The Huddle for Mental Health Awareness Week: “Netball is my release!”

For many of us, netball is more than a sport; it’s a way of life, a community, and a source of joy.

This Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May), the focus is on how movement, and moving more, can boost our wellbeing. But what happens when you’re sidelined through injury?

Meet 17-year-old Millie, who knows this struggle all too well. Currently out with her second anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in as many years and a ruptured meniscus, she faces both the physical and emotional challenges of the recovery process.

But despite being ruled out of playing the sport she’s loved since the age of 7, her passion for and commitment to netball is as strong as ever.

“Honestly, I love every single aspect of netball – I’m always the first one there and the last to leave!

“Even though I can’t currently play, I’m keeping involved in any way I can. It’s like a mad house over here with all my netball commitments!

Volunteering has given me something to do so I’m not sat at home feeling sorry for myself and it’s definitely kept me in contact with everyone as well.

“I’m really involved in my local league so I’ll go down and help out. Literally, you could ask me to do anything and I’m there!

“I’m also the Youth Representative – the voice of the younger generation – for Netball South. Being involved has given me that confidence that I can be sat there at 17 in a room of adults and have my opinion.

“So volunteering definitely opens, I think, every closed door imaginable.”

Being an England Netball member is more than just a passport to play – it’s about being a part of something bigger, helping to protect, grow, nurture and champion our game today and for years to come.

Millie’s love for volunteering started before her recent injuries. Thanks to her England Netball membership, she was able to sign up with ease to complete both her Level 1 Coaching Award and Into Officiating Award as soon as she could.

There’s no stopping her there though as she’s already counting down the days to her 18th birthday in July when she’ll be able to do her Level 2 Coaching Award.

“A few years ago, I started coaching the junior sessions at my local club and began umpiring in my local league as they needed people. Ever since then, I’ve not stopped!

“It’s so much better since COVID-19 being able to do it [some of the courses] on Zoom instead of face to face.

“My whole focus has had to change – instead of being as fit as I could and playing, it’s now how can I prepare myself for learning all the rules and different coaching styles.

“I can’t do my Level 2 just yet, but I’ve been getting prepared, asking anyone and everyone that’s done theirs for tips and tricks!

“You have to do your first aid and safeguarding elements so I’m trying to get ready so I can do them straight away.

“It’s definitely given me something new to focus on and it’s just been so easy – the way everything’s set out; it’s all there for you.”

Working with Bee Netballers right through to adult Back to Netball teams, Millie is making a big difference in her community.

While helping positively impact the lives of others on and beyond the court, she, in return, also feels a sense of reward from coaching.

“You’ll have those moments when you’re coaching where you’re like ‘wow, that’s why I do it’.

“It’s incredible to watch the development [of individuals and teams] and then you have your end-of-year presentations and they’ll all say: ‘thank you so much for what you do’.

“Those are your proud moments.”

Millie’s upcoming milestone birthday will also enable her to access the Learning Offer for NETBALLHer (a member exclusive for over 18s) to supercharge her development.

A graphic celebrating the impact of NETBALLHer over its first year

The industry-leading initiative, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, is one Millie feels strongly about and shares wherever she goes.

“Every time there’s an update, I’m on it straightaway. I like to listen to the features and see what I can get [from the NETBALLHer website] because I just love to promote it.

“I’m close in age to some of the girls I coach – sometimes I’m more like the big sister than the netball coach – so talking to them and having that information [on sports bras, periods, etc.] to send on is brilliant.”

The supportive, welcoming and inclusive netball community Millie has around her is one she wants to continue to grow.

With the young volunteers of today set to be the future leaders of tomorrow, Millie has been championing England Netball’s Pass On Your Passion (POYP) initiative for which over 700 young volunteers aged 12-25 are currently registered.

The concept is simple: get involved in volunteering in your local netball community, log the hours of work you’re doing, get rewarded!

“I loved to keep track of how many hours [of volunteering] I’d done and it racked up so quickly. It hadn’t even been a year and I was on nearly 300 hours which was insane to me.

“It’s definitely really, really good to get involved and the benefits such as receiving a whistle, a jumper and getting to go to the ONE Awards [after completing 400 hours] are brilliant.

“We’ve got junior coaches at my club so I tell all of them to get on it and track their hours because it’s so worth it.

“I just love spreading the word and sharing my passion for netball – getting everyone involved is my biggest thing!”

Beaming with pride as she reflects on everything she’s achieved and excited for what the future holds, Millie says she could ‘chat for the rest of the night about netball if given the option’, reminding us that the sport offers so much more than simply stepping out on court to play.

Refreshed for 2024, The Huddle promises to do what all good huddles do – bring the whole Netball Family together! We want to champion and celebrate your stories, and the stories of the people who inspire you, so share yours here.

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