Susan Pettitt - Contributor
My last chance for Games redemption
I’m the only survivor of the Australian Diamonds team that played at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
It seems like such a long time ago. Back then, I was new to the whole Diamonds thing. I was a young player who didn’t really understand how big netball would become in my life, and the work and commitment that was involved in staying at the top level.
I think I was very fortunate in that I came into the team from underage teams and had literally just been picked step-by-step along the way without having any disappointments or any missed selections. I wasn’t in the Diamonds squad at the time and it was a shock for me for to make the Commonwealth Games. I was still so young and inexperienced.
We were not the favourites going into the Games. We’d lost Liz Ellis through injury, so we had a more inexperienced team than we’d had in the past. I remember going into the final having been selected in all these teams without having that disappointment of not making the team, and I was just on this high.
I played in every single game and I ended up getting onto the court for the final, which was absolutely surreal. I thought this was normal – that you come in and you get all this court time.
And then we lost the final by five points.
After the game, the mood in the change rooms was obviously really down. There were people who had been there before and knew what the highs and lows were like. There was so much disappointment in the room.
It was a very eerie feeling in the change room as everyone went through self-reflection and went into themselves a little bit. You wanted to make small talk because you didn’t like the silence. But I realise now that the silence was obviously important for the players in the way they dealt with that disappointment. A four-year build-up, working your butts off, and then to finish so close.
It was a really weird feeling, and we had to turn around really quickly and get into our tracksuits for the medal ceremony because netball was the last event. So we probably didn’t have that much time to dwell on it. But it was definitely weird being the young player who hadn’t been in that situation before.
I wanted to win, but in a way I was that young player who was like ‘Oh my god I’m here, I just played in the final, yes!’. Even though we lost, I was still so excited. That was a big learning curve for me, learning to going, ‘No, it’s not OK just to be here and just to participate’.
It came to me later that I had to understand I was not just here to make up the numbers. I was there to win gold. That experience from those older players was invaluable.
FOUR YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS
After Melbourne, I was part of the team that won the 2007 World Championships. I still remember that time so clearly. The turnaround from Comm Games to World Champs was about 18 months, and the team worked so damn hard.
I remember our program so well. It was just insane training, and we came into the World Champs the fittest we’d ever been. Everyone was backing Australia in that tournament because we looked so determined. And we ended up beating New Zealand 42-38 in the final.
Even though we lost, I was still so excited. That was a big learning curve for me, learning to going, ‘No, it’s not OK just to participate’.
I was in the national team for a long time after that, and then I dropped out for four years. It’s not like I was in and out of the team several times. It was just one big drop, and I thought my international career was probably over. People were writing me off because of my age and things like that.
It was a tough one. It probably sounds like a cliché but I wanted to quit for a while there. I was like: ‘Why am I putting myself through this process of hoping I get selected?’.
But then I stopped being so caught up in the Aussie selections and it was more like, ‘Hey, let’s just go play well for my club and have some fun doing that and see how it goes’. And I think that’s probably when I grew a little bit in terms of that maturity on and off the court.
I’d probably been a little selfish. But I learned to do what I could for the team. If my role was to support another player or to help them, then that would be my role. I think that’s what Australian coach Lisa Alexander started to acknowledge in the past two years of my career. She understood that that I can bring more to the team than just my own set of skills. I can support other players and have a mentoring role.
There’s a lot of young players coming through, and I feel like I’ve got something to give to those players. It’s been good to have had the opportunity to do that, and to pass on what I’ve learned along the way to those players, and see them grow as well.
I’ve also worked hard on my fitness and my game sense and my smarts as well. So the fact I’m back with the Diamonds and the oldest member of our team at the Commonwealth Games is probably a combination of all of that.
PIGS AND FLAMINGOS
I just love animals. My husband Brad and I bought a bit of land down in South Wollongong. I’ve always wanted to have a mini farm with mini cows and mini horses and mini everything, and the first part of that is our mini pig.
His name’s Cyril and I got him for Christmas. Well, I got a picture of him on Christmas Day, so the next week we were running around trying to set up a pig pen. I had no idea how to look after a pig, but I had always wanted one. And I just love him!
