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Paige Hadley on leadership and how to find your place in the team

Paige Hadley has been playing international netball since she was 20. In this conversation Paige talks about starting out in netball, her rise in the game as well as the set backs and come backs along the way. Paige also shares some great tips for aspiring midcourter players as well as more general tips on how to prepare for netball trials and selections.  

We like to start off in the early days. So we’re going to go way back to your early introductions to sport. And what was the first sport that you started playing in West Sydney? 

Oh, my first, I feel like swimming was the first sport that I kind of got into. But netball was definitely there as soon as I was old enough to play. But yeah, dad never liked taking me to swimming lessons, so he was very grateful I picked netball in the end.

Too early for the car trips?

Yeah, too early and he hated the smell of fluorine, so he didn’t like that combination.

Fair enough. And I heard you mention that your mum was very involved in the netball scene growing up?

Mum was an officiator, a player and a coach as well. For me, that was just normal. I think, you know, the moment that I was kind of born and in a pram, I was there with mum and, you know, all the girls she used to coach, so they loved having me on the sidelines. So it was kind of that thing that we just did. It was like that bonding session I had every Saturday, we both loved it. Obviously, I probably wouldn’t have got involved and been so involved if it wasn’t for mum because I played and coached as well. I was very grateful for those times and being able to spend so much time with her at the netball court and you know her passion then became my passion as well.

I was listening to the Mad Chatter podcast, you mentioned you were pretty shy as a kid and that you wouldn’t have signed up for netball if it wasn’t for one of your mates at the time who signed up. Can you talk about how netball or playing a team sport fostered your confidence?

I was really shy growing up and even though mum was heavily involved in the club I probably wouldn’t have actually signed up to play unless it was my best friend in primary school who started to play so I decided that I would join up and play with her.

Absolutely, team sports has fostered that confidence and just being able to find who you are and that’s the ultimate thing I love about netball is I think it’s the ultimate team sport and I think being able to be around people that are so like-minded and motivated and you know, you just want to get better and you don’t have to be world’s best but just want to want to be better was what really brought me out of my shell.

I absolutely loved going to training and spending Saturdays with my friends. And I’ve made so many friends, you know, from the netball journey, both at the elite level and also the direct grassroots. So, yeah, it was huge for me and huge for my development.  

You started off playing as a wing defence, where you used to find different opportunities to support the team throughout the mid-court. Can you talk about, as a young athlete, some training routines or what you did to work your way into a wing attack or centre position?

I think growing up I was more of a defender and then unfortunately I didn’t grow as much as I would have liked, so I kind of got pushed into that centre role and then it wasn’t until I was about 16 that one of my coaches at the time thought that I’d be a good wing attack and it took a lot of work. Obviously in the midcourt you’ve got to have speed and agility and endurance and all those things. So there’s a lot of training behind it, a lot of hard work, but for me it was always just that I just loved playing. So whether that was, you know, in centre wing defence, wing attack, still now I just like being on the court and being able to play.

Every coach likes something a little bit different. So whoever I had, I learnt something different off them and evolved my game. But I think for me it was just that feedback, taking that on board and then applying it when it came to the game day.

I’ve had a few coaches and every one of them have taught me something different.

Let’s talk netball trials and selection, what are some strategies that you kind of used to put your hand up and get coaches to notice you in trials and squad selections?

This is a tough one because personally my experiences growing up, I was never a really good at trials. I really struggled to stand out in a lot of kids but it was those selections where I could kind of play in my team and then kind of be selected from there is where I felt the most comfortable. As I got older, I think it’s about playing to your strengths. I think sometimes when you go into trials you’re trying to do everything and play every role and stand out and then it becomes, you know, more focused on the outcome rather than the process.

For me, it’s about having two or three things that I’m really trying to focus on to try and nail in those trials, whether it’s my attack force, my defence, or it’s my speed, or it’s my feet, or whatever it is. So when you walk away from those trials, you know you’ve put everything you can into that, and you’re really happy with that.

So, I think over the time it’s been about putting in processes and following kind of what you’ve done in training, not trying to go outside the box and do everything, you know, in that moment to try and stand out, because otherwise then I think you go away from what you’re good at.

Your journey to the Super Netball and your career has been incredible. You debuted in 2012 for the Swifts as a 20-year-old and then the next year or later that year you made your Australian Diamonds debut. How did you deal with getting that early success as a young player and how did you manage your nerves facing up against your idols and playing on the world stage?

I got a contract straight away after moving to the AIS with a lot of the girls my age. I was getting court time and then debuted for Australia. It kind of felt like a bit of a whirlwind. Like, oh, this is what happens when you go to the pathway. You just kind of go through the pathway and then you play Nationals and then you get a Suncorp Super Netball / ANZ contract at the time and then I did my ACL and that rocked me back to reality of it’s not that easy.

I think whilst it was tough playing against your idols, it was something that I just loved. I loved learning so much from those around me. I just, you know, I never, ever thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be in the caliber of those players that I’ve watched on TV and grown up idolising. So, I just tried to be a bit of a sponge and trying to get as much information as I could from those players, all the experiences, both on and off the court, so that in my journey, I can kind of apply those insights as I go through.

As a young player stepping into the Australian Diamonds team and a well-established Swifts team, what were some strategies that you utilised to find your voice and get along with all your teammates early?

I think naturally being a younger player, you kind of gravitate to certain personalities or certain people. And, I had some great friends in that environment and they kind of took me under her wing and would be my roommate and just show me the way.

Sometimes it’s hard to find your voice depending on who you are and it’s about finding a way to do that. For me, it was about showing that on the netball court and training really hard in the gym and showing that I was worthy of being there. It wasn’t about how much I said or what I said, it was just about the way I trained, the way I played and how I applied myself. I saw that as an avenue of how I could really fit in and really bring myself to that team.

