|Nicknames:||Betty, Micki, Micki B|
|Date of birth:||16/03/1984|
|Position/s:||WD / GD|
|Inside my netball trips suitcase:||Ipod, Blackberry, trainers, and lots and lots of socks!
My netballing journey started almost 22 years ago. I grew up in Shepparton, Australia and back there they get your sporting days started as young as possible. I was barely five years old but I remember my first year of Netta. Netta was a program that was devised to teach young girls about the basics of netball. We were taught how to throw, how to catch, how to pivot and how not to step. Eventually we learnt how to play games.
My netballing days progressed through playing with my primary school and eventually into secondary school. I was then finally at the age when I could start trialling for the Shepparton 13 and under squad. Coming from a small town and a small primary school team I knew that this would be a big challenge. I didn't make the squad. So, being as stubborn as I am I just went back the next year to trial again. Needless to say I made the team – I was not going to be told no twice!
I continued playing for my club and the Shepparton squad then opportunities began to arise for other squads like the Goulburn Valley and North East regional squad and various school squads. I trialled for all of these squads and was lucky enough to be selected.
Each and every squad taught me something different. It even transformed my playing position – I used to be a Goal Attack. Now I'm lucky if I can even hit the ring let alone get the ball into the net! I remember when my transformation happened. We were at an underage tournament in Melbourne (might have been under 15's or under 17's) and our Wing Defence injured herself. So, the question was put to the team: 'Who wants to give it a go?" I put my hand up and I must have done a good enough job because since that day I have been a defender!
Then, I was eventually invited for State trials in Victoria. Those feelings from my first trial at under 13 level came back to me. Needless to say I didn't make the cut. I remember one of the selectors coming to speak to me and my parents afterwards. She offered genuine words of encouragement but insisted that I focus on Wing Defence because of my height. She also reminded me to keep working on the basics.
I was invited to trial again the year after, but I had already taken the decision to say goodbye to Australia and headed across to Northern Ireland. It took me a few years to find my feet in Northern Ireland. Eventually I worked my way through club netball and made it to the Northern Irish University team. Then the opportunity to trial for the Under 21 Northern Irish team presented itself. Northern Ireland immediately was more successful for me as I made the squad first time - I was even fortunate enough to be appointed Captain! In the same year I made my debut at Senior international level.
Every year I have learnt more and more about the game. Drills become more complex and training became more insightful, after all, that is what happens as you progress with anything – what you do is more complicated than what it was in the beginning.
In 2006 we failed to qualify for the Worlds. I was gutted. I took a short break from the international scene – most of the squad did at one point or another. However, we all regrouped and knew that the pinnacle of our career would be the recent World Championships. Again, training intensified.
After all of that you would imagine that I should know quite a bit about netball. But what I hadn't expected was that everything I ever needed to know about netball was what I had learnt when I was 5 years old. The basics. Any advice that we were given post-World's from those outside our own camp was to do just that – focus on the basics.
Although we have a lot of rules in netball it's actually quite a simple game – you pass, you catch, you score. Perfect the basics and keep working on them – practice makes perfect.
We were fortunate enough to be afforded a six week break after returning from the World Championships...but that time is nearly at an end. The dreaded email came through last week – fitness testing Monday 22 August!
The Northern Ireland senior netball team have been lucky enough to be granted access to the training facility and coaches at SINI (the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland). But when I say 'lucky' I'm not too sure how much I mean that. The sessions are held twice weekly and involve the entire squad of girls completing a set of running exercises. These running drills usually involve sprinting until your lungs feel like they will burst and your legs feel a bit like jelly.
Then, we are 'lucky' enough to move to the second part of the session which involves strength and conditioning session of weights, jumping exercises and various other activities. Our trainer Lisa usually tries to keep something 'fun' for us at the end like a weekly challenge of wall sits or squat matrixes but her idea of 'fun' is completely adverse to any normal person's. I'm sure if we didn't spend most of our sessions moaning at her and pleading with her she might be a little bit less 'fun', but at the end of the day she knows that she has to push us hard for us to get better. The most annoying thing about it though is that we know this ourselves.
To perform at international level each squad must be at their physical peak. Studies have shown that the work to rest ratio in netball is 1:3. Ongoing studies continually find that netball is categorised by short bursts of movement requiring muscular endurance and high sprinting levels; it is a unique sport in that regard. However, what is notable about netball compared to the likes of rugby, soccer and other sports, is that our international competitions are played over a matter of days, not weeks. Therefore, there is the onus on netballers to prepare their bodies for short recovery periods.
To importance of this type of training couldn't be emphasised enough. If your body is not conditioned the risk of injury increases. I was lucky enough at the recent World's that I had months and months of this training behind me. I picked up a knock in one of the warm up games in Singapore in my leg. I just kept thinking to myself about how I had trained all year and managed to remain injury free just to injure myself right on the cusp of the tournament. There was a period of about two days where I was just beating myself up that I could have ruined the whole tournament. But, I was lucky enough (with the help from our physio Sonya) that the injury didn't end up affecting me in the end. I am wholly convinced that all of our 'fun' sessions with Lisa caused this injury not to hamper me. The training at SINI had taught my body how to recover.
