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Building on recent conversations surrounding female athletes having children during their careers, the NPA considers the current landscape in netball and how, as the only all women’s player association, we can add to the conversation to positively change the narrative about combining becoming a mum with a sporting career.

There are many high profile female athletes that have proved that it is possible to combine motherhood with a successful career at the top of their sport, and whilst it is now attracting more media attention this is not a new phenomenon. Paula Radcliffe won the 2007 New York Marathon just 10 months after giving birth to her daughter. Kim Clijsters triumph at the US Open in 2009 saw her become the third mother to win a Grand Slam, and American swimmer Dara Torres, former world-record holder, launched a comeback at 41 when her daughter was two years old, returning to the pool to win three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

However, many female athletes still feel there is an overriding presumption that you should postpone motherhood until top-level sporting careers are over, and whilst there are more and more successful examples of mums competing in elite sport, these are often in individual sports where training schedules are considered more adaptive than those in a team sport environment.

Former England International Tamsin Greenway gave birth to her daughter in 2013 and returned to International netball, but retired after the 2015 World Cup. Now a NPA Alumni member, Tamsin speaks openly about her experiences and how it was a difficult time for her. “I was the the only player that had kids, not even anyone in the Roses support team was a mum and there wasn’t the provision back then. As female athletes we have a duty to try to change the narrative and put things in place for future generations of women in sport. When you have someone like Rachel Dunn, still playing at the top level at 36, we have to open up this conversation and talk about how we can support players as they are playing at the top level for longer and longer”.

English netball is in a really exciting era, it has become a way to earn a living in the last couple of years with the introduction of a full-time programme for up to 20 centrally contracted players funded through a UK Sport Athlete Performance Award (APA). In addition, the Netball Super League is now providing a minimum salary to all of its contracted players making them semi-pro athletes. It is perhaps therefore now even more important to have policies, procedures and support in place for the future generations of netball players.

Wasps and former England International, Sophia Candappa is expecting her first child in September. Excited to start a family but also determined to return to the sport she loves, she spoke with the NPA about how she still feels there is a stigma surrounding starting a family. “I think as an athlete you are just expected to play out your career and then have kids, that’s just been the general expectation. But that shouldn’t be the case, we should be able to start a family and return to play. There are so many examples of Aussie and Kiwi netballers doing just that now. But the support and infrastructure has to be in place for that to happen”.

Most working women can expect some kind of maternity rights, including paid leave and the right to return to work. As a teacher Sophia understands her rights as an expectant mother where her teaching role is concerned and believes that sport should be striving for similar support and infrastructure to be in place “I was really fortunate that WASPS were on board and supportive of my decision to start a family, they are a massive organisation and are well aware of government maternity laws but not all clubs are like that”.

However, she still feels that there is scope to change the conversation surrounding combining having a family with a sporting career “One of the most difficult things has been saying that I want to return to netball. Across sport generally the message is enjoy motherhood, spend time with your baby. But netball is a passion of mine, it’s part of my identity, it’s important to maintain those aspects of how you are. I want to return to play but the most frustrating thing is not knowing what that looks like.”

In recent years, netball’s governing bodies in Australia and New Zealand have introduced groundbreaking maternity policies, both of which provide “100% income protection” for up to two years and netball has a real opportunity to lead the way in women’s sport in England. We have many examples of netballers combining motherhood with successful professional careers across the world and despite retiring from international netball, Tamsin Greenway has continued to be a huge contributor to the growth of the sport in England. Director of Netball for Wasps until July 2018, and featuring in Six Superleague finals between 2012 and 2018 as a player, coach or sometimes both, and all as a mother, Tamsin reaffirmed “starting a family doesn’t have to be a decision to retire anymore, players are staying at the top level for longer, and whilst performance comes first we need to open up this conversation about how we can support our athletes, because ultimately you want the best people and best players involved at the top level of our sport”.

This article was written by Amy Cowd


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