Earlier this year, Eagles Netball Club celebrated a monumental achievement as they clinched back-to-back promotions, moving up to Premier League 2.
After coming close on a number of occasions, the team are now enjoying their most successful period together.
But over the years, it hasn’t been an easy journey.
Kathleen Butler and Summer Knight are two of the club’s longest-serving players. Kat has spent over 20 years with Eagles; meanwhile, Summer is coming up to her tenth year with the club.
Between the two of them, a lot has changed in their lives but netball has been the constant. We sat down with the pair of them to discuss their time in the sport.
Where it began
Kat began playing netball when she was just five and was coached by Maria D’Amaro – the coach she would meet at Eagles Netball Club a few years later.
Despite also trying tennis, Kat’s main love was always netball.
“I think what drew me in was the team aspect of it. I’m a very competitive person. When I played by myself in tennis, I never got the same excitement when I won that I got when I won with other people. We enjoy the wins together but also learn from the losses together.
“I also like to work hard and I think Maria’s coaching style helped to get the best out of me.”
For Summer, it was a similar journey.
“I started when I was at school and then joined my local club in Maidenhead called Magnets. I then discovered Eagles and have been there ever since.
“I’m a really sporty person – I just love sport. I think I just enjoyed it because it was a lot of fun. It’s still fun now but I really like the competitive side of it and the drive to be better.”
Finding joy off the court
From on the court to off the court, Kat has found some of her closest friends through the sport.
“I found the more serious I became about netball, with training, playing every weekend and travelling with people, you develop long-lasting friendships.
“There’s a few of us within Eagles who have grown up together. We’ve had long injuries and had babies and come back; we’ve experienced the good, the bad and the ugly.
“For all of us, it’s a real escapism from whatever has been going on in our lives.”
Challenges with pregnancy and injury
Over the last few years, Kat has stepped away and then come back into netball after having two children.
Kat admits that she found it particularly challenging when returning after her first pregnancy.
“From a body perspective, I just felt like ‘Wow, how have I ever played this fast?’
“It was tricky at first because your body’s trying to adjust back to what it used to be. Your mind still plays the way you used to but your body is not quite there.
“When I came back, I got frustrated at myself because I’d be wanting to do things that I wasn’t quite ready to do yet.
Kat has unfortunately also experienced two ACL injuries on both knees, one more recently over the last year.
“I literally had my second ACL injury on my other knee 10 years to the day of having the first.
“I found the second time harder to come back because of the children and also, I’m a bit older now. In terms of the emotional side of things, it has been challenging.”
Despite what have been difficult moments, Kat has come through with the help of those around her in netball.
“That’s where I think for me being in a supportive environment is really helpful.
“When your coaches know where you’re at, it’s really helpful. They can tell you to relax and to take your time. It also helps to be around teammates who are happy to see you back and will check in on you.”
Finding motivation after the pandemic
Eagles Netball Club came close to reaching the Premier League in 2020 however, the COVID-19 pandemic denied them the opportunity to play in the play-offs.
For Summer, who joined the club just a few years before, the pandemic caused her to lose excitement for the sport.
“I lost the love for netball for a little bit. After not playing for so long, I felt it was going to be a long battle to get back up to where I was before.
“I’m not really one for going on runs. I’m a real team player and so being away from the girls during that time, I had little motivation to do any fitness.
“But as soon as I came back and we started playing, it brought back that excitement.
“I took for granted things like seeing the girls twice a week. We train hard together but we also really get along.
“I spend four days a week doing netball, a couple of days with Eagles and a couple with my university. It’s a big part of my life and I’d say mentally it’s good for sure.”
Mental Health Awareness Week
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, an opportunity for all of us to think about mental health, to tackle the stigma and to understand what we can do to preserve our mental wellbeing.
Like many physical activities, netball can help reduce anxiety and stress, and boost your mood.
92% of the Netball Family agree that being involved in netball has made a positive difference to their mood and outlook.
There are a range of ways that you can get involved in netball. Find out all the different ways that you can play.