This year, the INF invited Sharni Layton, the former Australian Netball Player, to the INF Congress 2019 to discuss her personal experiences on and off the pitch. Speaking to an audience of 150, Sharni gave valuable and inspiring insight during her conversation with sports presenter Caroline Barker focusing on mental health in netball and sport in general.
Sharni Layton is renowned for her passion, skill, and personality, who captivated the congress delegates from the beginning, inviting everyone to stand, stretch and shout “we love netball”. With an incredible history as a professional netballer, Sharni took us back to the very start of her netball journey when she was 5 years old to her successes winning 2 gold medals at the Netball World Cup and gold at the Commonwealth Games. However, Sharni’s career in the sport wasn’t without struggles, and she detailed her battle with mental health, which ultimately resulted in her retiring from the sport aged 30.
Athletes from around the world and across all sports suffer from mental health issues, often resulting from their busy schedules and demanding routines. In netball, the domestic leagues and international commitments can see players competing for 12 months consecutively with little rest. Sharni spoke up about this issue with the INF members to raise awareness of the physical and mental toll that this can have on a players’ health. Despite being surrounded by fellow team members, team support members and netball fans for 12 months of the year, Sharni confessed she often felt lonely and sad. When asked what the Membership at Congress can do to support athletes with wellbeing and mental health, Sharni responded with a strong statement, “treat them as people first and athletes second”.
With Congress focusing on good governance in netball, Sharni encouraged INF members to work with clubs to look after athletes as humans first, putting egos to the side in the process. Trust forms the basis of many things in the world, but in this case, Sharni spoke about building trust between athletes and the Federations, as well as the importance of connecting players with people with whom they can confide in and receive support. Netball clubs will naturally benefit from improved player mental health – the more sustainable players are, the more success they can bring to the club. Sharni thanked Netball Australia during her talk for their continued support throughout her career and hopes more governing bodies will follow in their footsteps with their dedication to supporting athletes and their wellbeing.
Sharni’s honest and open discussion about her mental health is something that many women and girls around the world can relate to. With over 20 million women and girls who participate in netball, it’s crucial that mental health is supported and acknowledged, and all levels of the sport are working together to provide help both on and off the court. The INF is working to empower women and girls, govern with integrity, and ensure thrilling world-class events gives athletes the platform they need to be the best versions of themselves both personally and professionally.
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