Emotion in motion: Sharni Layton on the heart she brings to the netball court. By Cindy MacDonald.


Passion play: Sharni Layton, 28, netballer

You can talk to people who watched me play at 15 years old and I was always the booming voice at the end of the court and I always kind of strutted around. I honestly don’t know where that came from. With sport, you can’t go out there with any self-doubt, because opponents can smell that a mile away. So for me, it’s a matter of whoever I’m playing on, I want them to know I’m going to make the next 60 minutes absolute hell for them in whatever way I can. 

I’ve lost my voice – it comes and goes and I’ve got to see a speech pathologist to learn how to use it properly. I’ve got nodules or something. It’s my whole persona out on the netball court; I’m not sure if I’m the same person without it. I’ll have to keep quiet leading up to Constellation Cup and then it’ll be fine for the games. My voice is there to encourage my teammates and I try to let my actions do the rest of the talking.

Sport is a huge part of my life but it’s not everything. I wouldn’t be playing how I am today without [Swifts coach] Rob Wright and without the club. The decision to return to Melbourne was more about being away from home for 10 years now. I was happy in Sydney but I didn’t have that joy you feel from your heart with family around. With the new National Netball League, all my stars aligned. Collingwood is a club I’ve been a passionate supporter of since I was a kid, Kristy Keppich-Birrell was my first state coach and she had a massive influence on my career as a teenager. It was just too good an opportunity. 

The new league is so exciting for netball. Back in the day, players had to work full-time and now, when you look at how far netball has come over the past 10 years, we’re just taking giant leaps and bounds. The 2015 world champs in Sydney had a massive impact and influence in regards to getting more eyes on the sport.

I fully believe netball can be the NBA of women’s sport. We have such an exciting, fast-paced physical product. And it’s great to see in regards to the pay that we are taking those giant steps towards gender equality. What the money does is it allows us to put more time into the gym and more time into our training, which therefore allows us to put a better product out on court. The fact we can make netball an even greater product with Collingwood, GWS and Melbourne Storm [affiliated clubs], hopefully that will bring people in who don’t watch netball and haven’t seen it live. We are getting a broader range of fans – not just women but guys – coming along. Guys can watch men’s sport and also the netball, or whatever. It’s not a matter of either/or. And by having these women’s leagues – not just in netball but in cricket and soccer and AFL – girls are growing up with more opportunities to be able to play sport at a professional level.

For a long while I was on the bench, but I had girls who were better than me, and that was just the reality of it. I probably needed to mature a little bit too, because at first I was, “I want to play, why aren’t I playing?”, and it was almost a bit righteous. So it’s about learning where I need to improve and finding how to be the best player I can be. I ended up debuting in the Australian team in 2011.

When you play a team sport, “we” is so much more important than “me”. The thing I love about the Diamonds is that we challenge each other. I wouldn’t be playing how I’m playing without [fellow goal keeper] Laura Geitz, because she’s so phenomenal – not just as a player but as a person and as a leader. You’ve got to earn your position on court. And she does – she steps up every time and rocks it. Without her there [Geitz is expecting a baby in March] I’ve had to prove myself and just try to bring my Sharni to the group. 

I’m pretty sure everyone knows exactly what I’m thinking at all times. It’s me off court, too – not in regards to the aggression side, but in regards to wearing my heart on my sleeve. What you see is what you get – that’s just my personality. I love embracing all the emotions. You get to feel the highest of highs and you also feel the lowest of lows. That’s how I make my way through life, allowing myself to feel whatever it is I feel. And I think it’s important to show when you’re upset, because you can’t be on top all of the time.

I often get asked where that passion comes from and I don’t really know. I’ve always been a super-competitive person. I think we stopped playing board games in my family years ago because of that. Well, I don’t strut up to the table but… Whether it’s Monopoly or Scrabble, I definitely love winning, though I’m a lot more lighthearted now than I used to be. On court, I want to win more than anything in the world. When you win it’s a representation of all the hard work and effort you’ve put in. It’s not just about that moment, it’s about everything that’s gone into that moment. And when you gel with people and do that as a group it’s a really incredible feeling that is almost a bit addictive.

You can ask anyone, I’m actually a massive softie and a massive sook. It’s the biggest show going on when I walk out on that court. Isn’t that the fun part? I like to think of it as confidence over arrogance. What you need to take out of sport and apply to real life is that you have to back yourself. If you don’t back yourself, then who else will?


1 . This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: Caulfield Guineas Day

Saturday, first race 12.20pm (AEDT), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne

V8 Supercars: Bathurst 1000

Sunday, 11.10am (AEDT), Mount Panorama, Bathurst

Soccer: A-League – Western Sydney Wanderers v Sydney FC

Saturday, 7.50pm (AEDT), ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Netball: Constellation Cup – Australian Diamonds v New Zealand Silver Ferns

Sunday, 3.30pm (AEDT), Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

Wednesday, 8pm (AEDT), The Silverdome, Launceston

Soccer: 2018 World Cup, Asian qualifiers – Socceroos v Japan

Tuesday, 8pm (AEDT), Etihad Stadium, Melbourne

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 8, 2016 as "Passion play".

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Cindy MacDonald is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.

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