When Liz Ellis reflects back on the profile of netball in the early days of her elite career, it is with utter disbelief that things could ever have been that bad. ‘It’s mind-blowing,’ she said. ‘I’m someone who certainly continues – ad nauseum – to champion the fact that netball deserves more recognition, but I have to acknowledge that when I first start playing for Australia, we’d have a press conference and only our parents would turn up. Now, the press turn up!’
LEADING THE TEAM
In 2004, Liz was awarded the Australian captaincy – as a natural leader, it was a dream come true. The role of the captain in netball is something that not a lot of people fully understand. ‘There’s certainly an on-court aspect to it that probably doesn’t get talked up as much as, say the cricket captain’s does,’ she said. ‘Because they’ve got more time to set their field and that sort of stuff, whereas we have to react that much quicker and have to communicate things in the heat of the battle, so there’s a bit more urgency to it.’The other side of the coin is the off-court aspect and the captain’s role in promoting netball as a sport, which is something Liz had already started to develop a passion for through her media work. ‘There’s the publicity aspect to it. You need to have someone who presents well because netball is still struggling for a foothold in the media,’ she said. ‘There’s a lot of work that, as a player, you don’t see your captain doing. Media calls, press conferences, meetings with the coach, meetings with support staff – suddenly you end up with a lot more asked of your time.’
LEAVING A LEGACY
Liz wanted to ensure that she left a legacy to the sport from her time as captain. She wanted to institute a few key changes to the way things were done to make the experience more exceptional for players who came after her. She also wanted to instil an understanding of the privilege and importance of representing their country.‘At the end of my captaincy, I started up the captains’ necklace. It was a real, rock-solid, concrete thing that could be passed from captain to captain,’ she said. I wanted the captains to understand that they were part of something bigger. It’s really nice now to hear Laura Geitz speak about that now because there wasn’t really any recognition of that when I was captain.’The other change she made was arranging for a past player to come along and
present the team dresses to players about to make their debut for the Diamonds. ‘To me, that was really important because when I got my uniform, it was given to me in a bag!’ she remembered.
‘You didn’t get a sense of the history or the pride and the culture of the uniform. Other sports talk about that a lot. I wanted someone to come in and speak to the players and say, “This is what it means to me.” It’s hard work trying to work out the logistics. Sometimes we were on tour, so we called on Norma [Plummer] to do it. To me, it was something I was really proud of, and would like to see continue.It’s really important that the players know where they’re coming from so they get a sense of where they want to take the uniform to.’While these traditions were important in building the culture of the team, early on in her captaincy, Liz was presented with the opportunity to do something really groundbreaking that would benefit the current and future generations of elite players. She recalled, ‘I got a phone call from one of the girls saying she’d met the head of the Australian Workers’ Union. She’d treated him as a physio and they got talking. He was floored by the conditions for netballers, especially for a sport that was on television.’That was Bill Shorten and as the new national captain, Liz was the person to speak to him and help netball make its first real steps into the professional era.
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