Cyril is just like a dog. He follows you around and he interacts with our dogs. I think he thinks he is a dog, so it’s quite cute. He’s an outdoor pig, though he does know how to use a doggy door and run inside, so we have to lock that. He’s quite clean. In fact, he’s probably cleaner than the dogs.
But he’s definitely an outdoors pig. He just follows me around and chases the dogs around when we’re outside. Because he’s a bit bulkier than them, he can really take the dogs out!
He’s growing quite big, but Cyril won’t become one of those huge hogs. He’ll probably end up more like a large dog size. Everyone keeps asking me if he’s for Christmas lunch next year and I’m like: ‘No!’ He’s not getting eaten, he’s definitely part of the family!’.
We’re very busy down here. Brad and I are about to open a café here in Albion Park around Easter time, right before the Commonwealth Games start. Unfortunately, the timing’s not great with me being on the Gold Coast, but that’s how it goes.
We started with a coffee caravan thing, because my husband used to work for the Sharks NRL team. We’d do sporting events with our caravan, but now we’ve decided to take the plunge – or should that be take the plunger! – and open a café down here.
The café is called Three Flamingos Espresso. I woke up one night and went, ‘How about flamingos?’ and Brad was like, ‘OK, go back to sleep’. It was random and we just laughed at it – something different that wasn’t coffee-related.
‘He’s not getting eaten, he’s definitely part of the family!’
I also run my own netball clinics. I do shooting and skill sessions for the grassroots levels. I grew up in Bega on the far south coast of NSW, which is a pretty small town, and we didn’t have those opportunities. I used to travel six hours to Sydney to do higher performance training. So I started a business to try and get high performance clinics out to regional areas. I really enjoy seeing kids get more out of netball and progressing through their skillsets.
As a goal shooter, I know that shooting is such a mental side of the game. In the past, defenders and shooters were treated the same as other players. But they are such different personalities in terms of how they play.
For me, it’s about drumming into the shooters that the calmer they are and the more fun and enjoyable they can make the game, the more relaxed they will be in the shot. I find that that helps them. The more panicked you are and the more pressure you put on yourself, the harder it is to shoot. My philosophy is get out there, enjoy it, and relax a little bit and go with the flow a little bit.
A missed shot’s a missed shot, it’s not going to kill you. Twelve-year-olds put so much pressure on themselves and you’re like, ‘Why? It’s just a game’.
THE ONE THING THAT’S MISSING
I’m 33 now. It’s hard to say how much longer can I play at the top level, but I never say never. If my head space is there and my body is still able to do it, I’ll keep playing.
After the Games I’m signed up with the Giants and I’ve got the season ahead with them, so I’m looking forward to that, and then I think once the season is over, I’ll reassess. For me, it’s about not planning too far ahead. It’s one game at a time and see how I feel.
For now, I’m just so excited for what’s about to come. I recently saw a video with netball legend Anne Sargeant talking about how after she was selected for a world championships, her coach Joyce Brown told the team she didn’t want players who were excited about that – she wanted players who were excited about winning!
I totally agree with that and I think it’s a really interesting way of putting it. When people ask me if I’m excited about being on this team, I say, ‘yeah I’m really happy’. But at the same time, I got picked two months ago and since then it’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of training.
So it’s always exciting to be picked, but it’s more exciting to be there once you’re competing. We’re here to win, so I totally get where Joyce is coming from.
The Commonwealth Games is like another World Championships for us. The top countries that play netball are Commonwealth countries, so the Comm Games is just as strong a competition and in a way it’s even more exciting in terms of all the other sports. You’re part of Team Australia as opposed to just Team Netball Australia. You get to see how other sports interact and what they do for their training, and you’re part of a bigger team.
A Commonwealth Games gold medal would definitely make all the hard work worthwhile. That’s the one thing that I don’t have. I’ve achieved a lot in my netball career – World Championships and premierships and those things, but I’ve got two Commonwealth Games silver medals hanging up in my office and that probably hurts a little bit.
I do want that gold medal. So this is the chance.
Susan Pettitt - Contributor