April Brandley - Contributor
Losing Mum, finding netball
I lost my Mum when I was 15. It was a really hard time, obviously. Being so young, I felt like that was when I needed her most.
Mum had been in remission for a couple of years and then the breast cancer came back. It was a really difficult time for my family, because my parents were getting divorced, as well. Me and my sister were Mum’s main support, which was quite a big thing to carry around at a young age.
I haven’t really talked about it much in the past. I just wasn’t ready to. But I hope talking about it now can help other people who are going through tough times to believe they can still chase their dreams and be successful. The point I’m at now is that I’m so grateful for the time that I had with her.
Mum was such a big part of my netball journey, and for a while I just needed to get away from the game. I wasn’t ready to go back straight into playing. When such a big thing changes in your life, you don’t know where to put your foot next. It was learning how to live without her – that was probably the hardest thing.
Even now that I’m older, I wonder what life would be like if she was here. But, in saying that, it’s probably one of the things that makes me so passionate about what I do. She introduced me to the sport and was such a big part of our Heathcote Waratahs netball community. That’s naturally where my love for the game has come from, and it makes me feel connected with her in some way.
Mum played when she was pregnant with me, so I was in there in her tummy, hearing the whistles. She always said to me, ‘You’re gonna be this and you’re gonna be that,’ and I was like, ‘No, I’m not!’ She was always telling me to go for it and believe in myself.
Once she was gone, Dad took the reins and supported me so much. My whole family did.
When I was ready to start playing again, netball became a bit of an escape for me from what was happening, because it was really hard to get through all that stuff. Having so many emotions and feeling so much grief, it was nice to get out and exercise, just be with my friends.
I felt free when I was playing. I didn’t have to think about anything. I didn’t have any worries.
I play now for different reasons – because I love to, and because I love building relationships with the girls around me. The sport’s given me the ability to grow in so many ways I never thought possible.
Not many everyday work environments have such a support crew to encourage you to be the best, both on and off the court.
THE BIG BREAK
The first time I ever played was at one of my sister’s training sessions. Someone got injured and they were like, ‘Jump in. In you come.’ I was a goaler then, and about half the size of everyone else, but I always wanted to be like my sisters so I was like, ‘I’m here! I’m in!’
I didn’t want to try out for the NSW 17-and-under team, and it was a big thing for Dad to say, ‘Yep, you’re going to trial and see how you go’. I was 14. I was the shy kid, I never thought I was very good at netball; it was just fun to play with my mates. I was always quite athletic – I was a 100-metre sprinter when I was younger, but it was so boring being on your own – and as the youngest of four kids, I loved having people around me all the time.
I went to the AIS for two years, and a lot of the girls I was there with came out and got contracts straight away with ANZ Championship teams. I didn’t, and it was devastating. Obviously the doubts came rushing back in. Am I good enough? Am I not? My goal had been to come out and get selected in an ANZ team.
When such a big thing changes in your life, you don’t know where to put your foot next. It was learning how to live without Mum – that was probably the hardest thing.
I was thinking, ‘Do I actually need to go out and get a proper job? Is this goodbye to netball? Is it not meant to be?’ Then halfway through the season, I got the call up from Firebirds after an injury in their defence end. I remember thinking, ’This is it, here’s my opportunity.’ It was great timing.
I made my debut when Lauren Nourse did her knee just a few weeks out from the finals. I got my eight minutes – whooooooo! – and I do not remember one second. I was so nervous. I was playing with Laura Geitz, too, which was pretty awesome.
Then because of Lauren’s injury they took me along on the run to the finals and the whole experience was so surreal. From going, ‘I’m not meant to be playing netball,’ and having all those doubts’ to winning an ANZ grand final was bizarre.
It was so cool, though, and now I reflect on how rare that was. They’re so hard to win. So here’s me going from feeling sorry for myself to holding a medal.
THE LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP
I wanted to go back to NSW because I’d thought I’d be a Swifts player for life. I’d played seven under-age nationals for NSW and felt I had blue blood in my veins.
But, for the next few years, I also had a sore bum from sitting on the bench.
I was behind Mo’onia Gerrard and Sonia Mkoloma and then Sharni Layton as well. It was a testing time, but I’ve seen people who haven’t been given court-time be a bit sour about it. It’s so important to me to be a good team person, not just a good player. So I kept busting my butt at training and every second I got put out there, whatever the situation was, I went out and did my best.
It’s mentally quite challenging to go in every time being ready to play. Hoping to. And not. It’s such a big roller-coaster ride, but I look back now and those three years made me so resilient.
And I learnt so much from Mo’onia and Sonia about how defence is an attitude. It’s the aura that you bring. It’s never giving up.
As really quite a nice person off the court, I find it hard to get on the court and be a bitch, which defenders are meant to be!
