Sophia Candappa speaks exclusively to Sky Sports about the development of the Netball Players Association and driving maternity policies within netball in England.

On April 1 last year, Wasps announced their vice-captain would be stepping away from the court for the rest of the Superleague season due to the fact that she was expecting her first child.

The mid-courter was to remain firmly involved with Wasps and she combined those commitments with her role as a Player Liaison Officer for the Netball Players Association (NPA) in England.

The NPA is run by current and retired netball players and Candappa became involved after learning more about its work and wanting to make a difference.

“I met Liz Bloor, who is the main driver behind the NPA, during the season when she came into Wasps to give us a talk on what the NPA was all about,” Candappa told Sky Sports.

“I was really inspired and almost kicked myself a bit for not having joined until that point. Once I had a really clear understanding of being part of a Players Association, I quickly joined.

“Then, when I saw that the two roles as Player Liaison Officers had come up, I thought that I really did want to make a difference within the sport. I think that this is a massive step forwards in terms of professionalising netball.”

The @netballpa has done so much for me over the last year and continues to do so, great appointments of @sophiacandappa & @SG_TeamManager perfect for the roles!

— jade clarke (@jadeyclarke) August 27, 2019

Candappa is a teacher, Wellington College’s head of psychology, and familiar with the structure of unions and associations.

From a netballing perspective, the NPA is available to individuals within the England Roses programme and to Superleague players, with the mid-courter going on to explain how it works in practice.

“We have a number of partners who we feel are really beneficial to our members in terms of the services that they offer. For example legal support through Tactic Connect which is really important in terms of negotiating contracts,” she said.

All players within England's Roses programme and those at Superleague franchises can become members of the NPA All players within England's Roses programme and those at Superleague franchises can become members of the NPA All players within England’s Roses programme and those at Superleague franchises can become members of the NPA

“As we’re moving into this era of players getting paid, a lot of players don’t fully understand what they’re signing all the time. I don’t think that all players are aware of their rights and how much they should be getting paid so having Tactic Connect is absolutely vital.

“We have a discounted rate to use their services and we’ve also got a relationship for injury insurance because not every club within the Superleague covers their players’ medical insurance within their contract.

“Netball always has injuries and I think that players need to be really aware that if you are playing to that top level and you do get injured, then you want to have a top-level recovery which involves being able to see the top surgeons.

“Also there’s a welfare section where we’ve got three partners supporting in terms of psychology and mental health so that players are able to access that support.”

This is lovely to hear @Sasha_Corbin – thank you for your kind words, we all really appreciate them 馃槉 and love seeing both yourself and @SoloSessionsUK go from strength to strength 馃挭

— Netball Players Association (@netballpa) September 23, 2019

Candappa is passionate about trying to increase the membership of the NPA – which costs the equivalent of two coffees a month – and also about widening the portfolio of partners who work with the NPA.

Another area close to the new mother’s heart is the development of maternity policies at Superleague franchises.

“I’m probably one of the first people from within a club to get pregnant during the season so my experience has sparked a discussion around policies,” Candappa said.

“Wasps have been brilliant but they’re obviously a massive organisation that have that infrastructure in place in terms of maternity. I’m hoping that it inspires other clubs to do the same.

My biggest achievement… our proudest moment. Welcome to the world Otis Carmichael Barratt born on 16.9.19 at 6.13am, weighing 7lb9ozs. Totally & utterly in love with our pickle, our son, our grizzly bear 馃惢 our Otis 鉂わ笍 #newbornbabybubble #inlove #babyboy @Murray_Barratt

— Sophia Candappa (@sophiacandappa) September 17, 2019

“We’re looking at trying to get England Netball to enforce a policy that each Superleague franchise has to follow. Essentially, the difficulty is that in a normal job you can work up close until you give birth but in netball you can’t – you are recommended to only play up to 12 weeks.

“We’re kind of going down the route of treating it a bit like an injury in the fact that you’re still involved. You’ll still go to training just with other roles and responsibilities which you can take off the court.

“It means that you’re still active, involved and are getting paid rather than just being completely cut off.

“I think a lot of players wouldn’t want to be cut off but there are also some people who are really ill in their first trimester. Really, it’s just knowing that there’s support in place and that you’re being backed by your club.”

Confirmed! The return of Josie Huckle, Amy Flanagan and Sophia Candappa completes the Class of 2020. Now the hard work begins! #WeAreWasps

— Wasps Netball (@Wasps_Netball) September 18, 2019

Continuing on from the subject of maternity cover, the mid-court player is very clear about wanting to show that you can combine both motherhood and elite sport. For her, it’s not about having to choose between one or the other.

“I do feel really passionately about the fact that just because we’re females and we have children, that shouldn’t stop us from playing top level sport. Why do the males just get to go and play top level sport?

“The other thing is that there is a lot of talk about people saying, ‘Just enjoy motherhood and just relax’ and I have every intention to enjoy motherhood but also netball is part of my job and it’s something that I love doing,” she said.

Candappa is a key leadership figure for Wasps, both on and off the court Candappa is a key leadership figure for Wasps, both on and off the court Candappa is a key leadership figure for Wasps, both on and off the court

“I have every intention to return to doing it because I do think that I have a few more years left to play at the top level.”