Netball World Cup: 5-minutes with Francesca Williams
Ahead of England’s first game of the Netball World Cup against Barbados this evening, we sat down with England Goal Defence and UoB Alumni Francesca Williams.
Photo creds @bensnapsstuff
Fran has played netball professionally since graduating from the University of Birmingham in 2021 and is part of the recently-crowned Vitality Super League Champions, Loughborough Lightening. During her time at Birmingham, Fran was an invaluable member of the UoB Netball Club Performance Squad and an Elite Sports Scholar.
Read on to hear more about how Fran’s time at Birmingham helped to prepare her for life as a full-time, professional netballer, how she managed to balance her Economics degree alongside elite sport, what she enjoyed most about being a student-athlete at UoB and what she’ll be taking into this year’s World Cup from her debut experience in 2019.
How do you feel your time at the University of Birmingham helped to prepare you for life as a full-time England Rose?
My time at the University of Birmingham, and in particular working with the Performance Centre as part of the scholarship set up there, was huge in terms of the role it played and how it helped me to prepare to become a full-time athlete.
I made the transition from the England pathway onto the Vitality Rose’s full-time programme whilst studying at the university and I think the performance sport support network that the University has set up is something that enabled me to do this so seamlessly – it’s something I’ll always be grateful for. I really feel like the scholarship programme and Performance Centre practitioners helped me understand what it’s like to live and train as a full-time athlete while I was studying, going above and beyond to support me and provide the individualised help that an athlete needs – whether that be on court, in the gym, with your nutrition or managing your dual-career lifestyle.
What did you enjoy most about representing UoB Sport in BUCS?
The thing I enjoyed the most about representing the University and being involved in BUCS while I was at Birmingham was the fun that I had with it and the life-long friends I’ve made.
The BUCS Premier League is huge in netball – it’s got athletes from across different super league teams and international programmes, so it’s a really good standard of netball that challenged me to consider other areas away from my usual role on court, ultimately improving my overall game.
How did you manage to balance your Economics degree with elite-level netball and everything that comes with it?
I managed to complete my Economics alongside being a full-time athlete purely because of the flexibility that the Economics department and the Business School gave me.
I made the transition to being a full-time athlete whilst I was at the university, so as I started to play netball more regularly, attend more frequent England camps and travel abroad for tournaments, that’s when I decided to split my second year. This is something I didn’t know was even possible until I started discussing options with my scholarship Performance Lifestyle mentor, who offered me support and helped me make that communication between my lecture and coaches to ensure it worked seamlessly.
Once I’d built those working relationships, I felt so supported throughout my degree, in terms of when I maybe needed extensions or deadlines or rearranging exams or even sitting exams away from the University. I actually took some exams once on a tour with England Netball, so that flexibility was just massive in ensuring I could keep up both academics and elite sport. All of that wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have that support and communication help from the scholarship team.
In 2019, you were the youngest player on the England Roses Netball World Cup Squad: what did you learn during that experience that you’ll take with you to South Africa?
Although I’m no longer the youngest member of the squad, the experience I had four years ago has definitely made me feel really prepared, confident and ready for what’s to come this summer, especially the intensity of tournament netball. We’re going to play eight games in ten days and knowing what that feels like each day, having to play a completely different style against other international teams, that’s massive.
I think it’s also just made me feel really hungry to make even more of an impact on the team in this tournament and see what I can do and push myself to, you know, really strive for more. I think four years ago I was just excited to be there and I couldn’t wait to soak in the environment and enjoy the whole experience. I’ll still do the exact same this summer, but I feel even more ready to step up.
What are you most looking forward to about the 2023 Netball World Cup?
Aside from the competition element – because I’m super competitive and can’t wait for that! – the thing I’ll enjoy the most is the fact that it’s in South Africa. It’s really exciting that an African nation is hosting the netball World Cup for the first time, as every time I’ve been to South Africa before they’ve always been amazing hosts and super welcoming and I can’t wait to see what kind of show they put on. And you know, that culture come to life through the way that they put on the World Cup and run the tournament. I think the crowds and the way that everyone’s going to get behind all the teams and as well as support our own team, I think that’s going to be massive.
We can’t wait to watch Fran and the rest of the England Roses squad in action over the coming 10 days and wish them all the very best of luck. For those of you that wish to tune in and support from home, all matches will be broadcast live on Sky Sports, with one game per day also available on the Sky Sports YouTube channel and BBC channels from Monday 31 July 2023.