Finding my own identity
Back when I was trying to find my identity, I dyed my hair jet black. It didn’t suit me at all, but I was copying my sister, Madi Robinson.
I was about to go away to my first nationals, under 17s, and I really wanted to do well. So I thought, ‘I’m going to dye my hair and make it look like Madison’s so people know that I’m her sister, and I can be like her’.
Madi was like, ‘What are you doing, why are you trying to be like me? Be yourself’.
Madi always says that the day I came along was the day her life changed. She’d gone from having mum and dad to herself for four years, to having a baby sister.
For me, it was hard because Madi is the model human – she did everything well, she did well at school, she was well-behaved and really successful with her sport.
So I did find it hard to find my feet and work out where I fitted in, but mum and dad are so supportive of both of us; they’re the most amazing people.
As kids, we played a lot of different sports and we had a lot of battles in the backyard. Madison was always better, and a lot bigger and stronger, than me – and if we were fighting over clothes and hair straighteners, there might also have been the odd punch or kick involved. It was a very competitive relationship. It still is.
I probably wallowed in the fact that everyone would ask me very loaded questions about, ‘How hard is it to be the sister of Madison Browne’? And it was hard at the start, because I was trying to find my own personality and identity and a lot of the time I was being compared to her.
I did want to be like her, and I modelled anything I did on what she’d done before me. So finding what kind of player I was, what kind of person I was, was a little bit difficult because I always had Madi’s achievements and personality as a bit of a cloud over my head.
There were so many times I wanted to quit netball because I thought, ‘It’s just going to be too hard to do what she’s done, so why not just go and try to be good at something else?’.
For me, it was hard because Madi is the model human.
Now I look at it very differently. It’s probably been the biggest thing that’s made me who I am and the player I am now, and that’s because I got to watch her and what she did and I then I got to form what my personality and what my style would look like, and I realised it didn’t have to look like hers.
A lot of people said, ‘You’re just going to play like your sister,’ and in the beginning I probably thought that I would, but people who know us know that we’re very, very different. And as soon as I could see that that was ok, that we weren’t the same person, I started to come into my own.
Emotionally she’s very strong. Calculated. Crosses the Ts, dots the Is, does everything to be the consummate professional. She’s very smart in the way she organises her life, she’s very efficient and she does things really well.
I tried to be like that and then I realised ‘you can’t live your life that way; you’re not like that!’ I’m creative and I can get much more caught up in the emotional side of things. I get that from my dad. Mum and Madi are the tough ones.
I’m more eccentric, and I think people have looked at that negatively in comparison. I’m just not structured; I’m happy to go with whatever’s happening, and whether I fall on my arse or fall on my feet that’s the way my life tends to roll and I’m quite happy with that now because I think that’s what I need. I don’t like rigid structure or being told what to do. I need to find things out my own way.
BEFORE THE LIGHTNING
People would always say to me, ‘You’ve got this raw talent and if you just were committed and applied yourself a little bit more, you could be this great player, but you just don’t’.
And I didn’t.
But I used to be upset about it because I was like, ‘What do you mean? I’m putting in effort, of course I am’. But I look back now at how much my mindset and my love of netball have changed in my last three or four years. After I got to the Vixens, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is everything I love, and more’, and I wanted to make sure I could hang on to it.
There were a few hard conversations along the way that hurt me. Year after year I’d have chats with Simone McKinnis, the Vixens coach, and she would say, ‘We’re not going to sign you, we can’t go with you, we’re going to go with someone who’s more committed, and you’re just not proving to us that you are’.
In 2015, I was a training partner over the pre-season and first few weeks of the ANZ Championships season, just taking it all in.
Then Madi did her knee.
I got the call from Simone and initially I was just in the squad on a week-to-week basis, because it was a season-ending injury and they don’t want to commit to someone who might be rubbish. That time was really crucial in setting up my future. I just thought, ‘I don’t want to blow this, now that I’ve got my opportunity’.
