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Ruby Bakewell-Doran’s Journey to the Diamonds: From Setbacks to Success

Australian Diamonds and Queensland Firebirds player Ruby Bakewell-Doran shares her inspiring journey from early setbacks to the pinnacle of netball success. As one of PlayBook’s coaches, Ruby offers invaluable insights into her rise through the ranks, overcoming injuries, and the importance of hard work and perseverance in achieving her dreams. Aspiring netballers and athletes from all sports will find motivation and practical advice as Ruby reveals the secrets behind her consistency on the court and her determination to continually improve.

How did you find netball and what other sports did you play as a kid growing up?

I found netball pretty early, around age 7. I was actually wanting to play soccer at the time. I’d always wanted to play rugby, but Mum wasn’t super keen on rugby since Dad had some pretty bad injuries playing. She suggested steering towards non-contact sports. I tried to get into a soccer team, but the coach said no because there was already one girl on the team and that was enough for him. Mum then decided I would play netball. I wasn’t opposed to trying anything. All the kids from school were playing and I started playing and loved it.

Throughout high school I played many different sports – touch footy, heaps of volleyball, and loved athletics. I was a long jumper back in the day. But ultimately I just loved the team aspect of netball. I really just loved the girls. Every time I showed up, it was such a good vibe and I was lucky to have some really good coaches.

You’ve already had such an incredible career and I’m sure there are only more great things to come, but so far, can you tell us a little bit of a highlight that has been one for you?

Obviously, wearing the green and gold for Australia was a huge highlight, but to be honest, the moment that probably sticks out the most for me was when I got the phone call from Stacey Marinkovic for the very first time. That almost surpassed debuting. I’d never made an Aussie team when I was little. Of course, as an athlete you dream of wearing the green and gold.

It was my first season as a Firebird in the SSN. I didn’t know what to expect and just threw myself in wholeheartedly. The draft had already gone and the squad had been selected. I didn’t even realise that players could be added later. So when I got the phone call towards the back end of the season, I was absolutely blown away. It’ll forever make my heart rate go up when I think about it. Having someone say “We see you, we believe in you, and we want you to wear our colours” was just epic. That’s got to be it for me.

Did you have a lot of natural talent growing up, or was it something that you just worked hard on?

I think I always felt I was good at netball. When you feel good at something, you’re kind of just drawn to the game. You love it because you have this feeling around the court. I was always a pretty competitive and coordinated kid, so that sort of stuff came pretty naturally.

My favorite saying is that hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard. That is what I live by. As I started to make teams, I realised I was pretty skinny and maybe not strong enough to take on these strong goalers. It took me a bit to find what my little weapon was – what was really good about me that could take it to those girls who were maybe a bit older, stronger, and smarter.

Once I dug deep and realised I really enjoyed the challenge of overcoming these players, that’s what it was for me. The hard work to work at everything. I quickly realised that my speed and elusiveness around players was what was going to win me ball versus being really tough physically. That wasn’t me. It was important not to compare myself to other athletes. There wasn’t really anyone who I looked at and wanted to emulate until I saw Karla Pretorius play for the Lightning. She was formidable and incredible on court. She wasn’t the biggest or strongest but ended up with ball in hand all the time. I remember looking at her and thinking that’s what I would love to be like at that level. So a bit of natural stuff and then a lot of hard work in the long run.

Learn more about Karla Pretorius’ journey here: Leadership and Being a Team Player

What pushed you to get to the Firebirds and what age and position were you in prior to getting this call?

I did my ACL when I was 15. It was a contact injury and I dislocated my kneecap. I was hating sport at the time. I hated that netball had taken sport, movement, and all that stuff away from me. I took three years off netball and had fallen out of love with the game. I had no intentions of coming back. I wasn’t ready to sacrifice that much time – all the weekends and weeknights. Then my mum got in touch with a coach I ended up having for many years, Liz White. She suggested I just come down for a bit and see how I go.

From that point onwards I just never looked back. I loved this feeling, this community, the girls. Because I had all that love back for the game, all the hard work was easy to do.

From that point and probably the next two years, making my first state team, getting a training partnership for the first time, and really being in the Firebirds environment, I thought this would be pretty cool. I’ve got to give this a red hot crack and see what I can really do.

Even the year I got signed I was at a bit of a make or break. I couldn’t work full-time and try to get to training, Sapphire training, state training, and all this stuff. I said to my Mum, if I don’t get a contract at the end of this year, I think I’m done. I don’t think I can do it anymore. It was just major burnout at that point.

I think because I had that ultimatum, it worked in my favor with the club. At the end of the year they signed me. Even when I was that close, I would never have thought one more month and I would have had a contract. It fell into place and I still pinch myself that this is my job.

You’re so well known for being a consistent player in your game. What has your time in the game taught you about how to be a consistent player?

I think it was my very first high-level coach, Liz White, who was constantly on my back about how just because you get an intercept doesn’t mean you get a break. It was very much about repetition, repetition, repetition.

