Sport

Goal attack Erin Bell prepares to put her body on the line for netball’s World Cup. By Richard Cooke.
Credit: NETBALL AUSTRALIA

Diamond life: Erin Bell, 28, netballer

It doesn’t take long for rivals to snap back into being teammates. Everyone has the common goal of winning and playing well. Being a good unit. There might be a few sly remarks about elbows given during the [domestic] season, but for me especially, it’s very nice to finally be on the same team as Geitzy [Laura Geitz] and Sharni [Layton] and not be tackled to the ground every time I go for a ball.

Playing for Australia needs extra sacrifices. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to make that commitment – some people are just happy to play club level and that’s what they like doing. But I think if you do want to step up, and if you do want to represent your country, you have to be prepared to put that first.

It’s not only all the extra training sessions. It’s about getting your head right, doing all the extra little bits and pieces while no one’s looking, to make sure that you are in the best shape. If you’re given feedback, you have to take it constructively and go back and actually work on it. Not take it as a negative. You can’t turn your nose up at it.

For me, it’s been a matter of maturing as a person and as an athlete. Learning from my experiences, and not putting as much emphasis and pressure on myself. I’ve learnt in the past that that doesn’t work, you don’t get your best performances when you’re doing that. I have to accept things as they are.

Seeing the sports psychologist is seen as a positive now, not a sign that there’s something wrong. It used to be kind of looked down on: “They’re crazy and they’re having to go and talk to the psych.” But in the past couple of years, people seek out that type of mental training. It’s equally as important as the physical training.

Not being selected for the Commonwealth Games team was a pretty big setback. I was very disappointed, upset. So many different emotions: questioning my ability, questioning if I even wanted to play anymore, all those types of things. Physically, nothing changed; I was fine. But getting your head in the right space to be able to perform…

At this level everyone’s physically fairly even and equal. Everyone trains as much as the other, so it’s really about that extra. You know what you can do in your mind.

You do take an element of it personally. But then with time, you get over the emotion of it. You put the pieces of the puzzles together and say, “Okay, yes, I do have a gap there.” 

You have to think about the process of the shot, not its outcome. Especially as a goaler. That’s something that you’re taught. As soon as you start thinking, “Oh, no, I’ve got to get this goal in or we’re going to lose”, you’re pretty much going to miss.

It’s the same with each game. You wake up, you go to training, you’re doing the things that you need to do. With the hope that it will all come together at the end.

That focus on process, it’s something all the girls are on the same page with as well. It’s why it’s such a successful team and environment, because you don’t have one person going to a sport psych and trying to apply it. You’ve got all the girls speaking in the huddles: “Alright next set of passes, next intercept.” It’s not, “Okay, we’ve got to win this game.” No one stresses out about things. 

The goal circle is like a boxing ring. Elbows and hands and hips and everything flying everywhere. But I guess you’ve got to give as good as you get, and it probably goes in the favour of the goalers. It is very, very physical: everyone’s so much stronger and more athletic these days. You can run into someone and feel like you’ve hit a brick wall. Five or 10 years ago, you’d run into someone and just bounce off each other. You don’t feel like you’ve played netball if you don’t have a cut or a bruise somewhere on your body. I feel ripped off if I don’t have a bruise.

In the 2011 World Championships, I barely remember the actual games. But I remember all the stuff like the environment and the experiences. The time with the girls and as a team. I do feel sorry for people who never get to experience that team feeling. Because it’s something you can’t really manufacture.

This week’s highlights…

• AFL: North Melbourne v St Kilda

Saturday, 2.10pm (AEST), Blundstone Arena, Hobart

• Rugby: Bledisloe Cup, game 2 – All Blacks v Wallabies

Saturday, 5.35pm (AEST), Eden Park, Auckland

• NRL: Sydney Roosters v Parramatta Eels

Saturday, 7.30pm (AEST), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

• Netball World Cup: bronze and gold medal matches 

Sunday, 1.10pm and 3.20pm (AEST), Allphones Arena, Sydney

• AFL: Richmond v Gold Coast Suns

Sunday, 1.10pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

• Cricket: Ashes 5th Test – England v Australia

Starts Thursday, 8pm (AEST), The Oval, London

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 15, 2015 as "Diamond life". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.