We were playing Firebirds and at half-time Simone said to me, ‘You’re going on’. Madi was in the room at the time and I looked at her like, ‘Is Simone talking to me? I don’t know what I’m doing! I don’t know how to play netball!’.
I tried to hide what I was feeling; those few seconds of, ‘I can’t do this’. Then I looked at Madi and I remember her being like, ‘Yep. You’re right? You’re good? Let’s go’. At that moment, I realised I had my chance.
After I got to the Vixens, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is everything I love, and more’, and I wanted to make sure I could hang on to it.
On the court, I feel like I go into a completely different realm. I don’t think about anything. It’s all second nature. You’re in the moment. You’re in this flow state, and that’s how I felt. The pace was frantic, but I didn’t feel out of my depth. I just felt like those 30 minutes were over in about 30 seconds. I thought, ‘Wow, this is the best experience. I want to keep on doing it’.
The downside, of course, was that I only got my chance because of my sister’s injury. But if she’d been bitter and twisted about it, it would have been really hard for me to want to go out and do a good job, because I sometimes feel with Madi I would give up my place for her.
I always step into the ‘you’re better than me’ mindset. I slip into the role of sous chef, or supporting actor. I’ve always played that part and it’s just become part of who I am.
I knew I wasn’t going to go out and set the world on fire, as much as I would have liked to. It was my first year, so I wasn’t expecting too much. I knew my role in the team and it was to be solid in my position.
And Madison was really good at supporting me. I think that’s because she was very comfortable with where she sat in the netball world at that time. We’re both wing attacks, but she didn’t have to be threatened that I was going to take over her position. The moment where she said, ‘It’s OK, I’m OK, you can go and do this’, meant there were no demons for me in going out to try and do well.
THE DARK SIDE
I always say that netball is an escape from being inside my head, because I’ve had some mental health issues in the past. Pretty much from about 16 to 20, I was on and off anti-depressants. It affected me massively.
During my second year in the Victorian under 17s, there was one day my mum had to call our coach, Kristy Keppich-Birrell, and say, ‘She can’t come, she can’t get out of bed’. I would just bawl my eyes out. I’d lie in bed for weeks.
I think mum and dad just thought I was going through a little bit of puberty, of being a teenager, and we didn’t do anything about it for a couple of months. Then mum took me to the doctor and after I explained everything that I’d been going through, I was diagnosed.
It’s always going to be something that I have to consciously work on, and deal with, and I still do have poor days, but I also think everything that I’ve been through the last few years has given me the tools and life experience to figure out how to deal with my triggers, and accept that’s just me and that’s the way that I think, and that’s OK.
For a while it was a really taboo subject; no-one spoke about it and there was almost a stigma that you were ‘weak’ if you had depression. I definitely felt that. If I ever told someone, it was very, ‘Oh, you’ll be right, just get over it’, or whatever.
So you start to think, ‘Is there something wrong with me? I can’t get over this. It’s not something that I can just flick a switch and be over’. I didn’t really understand it. And I was really rebellious from about 16 to 17 as well. I’d sneak out of the house, and I’d throw parties at the house. I was just a bit wild. And very moody.
But after a while I started to feel rather negative towards the medication, so I worked really hard to get myself off it. It really dulls your senses, and your experiences. You can’t really feel sad, but you can’t feel elated or excited, either. The way I explain it is that you just feel very monotone, and I didn’t want to go through my life like that.
I always say that netball is an escape from being inside my head, because I’ve had some mental health issues in the past.
It was around that time that I got my chance with the Vixens, and I definitely think the opportunities that I was given with netball did help. I wasn’t setting the world on fire, I absolutely know that, but the fact that I could contribute something and be a part of a team and feel good about myself definitely helped me get to a point where I liked who I was and what I was learning. My self-worth was much-improved.
I can see now that one reason I hadn’t wanted to put in the effort was because I was scared of failing. That was always in the back of my mind, that, ‘If I don’t put myself out there then I can’t fail, and I won’t have to deal with that emotion,’ because I didn’t think I was capable of dealing with it. Then I started to realise how rewarding putting myself out it could be. At Lightning, whether I succeed or fail, just trying things has taught me so much.