So it was about building that white-line fever and going out there to give ‘em hell. You’re there to be a pest. They gave me the confidence to do that. I learnt a lot about myself and about netball.
I wanted to stay at Swifts, but I couldn’t think about another year just sitting on the bench. With Julie Corletto coming to Sydney, it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone. That was moving to Western Australia, the furthest place you can go. My family was like, ‘You could have at least gone to New Zealand – that’s closer.’
It gave me more of a chance to play, and to be uncomfortable, I guess – living out of home, leaving my fiancé behind.
We did the long-distance thing, which is hard, especially when there’s a three-hour time difference, and we were also organising our wedding. But we’ve always had the kind of relationship where neither of us wants to hold the other one back.
We’ve always promised to support each other with our goals. We don’t want to get to 50 with regrets or resentment.
Stacey Marinkovich is an awesome coach, and she instilled a lot of confidence in me. Growing up, I felt I needed to play like other people to succeed, but she convinced me that playing like me was actually good enough.
Then it was about finding out what that looked like. It’s good to grab bits from other people’s games to improve, but I was doing that a little bit too much.
I loved my two years with the Fever, and I managed to tick off so many of my goals, which was really cool, because it had taken me a while! It had taken me about five years to finally get to play.
THE COLLINGWOOD CULTURE
Having grown up in Sydney, I had no idea about the Collingwood/AFL culture when the Magpies approached me. So when I got here I was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’.
At the first school clinic I did all these kids were booing me and I was like, ‘What? I’ve never had this before! Is it because I’m a netballer?’ And they’re like, ‘No, it’s because you play with Collingwood.’ But I’ve already grown to love that culture.
Going into the first season of Suncorp Super Netball with such huge expectations on us was tough, but they were external pressures and not realistic considering where we were at internally in terms of gelling as a team. We’d had really limited time together and it was our first year as a club.
Coming into 2018 it’s been so much easier, and what we’ve gone through has helped us really bind together.
It’s not easy when you’re losing but you learn that you need to push through as a group. It doesn’t mean we’re a bad team or bad players; it’s just taking time. Keeping perspective is so important.
LESSONS FROM THE DIAMONDS
I was shocked and overwhelmed when I first got picked for the Diamonds.
Laura Geitz was out injured for the 2013 England tour, and it was earlier than I was probably ready for. It’s a bit different now. People are telling me I’m the team’s most experienced defender and I’m like, ‘What the hell? This does not sound right. How bizarre.’
I got dropped after my first Test. Going on that tour was a bit of an eye-opener in showing me how far I needed to push my body. I didn’t really know what I needed to do.
Being the shy kid growing up and thinking I was lucky to get into teams, it took me a while before I actually got confidence in what I was capable of doing. It’s such a fine line between confident and cocky.
I’m really cautious about that. I never want to be that cocky player. Ever. But you still need to be confident in what you’re doing, believe in yourself, know that you have worked to get in there. That’s probably where I’ve grown the most on my journey.
As really quite a nice person off the court I find it hard to get on the court and be a bitch, which defenders are meant to be!
Getting older I have realised that the hits, the knocks and all the harsh words are actually the things that help you to get the best out of yourself. Because you push yourself harder.
You get through those tough times and you build resilience, you build trust in yourself. It’s about so much more than just sport. It’s the mental, the physical, constantly challenging yourself every day to be better.
After I got dropped. I just needed to put my head down and get stuck into my training. I got so fit. I remember my husband, Jason, standing there on the oval with the stopwatch. Go. Stop. Go. Stop. And I was thinking, ‘Man, this never ends.’
I wanted to work on stuff mentally away from the game, as well. We’re all strong and fit, so what’s the edge? Your mind runs everything, so you’ve got to train your mind as well. That mental toughness has helped my game a lot. When things aren’t going great, I feel like I’ve been able to deal with it a little bit better than I could when I was younger.
Feeling delighted to be named for Quad series Jan 2018. Been loving the sport since i was 8years old. It's such an honour to be named in a hotly contested team and represent your country. Sometimes i still have to pinch myself. Cant wait to pull on the 💚💛 with my sisters. #grateful #honour #lovewhatyoudo #netball #dreamz
Three years ago, if you’d told me where I’d be now, I’d never have thought it was possible.
I’m grateful. Netball has helped me grow so much as a person. It has been my outlet through hard times. It has taught me resilience. It has shown me some of the best times in my life. It has introduced me to some of my best mates and inspired me to achieve things I never thought possible.
My Dad is such a netty nerd. He loves it. My husband, too. I’ve just got the best support crew. Everything that’s happened has brought my family a lot closer – you realise what’s important in your life, and we’ve all been there to support each other. My family are amazing.
I really hope my Mum would be proud.
I do believe that she’s here with me. It’s really nice to know.
April Brandley - Contributor