Netball is growing in popularity around Northern Ireland and this is due to a number of factors which include the hard work of the netball office and Council, increased media coverage and a little bit of success from ourselves. I cannot emphasis the input SINI has had into the squad's ability to perform.
When a young netballer from one of our clubs asks what it is she can do to become a better player we usually tell them to increase their fitness and get her training and conditioning correct. It isn't just a matter of doing cardio work and doing weights work, it is about doing the right type of training that is suitable for netball, i.e. short sharp bursts. Getting the right technique is also crucial. Every netballer must have a degree of natural talent, however, there is now an added emphasis and need to combine the science of sport into the training techniques. This isn't a feature that is unique to netball it is across the board in all sports.
And whilst we moan and groan at the thought of SINI testing and training – we always feel so much better when it's done!
As I'm sure it is in most countries across the world, playing netball at an international level in Northern Ireland can be a real struggle. And in saying that I am not even taking into account the struggle of being selected for the team instead I mean the impact netball can have on time, finance and relationships with friends and family.
I was reading an article recently on the internet that made me think hard about why it is that netballers do what they do. The article was about Caitlin Bassett, Australia's newly found goal shooter. Putting the words netball and Australia together is enough to make netballers in most countries automatically jealous. There is this vision that they have the best training, the best kit, the best structures in place to ensure that their lives are just so much easier than our own.
The article made me reconsider this. Caitlin highlighted some of the struggles she faces because of her commitment to netball. She is graduating from University and the next obvious step is to find a job. Yet, with her hectic playing commitments she has to ensure that any job she takes can offer her the flexibility she needs to keep playing netball.
The article went on to compare male sports and female sports in terms of salaries and financial opportunities. The position is the same in Australia as it is everywhere else in the world – males who are successful in sport can expect to be financially rewarded for their achievements. Women would be foolish to have such expectations. The article concluded that most female athletes could not earn enough to play sport on a full-time basis.
In Northern Ireland there is an understanding that netball will need to fit in around study and work commitments – well in respect of training and playing times at least. But it is a real struggle when your days consist of work, training, sleep; or worse when it is work, training, work then sleep! Turning down yet more invitations to actually have a social life or catch up with your family can definitely be a strain. One of the major hurdles we face in Northern Ireland (as I'm sure is the case in other countries) is funding. It is a huge pressure each netballer here undertakes individually to either pay your own way to tournaments or fundraise.
All this can lead you to question why do you continue to sacrifice so much just for netball? But the reason is easy though – the feeling you get from playing. It really is as simple as that. As is evident from the article about Caitlin Basset's own difficulties, every netballer out there can genuinely say we play the sport because we love it and we will find a way to work it into our lives. It isn't to get paid and there is something just a bit more special about that.
At least we are lucky that netball is (largely) a female sport – females know how to multi-task!
It is hard to believe that one month ago today we were preparing for our first game of the World Championships against Sri Lanka – time has passed so quickly!
But the journey started well before then, it even started long before we qualified for the Championships in Glasgow in June 2010. For most of our Northern Irish squad the real journey started back when we trialled for our respective Under 21 squad’s.
There were two ‘lots’ of Under 21’s that made up our team in Singapore. Being the oldest selected on this team I came from the first ‘lot’. I was part of the Under 21 team that competed at the World Youth Championships in Florida in 2005. Surprisingly, our journey at that tournament went much the same way as these Championships. We slipped into that tournament under the radar. Not only was it the case that the pundits didn’t really rate us they didn’t even know us – turned out we didn’t really know ourselves as somehow we managed to finish 6th! We had no real expectations on ourselves going into this tournament so the result just felt incredible.
In 2005 we were totally naïve to the fact that there are rankings taken as good indicators as to how these tournaments are supposed to pan out. All we knew is that we were at a tournament and our aim was to win every match we played. We really did play with a never say die attitude – the game wasn’t over until the final whistle was blown.
The next ‘lot’ of Northern Irish Under 21’s did the same – they finished 8th at the World Youth Championships in 2009.
As senior players and with these experiences behind us we knew what happened (and what was expected to happen) at these tournaments. However, on the senior international stage our squad remained relatively unknown as we failed to qualify for the last World Championships (still a sore spot!). We had some success through achieving gold at the 2009 Six Nations tournament in Singapore, but save for two members of our squad no-one on our squad had competed at a World’s. But our old Under 21 attitude stuck by us; we knew that for us to compete at the tournament every match was crucial.
This time we had expectations on ourselves as each of us had tasted a top-10 finish on the international stage so we knew that we weren’t going to go home happy with anything less. We gave it our all and achieved our goal of qualifying for the quarter finals. Given what our IFNA rankings were at the time, 8th was a respective finish.
Most importantly what we got out of the experience was what we learned about our own game. Our lack of experience outside of Europe is something that has hindered our development on the international stage. We started the tournament well but some of our mistakes in the latter games were disappointing because we knew we could have done better. We intend to take the lessons we learned and work on these for the next time we are on the international stage again – who knows what may happen at the World Championships in Sydney 2015!
Oh, and our Under 21 squad are in training for the 2013 World Youth Netball Championships in Glasgow – I am sure that some of them will be using the experience they gain there when they join the Senior squad in preparation for the 2015 Championships.