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Thursday 17 October 2019
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Kalifa McCollin: The court is her canvas

National netballer and level two coach Kalifa McCollin will soon be completing university -- and playing netball -- in New Zealand. Photo by Sureash Cholai
National netballer and level two coach Kalifa McCollin will soon be completing university -- and playing netball -- in New Zealand. Photo by Sureash Cholai

“Netball is art and the court is my canvas.”

Kalifa McCollin is a great negotiator and an even greater netball player. Standing at five feet 11 inches tall, she is a national player and level two coach. But there is no surprise there, as she started playing when she was six and both her parents are involved in the sport. Her mother is netball coach Althea McCollin and her father is Heston McCollin. “He was captain of the men’s team when there was one,” she told WMN. “I was always around the sport but they never forced me to play. I was involved in about five other things, but when it was time for me to choose, I chose netball.”

Now 24, McCollin is a goal attack in the premiership division of a sport that has allowed her benefits on and off the court. She has one year to go to complete a degree in Sport Psychology at a university in New Zealand, all paid for because of her on-court skills.

“I have been playing netball in the UK for the past three years and studying at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Wales. I have one more year to complete my degree, but will be transferring my credits and completing my studies in New Zealand because I have received a contract offer to play in a professional league there.”

And although the contract is really all about her game on the court, McCollin said she was able to negotiate a package that covers tuition and “other good stuff.”

National netball player Kalifa McCollin is working on getting a level three coaching certificate, a first for the Caribbean. Photo by Sureash Cholai

“It is not a scholarship. It is a professional contract that has nothing to do with my studies. But I negotiated for my studies because sport, as much as I love it, is temporary. Anything can happen.” She said the club wanted her badly enough to offer her a package that includes paid tuition, accommodation and a car.

“My last season I did quite well. I was named Best Attack in the league and Player of the Season for my team, Celtic Dragons. About a month or so later I received a couple of offers from different franchises. One of my goals was to play in New Zealand because I like the style of netball there. So, when I got a message from one of the coaches there that they wanted me to play for them, I immediately sent it to my agent and she worked on contract. I was signed in two days.”

And it’s not the first time she has been able to hammer out acceptable terms and conditions with scouts because she knows her netball worth. McCollin said after her first World Cup in 2015, she received an email from the coach of Celtic Dragons with an offer to play netball for the club.

“I had my study plans so I told them if they wanted me that badly this is what I wanted. They sourced a school and paid for me to study full time.”

McCollin is also a Gilbert Netball brand ambassador. Gilbert is a sports equipment manufacturing brand that specialises in netball and rugby gear worn by some to the top players in the world.

As a young girl, Kalifa McCollin was involved in many things but when the time came to choose, she chose netball. Photo by Sureash Cholai

“I remember some time in an interview I had said I would love to be a Gilbert ambassador, and someone was clearly listening. As soon as I got to the UK I got a call about a contract. They provide me with footwear and clothing to wear at all games, and I get paid to wear it,” she chuckled. “Talk about win.”

And because every Gilbert ambassador has their own signature ball, McCollin had to come up with a design for her ball.

“After my second year as an ambassador I was told ‘we need your ball ASAP.’ I already had my vision. My ball had to be a part of me and depict everything netball means to me.” After a few failed attempts by the graphic designer she contracted to bring her ball idea to life, she reached out to fellow player and artist, Aniecia Baptiste.

“She designed exactly what I wanted in 30 minutes and I loved it and Gilbert loved it. Every splatter means something to me and the quote on it ‘Netball is art and the court is my canvas’ is something I’ve always been saying because I like to try new things on the court.”

She said when the ball was introduced on the market last year, it was sold out within the hour. “It is one of my biggest achievements.” the former Bishop Anstey High School student said, before proudly reminiscing on her first major achievement on home ground in the Laventille Netball League, where ironically, the ball was launched at the opening of the league on September 7.

The official Gilbert Netball brand Kalifa McCollin ball.

“I started playing in that league when I was 15 or 16. It was during that league that I first scored 100 per cent in shooting accuracy. It was really something major for me in my career as a netball player.” She said she only found out about it after it was highlighted in the media.

“To be one of the top shooters in TT and the region. As I move on in my career, even now as a professional player, I will always remember that. Where I came from and where I am now.”

She believes the Laventille league is doing TT a great service as it allows players from different areas to showcase their raw talent. “It is one of the best leagues in TT.”

A giver at heart, McCollin plans to use her game and academic skills to benefit other athletes.

“Most people don’t understand the psychology of what happens with athletes. No matter what, good or bad, you have to go out there and get the job done. Athletes need people to talk to, they need motivators. I never had that growing up as an athlete and I want to help other athletes reach their fullest potential.”

But for now, she is pressing on with her preparations for that time. She will be returning to school in January and is looking forward to starting her new journey in New Zealand. “I’m also working on getting my level three coaching certificate, as there are none at that level in the Caribbean.”

And what happens after school? “I’ll still be playing professional netball, but at some point I’ll return home to add to the quality of netball here. It’s not always about money. I mean, money is good, but hopefully, if the stars align I want to open a coaching clinic and start doing work on our netball.”

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