Nat Medhurst was preparing for her 17th professional netball season when she received the news she had been waiting for, she was pregnant.
“I thought I was booked in to be playing in 2020. I had to go through fertility treatment to get pregnant. At the start of 2019 I found out that I would need help and the doctors thought it was going to take quite a while,” the 86 game Australian Diamonds player said.
“There were a few speed humps, but it happened hell of a lot quicker than what we were expecting. I found out two days before pre-season started, which started earlier as we had a preseason competition in New Zealand, that was interesting. I was rocking up with all day nausea trying to train.”
After playing for three clubs in the Australian domestic competition since 2004, Medhurst found herself at her fourth club in 2019 when she signed for Collingwood Magpies and the veteran player has been grateful for the professionalism at the club.
“My brother calls me a fossil. I have been fortunate spending the last part of my career at Collingwood. Their attitude around managing players has been a huge change. Being an AFL club and seeing what they do, 2019 was the most I have ever been managed, even before this year and the pregnancy,” Medhurst said.
“Training this long, the years under belt, the body doesn’t bounce back as well. There was certainly a plan this year to manage that workload.”
As the President of the Australian Netball Players’ Association, Medhurst has a strong view on the workload put on current players.
“The demand on players is huge. I have a bit of a concern to be honest around the lengths of the contracts of players and the training loads that are happening.”
“We only have a 14-week season and three weeks of finals, but you’ve got players doing nine months preseason . The AFL players don’t even do that for a sport that’s far more demanding and goes for twice as long. It’s just absurd and we are blowing players out,” the 36-year-old said.
With some clubs onto their third year in a row of minimum eight-month preseason campaigns, there are genuine concerns of loading injuries.
“We are burning players out. That’s my biggest concern and the biggest shift I have seen through the years, it has been in the last few years when we shifted to 12-month contracts. There seems to be a rise in injuries, particularly ones that relate to loading.”
“Players in the past that have played in the sport for so long such as myself, Kim Green, Renae Ingles, Bec Bulley, Susan Pettitt, you are not going to see that now. You won’t see players who will have long careers in netball because they will be burnt out or get injured, which will force them out of the game,” the Mercedes College graduate said.
“When I started, we were on six to seven-month contracts, that was it. The demand was two court work training sessions a week and back then it was still an elite competition. Now you have four to five court work sessions a week on top of weights and other training exercises. The demands are always going to increase but it’s the longevity of putting that through your body.”
“It’s hugely disappointing and I don’t think the players need to be putting in that physical toll on their bodies. On the flip side, because of the demand of our sport, we are not allowing our players to be educated to work and supplement their income.”
Despite the base wage being $33,000 for a 12-month contract, the highest base wage currently paid to an Australian female professional athlete, it is not sustainable.
“To be able to find the time to find another job to get extra income, gain experience and become a well-rounded human being, the chances are really minimal and it is something the sport needs to look at,” the Warracknabeal born netballer said.
Despite netball being played around the country in amateur ranks and being a community sport where people participate to build relationships, there is still a struggle to get crowds to Super Netball games and attract mainstream media attention.
“We need to get people to actually come to watch games or to turn on the TV to increase the sponsorship and broadcast dollars, which ideally will feed back into the players,” Medhurst said.
“I think the entertainment we provide to our fans is the first thing that needs to change to attract people into the stadiums to watch the sport, to make it more of a spectacle.”
“In terms of atmosphere that is created, generally it is a cross between watching tennis and lawn bowls. It’s really disappointing as players because we want to be playing in front of a crowd that is amped up and with a real exciting element going around, rather than walking out to silence or people just clapping at the end of a goal,” the Magpies player said.
Fast5 Netball was brought into the sport to increase fan engagement and entertainment, but that excitement never continued into Super Netball.
“From a fan’s perspective, they love it, because they are encouraged to dress up or wear their team’s colours. There’s music going on, there’s fan engagement around and on the court, there’s all these exciting things. But then you come to real netball and all of that is taken away. We just need to appeal more to the fans to make it more of a spectacle,” Medhurst said.
The ex-Diamonds player has had the chance to reflect on her career in the past year.
“It’s crazy how quick that time has gone. To stop and reflect that I was part of these amazing teams over the years, I got to play with and against the world’s best players, I played in three world cups.”
“As a kid I never dreamt to be a part of all that, because I wasn’t exposed to netball at this level like kids are now. When I was growing up, I wanted to play basketball. I have realised a dream that I never actually had. It has been interesting, been a hell of a ride, but been a pretty amazing one,” Medhurst said.
Whatever happens, the renowned netballer will go down as one of Australia’s greatest attacking players.
“Moving forward, I have no idea what will happen. It has been so much to digest. Before 2020 I thought this would have been my last year. Because there is so much going on, I have no idea, I haven’t made a firm decision.”
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