Trinidad netball’s Daystar Swift on the lessons she’s learning in the ANZ Premiership and why she can’t wait to use them back home
Trinidad netball star Daystar Swift has revealed how playing in the ANZ Premiership has opened her eyes to what her national side are missing out on.
The 6ft 3ins defender left her family behind to move to New Zealand in January to compete in one of the top netball leagues in the world.
She currently plays for Northern Stars, one of the newer teams in the league, and since joining has realised how far behind her home team is and what needs to be done in order to reach the top level again.
In 1979, Trinidad and Tobago were the joint winners of the Netball World Championships with New Zealand and Australia, but since then their standard and structure has fallen.
Trinidad and Tobago are currently ranked tenth in the world rankings, but Swift is eager to get back into the top five and is doing everything she can to help.
The 28 year-old, who has earned 50 caps for Trinidad and Tobago, told NewsChain: "Coming over to New Zealand was an eye-opener.
"Our netball [in Trinidad] has since deteriorated in terms of funding. I think that is one of the major issues in our netball programme. The support for players in terms of gym facilities and mental health support isn’t good.
“It made me realise where we are as opposed to where the top teams in the world are right now, and the kind of work we need to put in if we are to get back to the top or in a higher ranking.”
But the Trinidadian athletes are not paid and and cannot therefore focus entirely on their sport.
“It’s hard to get that commitment from the women especially because they are not being paid,” she said.
“[The people at the top’s] priority is elsewhere…all the players on our national team work.
"You work during the day and then the time you get to training you are really tired as opposed to other top teams where netball is their job.
"Before a competition, we gather to start training but it's hard to ask athletes to commit and give up so much time.
“For the World Cup we might get paid $200 for the entire training season.”
It is not just the lack of funding the squad receives, but the structure of the programme has its faults too.
Swift said: "We don’t have a structured gym programme in Trinidad, whereas the club teams over here do. And simple things like video analysis, we don’t have the high tech equipment available to us.
"Obviously we would like to play more international games to help our points and that is affecting us in our ranking because we have to wait till the Commonwealth Games or the World Cup to actually play teams.
"Whereas the top teams are constantly playing each other and building points to improve their rankings, but we don't have this advantage.
“We play against ourselves or we play against a team of male athletes just because of their physicality and height. We beat the men and sometimes it defeats the purpose, we need a better team to play against now.”
But when asked why the women still play, it is because they feel a strong sense of ‘pride’ in representing their country.
She added: “We have a huge sense of pride in playing for our country, that is why we still go back to training because of the pride and wanting to do better.”
But Swift is now adapting to a league which is financially stable and where the players actually get paid.
Despite only having been there a couple of months, she says she has seen noticeable changes in her performance.
She said: "I am developing my skill level over here and I think physically I am stronger than I was coming in.
"I think the record shows it. They record everything here and so I can see the progress. I have seen fast improvement so physically I am in a better place.
"I am learning a lot and would definitely like to take some of this knowledge over, so I am absorbing as much as I can.
“The coaches in Trinidad are very open-minded to learn and they know there is still an opportunity for growth.”
Swift firmly believes that making the decision to go to New Zealand was for the best, but it has meant leaving her family behind.
And due to the coronavirus pandemic, she has been unable to see her partner or three-year-old daughter for months. But she is looking forward to August 25, the date she flies home to be reunited with her family.
She said: "I had the option to bring my partner and my daughter here at the start of the season but it was a bit tough because he works as well, so to get that time off would have taken a lot.
"We made the decision to bring my family over for a month but it so happened that just as they were supposed to leave the borders were closed in Trinidad and then they closed in New Zealand.
"In my pastime, I would go on the internet and look for things to do and I ended up making a list for when they came.
"Because I knew they were coming I didn’t want to go anywhere and explore because I wanted to experience it with them, so I deliberately didn’t go sightseeing and I still haven’t.
“It was really tough leaving them behind in the initial stages, but it’s easier for me to deal with now.
"They [ANZ Premiership] said they would organise accommodation and tickets and they checked up on me especially when they realised that [my family] would not be able to make it. Then they were really really supportive in terms of looking for alternatives.
“They even gave me the option of going back but that was a day late because the boarders had already shut in Trinidad. But even if the borders were open I’m glad I made the decision to stay just to experience what it’s like and I’m enjoying my time here.”
The ANZ Premiership is back underway after being suspended in March after one round.
With normality slowly returning, the players have to obey Covid-19 rules and have to fill in a short questionnaire every day.
She said: "The right implications have been put in place which makes me feel more confident to want to play.
"We sanitise regularly and you have to trace everything you do, for example if you go to the supermarket you have to log it in.
"We don’t get tested but every morning we fill out a quick questionnaire based on how we feel.
“So if you have any symptoms you won’t be able to attend training and you would need clearing from a medical doctor to allow you back into training.”
The side currently sit in fourth after winning three out of ten games so far, but Swift has her sights set on finishing in the top two in her debut year.
In a world where abnormality is the new norm, it’s hard to predict where she’ll be setting her sights next.