Australian Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett on her childhood struggles with body image, how she got mentally and physically stronger, and why she’d like to become a magician. By Cindy MacDonald.
Shot caller: Caitlin Bassett, 29, netballer
I was 11 when I first picked up a netball and it was only because a couple of my friends had started playing. I grew up on a property about an hour south of Perth, in Byford. Before netball I was doing horseriding, from the age of seven until I was about 13. I also did a music scholarship in high school and was a keen musician. I played clarinet and saxophone.
I struggled a lot with body image growing up. I was taller than all the boys in my classes and was about six foot [182 centimetres] at age 11. When you’re getting into your adolescence you just want to fit in. That was hard for me because people would constantly make comments about how different I was and I’d struggle to find clothes to fit. So netball was a place where I felt I belonged and people actually loved that I was tall because it was so useful out on the court. It was definitely a bit of a saviour for me.
When I was 16, turning 17 I got asked to be a part of the Perth Orioles. That was a pretty tough year – I was doing my TEE end of high school exams and being a semi-professional athlete. My first game we played Sydney Swifts and I was starting at goal shooter so I got to play against Liz Ellis, which was a baptism of fire. She was captain of Australia at the time and had years of experience. I was about a head taller than her but very unco-ordinated. It was a nerve-racking experience but I look back now and realise not many people get to say they debuted against Liz Ellis.
I did cop a lot of criticism when I was young. My skills were quite poor because even from age 11 I was always pushed up to play against older girls and I never spent the years learning and developing against girls my own age. I shied away from the physicality and I used to get frustrated and upset because I thought it was unfair getting pushed around and having my arms pulled. I guess if you were a defender looking at me you’d say the way to beat me was to bash me around a little bit but, I don’t know, it fires me up these days because I know I’ve gotten so much stronger in my body, and mentally as well. It’s not about giving it back, it’s about using my brain. I get on the move a lot more than I did before and I like to bring in the goal attack more as well. I do a lot of work with the pads at training, getting hit, getting pushed, getting my arms held down.
The best defender I’ve played against? In her prime I would definitely say [Silver Fern] Casey Kopua. She was very athletic and very smart, and the challenge of playing her brought out the best in me. I think Geva Mentor is amazing as well. The older she gets, the better she becomes. Training with her at Sunshine Coast Lightning, my game has definitely taken another step up. And Sharnz [Sharni Layton] – we’ve played our whole netball career with each other and against each other and she’s an amazing athlete and an intimidating, passionate player.
With Nat Medhurst, after playing together for such a long time [as goal attack and goal shooter], I just knew what she was going to do. We combined really well and it was sad to not have her out in front of me in the last series, but I pride myself as I’m getting older on my ability to play with different players. This year at Lightning with Steph Wood – she’s such an exciting player – but also playing with the likes of Gretel Tippett, Susan Pettitt and Tegan Philip [in the Diamonds], everyone plays a different style and I love the fact I’ve got to be on my toes and change my game a little bit.
Packing up not just my house in Perth but my animals and bringing them all the way over here was hard. But because Sunshine Coast was a brand-new team we got fussed over so much this year and I just got made to feel at home straightaway. My partner Adam de Jong’s work didn’t allow him to move over and we’re doing fly-in fly-out this year. It’s been really tough but we make it work.
I’m a bit of a crazy animal lady. I’ve got two rescue kittens and our gigantic Bernese mountain dog, Chino. Unfortunately I had to leave my two rabbits in Perth because there’s a ban on rabbits in Queensland. I looked into getting my magician’s licence because apparently if you’re a magician you’re allowed to have a rabbit. But you have to do X amount of kids’ parties and things like that and unfortunately I just don’t have the time.
What we’ve done with the Super Netball league – having so many imports – has really strengthened netball internationally. That’s what we want, we want netball to be big in all Commonwealth countries and we want to be pushing for it to be an Olympic sport. We don’t want it to be, “Oh yeah, it’s just another Australia/New Zealand final.” So everyone from overseas, they take these high-performance behaviours they’ve learnt here and go back and teach them to their own countries. The athleticism particularly in Malawi and Jamaica and some of the African countries is just mind-blowing. For their players to have the opportunity to play against the best in the world week in, week out is invaluable.
I love coffee and I love food. I’m not the best person early in the morning, and I get very “hangry” at times if I haven’t had food. When I get a little bit of downtime I like exploring and finding good coffee in whatever state, country, or place in the world I’m in.
Sue Gaudion, when she was Perth Orioles coach, gave me the nickname CBass. I don’t actually respond to Caitlin anymore because in the Australian team now there’s Caitlin Thwaites and Caitlyn Nevins. Caitlin Thwaites is Caity, Nevs is Caitlyn and I’m CBass. That’s how Lisa [Alexander, the Diamonds coach] refers to me and that’s how all my teammates refer to me. I think CBass is going to stick for life.
This week’s highlights…
• Horseracing: Epsom Day
Saturday, 1st race 12.20pm (AEST), Royal Randwick, Sydney
• AFL: Grand final – Adelaide Crows v Richmond
Saturday, 2.30pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground
• Rugby union: Wallabies v Springboks
Sunday, 1.05am (AEST), Toyota Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa
• NRL: Grand final – Melbourne Storm v North Queensland Cowboys
Sunday, 7.15pm (AEDT), ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park
• Netball: Australian Diamonds v New Zealand Silver Ferns
Thursday, 5.45pm (AEDT), Spark Arena, Auckland
• Soccer: World Cup qualifier – Socceroos v Syria
Thursday, 11pm (AEDT), Hang Jebat Stadium, Melaka, Malaysia
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 30, 2017 as "Shot caller".
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