I wouldn’t have been able to move before last year. I wasn’t capable of being away from my family. I didn’t think I was strong enough. But Lightning have proved to me that I’m well past those years of lying in bed not being able to do anything.
People talk about me being a late bloomer, because some people get their first contract at 18 or 19 – that was Madison – and I took a lot longer to find my feet. I wouldn’t change it for the world now. That was meant to be my journey, and I probably wasn’t ready any earlier.
💡💛This is what mental health and R U OK? DAY means to me. Everyday is an opportunity to start meaningful conversations, ask questions, listen and check in with the people in your life. A big appreciation shout out to these ones for loving me and always picking me up when I'm down and can't see a way out. Mental health is important. It's ok to not be ok. 💛💡#ruok #mentalhealthawareness #suicideprevention
Before the 2016 season, I finally had the meeting with Simone where she said, ‘We’re going to give you a contract next year, it might be the only one you ever get, so make the most of it’. I burst into tears, because I wasn’t expecting it at all.
She was trying to tell me that, ‘This is special. We’ve chosen to take a chance on you, make the most of it, because you might only get 12 months in this sport’. And I appreciate that now, knowing that there are only 80 positions, but at the time I walked out and thought, ’That was odd that Simone said that’. I get it now.
I really loved that year at Vixens. I played a total of five quarters, but I learnt about being part of a team and the importance of a club’s culture, ad I saw how girls who had been working hard for a while had reaped the benefits. I put in so much effort because I wanted to prove to Simone that she’d made the right choice
When Suncorp Super Netball was starting in 2017, I had an offer to stay with the Vixens, but it was all very dependent on what Madison was going to do. With lists being cut to 10, they didn’t need two wing attacks, so I felt that if Madi stayed then I would have to find something else.
Even though she ended up going to the Magpies, I also got offered a spot at Lightning. I had a few things to figure out: it was obviously going to be a big deal to move. I didn’t know whether I was ready. I’ve always lived with my support network around me and I felt like that was a big part of me getting off my medication and making sure that I was in a good space.
To leave the amazing family and friends who have supported me, to move to the Sunshine Coast, I was like, ‘Oh, could this throw me back 10 steps? I feel like I’ve made such progress’.
But Madison and mum and dad helped me understand that I probably was ready, and that it was time to spread my wings. They told me it would definitely be hard, but they were absolutely sure I was capable and I just had to believe in myself.
So I took the chance, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
💪🏼💪🏽💪🏿 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀Fist pumping for every kind of woman! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 💃🏽Celebrating the movement, pushing the boundaries and standing up for the future. Thankful for the women and men in my life who teach me everyday. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #IWD #PressForProgress 🤜🏼💥🤛🏿
We started from nothing. But that taught us resilience and taught us that not everything has to be perfect. Nothing was shiny and brand new, it was hard work and gritty and uncomfortable at times and you just had to get yourself through it.
Grand final day was so special. It’s when everything fell into place. I never imagined I’d be the Browne sister that everyone was watching, and I did really like it. I wanted to be there, I wanted to be on the court, I wanted to play well. If you’d seen me two years ago, I would have laughed at you and said, ‘No, I’ll never be there’.
My parents and Madi came up to Brisbane for the game, and it was one of the greatest feelings having all three of them sitting in the crowd. I’m sure Mads would have loved to be playing, but that was the moment that I realised she genuinely is really happy that I’ve gone and done this and made 2017 the year I became the netballer that I wanted to be.
She was so proud of me. I’ve never really felt that from Mads before, so for me that was really, really special.
I’m not bitter about being Madi Robinson’s little sister any more. Before, I was like, ‘No, I’m Kelsey Browne, this is who I am, I’m not just her sister’. I feel like coming to Lightning and being a part of the premiership win last year has helped me stand on my own two feet in the netball world, and I’m so grateful to be here.