I wasn’t a really loud person. I’m probably still not the loudest in the change room. So it was about knowing your strengths and kind of what you can bring to make that team better and where you can contribute.

You mentioned earlier that you did your ACL, experiencing that injury must have been absolutely shattering after all the success the year before. I heard you say “it was the hardest 12 months, but also the most rewarding”. Looking back on that injury now, what would you say, or how would you say that developed you as a player, kind of building your mindset and fostering your resilience as well?

I think, as you spoke earlier, it was kind of like all these great things were kind of happening and I was getting into the Swifts and then I got into the Diamonds and I thought, wow, and then I did my ACL and I really didn’t know what was involved in that recovery process. I hadn’t really been around someone that had done an ACL injury before. I’d heard about it but I had never seen someone single-handedly go through that process. And it was tough, I did it right this time of the season so watching the girls play the whole season and then having to do rehab kind of on the side because I wanted to be a part of training and be involved and watch what’s happening, but also then I want to have time to be able to get my knee right, both mentally and physically.

I guess it taught me how much I love the game and how badly I wanted it. And it was scary, you know, like, I guess you never know how you’re going to come back after an ACL and whether your knee’s going to be completely right. But I had the most amazing people at the Institute of Sport around me, Jason and Lucas, and they were there every step of the way. Whether it was I was in the swimming pool, they were in the gym, they were on the running track, whatever it was. So, I think for me, it taught me a lot of hard work. There’s nothing like rehab.

I look back now and think how good a normal training week is compared to rehab, like your hours just explode, your commitments go up because there’s so much more to do. I think it was that hard work, the resilience, but I think it made me want this journey more, want this, career. I think I got all these little things early on, the Swifts and then it was the Diamonds, and then I was like, oh my god, like it’s just taken away from me. So, yeah, it made me realise how much I wanted and it was a hard slog to get back.

Over your career, there have been certain times where you’ve been named in a squad but maybe not listed for the team, which obviously happens to a bunch of young netballers across Australia. What are some strategies that you use to put your hand up at a selection and how do you deal with not getting named but then coming back stronger for the next selection and continuing to train hard in the court?

It’s never easy to be told you’re kind of not good enough or you’re not selected. In terms of ways to deal with that, I let myself have time to process. I think a lot of the time it’s like you get a setback and then you just want to get on to the next thing, but I actually had time to cry or feel sorry for myself or have those moments because those moments then make me want to train harder and get back.

I’d always ask for feedback around the selection, whether it was technical or tactical or fitness or whatever it was so that you know when I came to the next selection I had crossed those T’s, dotted those I’s of those things that you know I was told I wasn’t achieving or wasn’t producing on the netball court.

So when I got to the selection next time around and if I didn’t make it I had done everything I could and I was proud of the effort I did and unfortunately as I’ve gone on my journey sports sometimes are really cruel and it’s someone’s opinion of you as a player and how you fit in that mould. Sometimes it comes down to position. It may not be you but what positions make up other people on the team. So for me it was having that moment of I’m allowed to be upset because it means that I really wanted it.

Getting feedback about what it was and then going out there and just applying that day in, day out. Sometimes our job can be glamorous, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. It’s day in, day out. It’s just discipline. It’s what you’re eating, how you’re training. So when you get those rewards like a World Cup win or a Suncorp Super Netball Premiership, there’s no better feeling.

As a leader of your team, what are some lessons that young netballers can use during their training sessions or their games to kind of help bring their team up a level and help support the team?

I think it’s honestly just really being about yourself. I think a lot of the time, you know, like you go into meetings and you’re like, oh, I have to say something, you know, if I don’t contribute it, it looks bad or… I think it’s just about being yourself and I think that as a leader that’s one thing you know I really love is being able to pull people along the journey with you and you know whether it’s that training, you’re supporting your teammates or you’re giving feedback to them or all those things that you want to you want to help them be better. I think with leadership for me it’s about bringing people along so it doesn’t become about I’ve got to say something or I’ve got to be the loudest or I’ve got to speak. That’s not always what a leader is.

It’s about being you and having those people follow you and want to perform for you and want to achieve that same goal and success for you. So my advice for young netballers, just be yourself. And being a leader, it can be in many different ways. It doesn’t have to be the loudest or the person that always talks. It can be the person that works the hardest. It can be the person that gives that feedback to other teammates. It can be those little conversations. It can be all those different things that can contribute to being a great person and also a great leader.

Finally, do you have three key pieces of advice that you’d give to a young mid-quarter looking to reach their goals or reach their potential?

I think one is, you know, as a mid-quarter we’ve really got to be agile, we’ve got to be adaptable, we’re going to play different styles of players, different styles of netball, so it’s being adaptable.

You really want to focus on both your attack and defence. I feel like a lot of the time when I go out and coach young kids, they only want to focus on attack because they’re a wing attack or they’re a centre, but it’s about having that kind of light and shade between your attack and defence because, you know, middies and all players want to be great defenders and attackers.

And, then the third one I would say is really work on your feeding. So as you go through your pathway and through your development, you’re going to have a lot of different shooters, whether it’s a moving shooter, whether it’s a holding shooter. So, keep working on those different things in your past placement, because the better that is, the better you’re going to shine and the more you’re going to progress through the journey.

Paige Hadley is now live on PlayBook in Sydney available for one-on-one netball coaching, small group as well as online mentoring so book a session if you’re keen to build on your netball skills.

If you’d like to watch this conversation in action you can view the recording on PlayBook IGTV.

If you enjoyed this interview you may also like this chat with Steph Wood: Natural Talent Versus Hard work