Coach hails success of ParaNetball club at Manchester Thunder

It’s been two years since Katie Thompson, 30, from Manchester set up the first ParaNetball team in the North West, Dominoes Netball Club.

But she didn’t stop there. Just one year later, she founded the first ParaNetball club at Manchester Thunder.

Her passion for Netball started in primary school. Now after 10 years in the Sports Development sector, she hopes ParaNetball can help tackle the issues faced in disability sports.

“I’ve not got any disabled siblings or family members. My heart’s always been in trying to do something around the disabled community and giving them opportunities that they wouldn’t always get. 

“Since I was a lot younger, I’ve always said I’d love to work in disability sport but unfortunately, options are limited and I wasn’t sure how to get there.

“After working professionally in sports, and then for the local authority in Manchester within the sports arm, I found a lot of people were talking about how important disability sports opportunities are. But not as many people were doing anything about it.

“I’m the type of person, if I want to go after something, I’m just going to do it myself.”

According to the Office for National Statistics’ report ‘Disability, England and Wales: Census 2021’, the northwest of the country has one of the highest number of disabled people, making up 19.8% of the population with 1.4 million. 

ParaNetball team at Manchester Thunder

Talking about filling this gap, Katie said: “So I thought, it’s something I’m passionate about I’ll give it a try. I initially set up a club for young people with disabilities. I didn’t make it specific as to learning disabilities or physical because I didn’t know who I was gonna attract, I left it completely open. 

“But I knew I couldn’t run it on my own. So I had to find other volunteers who share the same passions as me. To which I then built up a small volunteer workforce to come on board. 

“I thought if it doesn’t work out, then at least I’ve tried. I ended up actually getting a lot of success.”

Balancing both a full-time career as a Sports and Physical Welfare Lead with Greater Manchester Moving and heading the ParaNetball at Manchester Thunder can at times be quite challenging. 

“I have quite high expectations of myself. So if I don’t achieve something, I see that as a huge failure, whereas a lot of people would see that as fine,” she added.

“Setting up something from scratch, was a big risk for me because I know I said if it didn’t work out then so be at least have tried. If it didn’t, I would probably see that as a bit of a failure. So, I probably did more than most people would to ensure it was a success.”

Katie’s efforts have paid off in the form of numerous awards with the latest being the Diversity & Inclusivity Champion at the Made in Manchester Awards. 

Although the award was a personal achievement, she believes it’s for everyone who has put in the time and effort with her along the way. It also shines a huge spotlight on disability sports.

Thompson says the UK government’s recent decision to remove the role of a dedicated minister of state for disabled people has been a setback.

“Its certainly a disadvantage for the disabled community,” Katie added. “Are we not important enough?”

The team does not compete in tournaments, however, in February 2023, England Netball hosted a ParaChampionship in Nottingham which the team participated in.

“It was a huge experience for these young people that never ever had this opportunity in their lives to do anything like this.

It gave them a bit of competition without them feeling like they’re different or they can’t do something. They came third in the end, the joy on their faces was worth everything. It was like the best day of their lives.”

People like myself, take going to tournaments for granted. But to them, it brings so much happiness.”

The sessions at Manchester Thunder are free and take place on the first Saturday of each month for those aged 11 – 25.

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