing netball.
“Another key thing for me is the safe environment netball is played in, and the friends you make and skills and values you learn, and that’s one of the reasons I have been involved in the sport for such a long time. You get to travel the world and visit some amazing places and learn about different cultures.”