Even that was just one part of the game – working out how to consistently win ball with my team. The next consistency was working out how not to throw it away. That’s a typical defender thing to do – you’re up and about, you get that rush of blood, and then suddenly you need to be calm and collected.

So it was building both parts of my game. I still focus on that every single day of training, every single game. I want to be steady with ball in hand and up and about in defense.

Honestly, it’s just constant attention. You have to keep coming back to the same goal every time of what you’re focusing on each session. Has anything slipped? If things slip, pop them back into focus.

It’s doing it over and over again until it becomes routine. Suddenly, you don’t even look at it as trying to be consistent. You just are a safe set of hands. Coaches can rely on what you’re going to produce and put out.

From a coaching perspective, that’s super important when you’re going out on court – that they know what they’re going to get out of you. It’s about being reliable.

You’ve experienced a couple of very serious injuries during your career and in two very different situations. One when you’re in a formal pathway, and then one when you’re doing it all on your own. What would you suggest to any junior athlete going through an injury for the first time at such a young age?

It was obviously very different, and financially very different as well. Going through it without the pathway, without the help, without the support network was really tough. I probably didn’t realise so much at the time how much that added to not having direction, not really knowing if I was fully on the right path.

I didn’t even give Mum enough credit back then for how much she did to make sure I was on the right path. Constantly reaching out to people, making sure the surgeon I was seeing was really well-vetted and that I was going to stick with a really great physio who would see me for the entire 12 months. All those little things that I just got to cruise through and didn’t even realize the amount of work mum did to make that happen, to make sure I would get back at 100%.

Even when I was really struggling with wanting to go back to netball, she was the one reaching out to rowing clubs or touch football places and suggesting I could try this or that. When I was down in the dumps, she was really that person who was trying to bring me out of it again. She even got me onto Reformer Pilates. Looking back, I can’t believe she had figured out that was the perfect stepping stone so many years ago. To this day, it’s such a good prehab thing for me.

So it was a huge difference, but because I had someone like mum doing everything she possibly could to make sure I was in the best hands, it made the absolute world of difference. When you’re in a professional environment, it’s your job to get better. You’ve been with physios four times a week, you’re in a gym, you’re being coached through everything. You hardly have to think for yourself in that space. As long as you’re ticking boxes, you’re going to get back in great shape.

So yes, it is different but it’s doable, absolutely doable. You’ve just got to have a little bit more ticker about you when you’re doing it yourself.

What are your recommendations for players who want to make a rep team or a higher level team? What are your tips on preparing for selection or just putting your hand up in that situation?

Going through rep trials, it was always daunting. You never really had a sense of what was going on or who was selecting. My biggest thing, which mum used to always say, was you get maybe 10 minutes, so leave everything out on the court. Don’t walk off feeling like you could have done more. Go for everything, be involved in everything. Don’t shy away because you don’t want to walk off the court thinking “what if I just gave it a little bit more.” Go out hard and have a bit of fun as well. People are going to see things or not see things. There are so many kids out there. The more you can get involved and the more fun you can have, the more enjoyable. You can turn a stressful situation into something better.

In terms of actually making rep teams, coaches really look for the kids who have such a willingness to learn when they’re younger. They’ll listen intently and really try to action all the feedback they’re getting into drills and trainings.

A willingness to learn is honestly the best foundation for building talent and creating consistency. Be super engaged and just want to learn.

You’ve experienced some highs and some lows in netball. What have those experiences taught you about grit, showing up and getting through each day?

When you’re going through serious lows, you realise you can actually achieve anything in those moments. It’s pretty incredible what you can achieve. Even last season, having a pretty tough time off court, I decided netball was going to be my fun space. It was going to be my space where I get to be me and enjoy every moment out on court. We lost many games last season but I still managed to find that joy out on the court. I put my focus into something else rather than the outcome of winning.

As soon as you do that and don’t rely on the outcome of a win or a loss, you can navigate those highs and lows so much easier. You don’t have to put that pressure on. Obviously, we all want to win and have been building for that this season. But shifting your focus and priorities into something else makes a really big difference.

Your path to becoming a Diamond probably felt so fast but also pretty slow as well. What did it mean to you to overcome all the setbacks and really excel on the court along with becoming a Diamond?

I think there’s just a couple of moments when you’re out there and you finish the game and you’ll just be like, “I’ve made it.” That’s a really incredible feeling that only comes in little moments because as soon as you’re satisfied, you’re suddenly not satisfied and you want the next thing.

I think it’s just that feeling of the hard work paying off. I probably had that moment again, having to have surgery on my ankle at the back of last year and missing out on that time in the Diamonds dress. It was pretty crappy. So it was a good rain check that you can get taken pretty quickly, so the hard work will never stop.

Elite sport isn’t fair. You’ve just got to keep working hard and finding your feet again. So hopefully I can have some more of those good moments this year.

Preparing for Rep Trials? Here are some tips from PlayBook netball Coaches and Mentors

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