Sunshine Coast Lightning and Australian Diamonds player Stephanie Wood answers our questions

Below is a summarised version of an interview that took place live on Zoom. A huge thank you to Stephanie for talking to us, and to coach Marney for organising this.

To start, could you talk us through your netball journey?
I started playing netball when I was six and I’ve just turned 29. From a young age I had natural ability. By the age of 12 I was playing in the top division in my association and I was the kid that everyone said was going to play professionally. I played for Queensland. I made the Australian under-age teams. I kind of have this past where I didn’t really have any obstacles. I was always picked.

Then I got a scholarship to move to Canberra and go to the Australian Institute of Sport. I lived there for two years, playing with girls who were just as talented as me and it was probably the first time that I was like, ‘Oh, OK I need to start working’. I was a very lazy teenager; I wouldn’t do extra work because I was getting on court and I was like, ‘Well, why do I need to do that?’ I got the Gweneth Benzie award for the player most likely to play for Australia but, on leaving the Institute, I was the only player there who didn’t get chosen for an ANZ team.

I moved back home. I was dropped from the Centre of Excellence in Queensland. I started to sit on the bench. My dream was to play for Queensland Firebirds, but I was always overlooked. It was very sad because I kept getting knocked back. And this probably happened for three years, from about age 21 to 24. Then, at the start of 2014, I was running with a friend and it was the first time that someone was brutally honest with me. She said: “You haven’t made it because you just have zero work ethic. You don’t know how to work hard.”

At that time I was actually going to quit netball. I had decided that I was just going to play socially. I was the classic young girl – I was going out, drinking and not living a healthy lifestyle – but I decided to make some sacrifices. I dropped quite a bit of weight, I was running and hitting the gym and I just got fit. By the end of that year I had a contract with the New South Wales Swifts and now I live by the idea that hard work beats talent, rather than having talent but forgetting to work hard.

Now that I’ve been part of a professional environment, seeing how people are selected, I’ve learnt it’s not just about getting the best people in positions, it’s also about who would be a good personality and a good fit. So, if I could give any advice to you girls, it’s to work hard.

How old were you when you first started playing netball and at what age did you know you wanted to play professionally?

I was six when I started playing. My sister Jane made the Queensland team and had the Queensland uniform, so I used to steal it and go out into the yard and pretend to be Sharelle McMahon. In the 1999 World Cup, Sharelle scored the winning goal in the last second and I watched it over and over and over. And that’s when I knew that was what I wanted to do. I didn’t really think about anything else.

It’s not been an easy road. I’ve lost some games – I’ve lost a World Cup, I’ve lost two grand finals – but I’ve also been lucky enough to win two grand finals. It’s probably one of the best feelings that I’ve ever had. And the losses really make you appreciate how hard it is.

How do you prepare physically for an important match?

We have great strength and conditioning training and performance analysis. Also, a lot of my time is taken up by getting physio. I’m 29 but my knees are probably around 35! We get physio and massage to make sure we’re in the best condition possible to hit the court every week.

Do you have any pre-match rituals?

I have this one thing: I have to be on the end. I’m slightly claustrophobic, so I can’t be in the middle of a warm-up and I can’t be in the middle of a changing room. I’m lucky enough to be number one so I don’t have to sit next to anyone.

How did you balance netball and school growing up? How do you balance netball and your personal life now?

I didn’t do this well. I wasn’t the best student. I knew netball was what I was going to do so I put all my eggs in one basket. I think it’s very important to have something that you break away to do, whether it’s school, work or even playing other sports. Definitely make the time to do those things.

Now, as part of our agreement we have to have a blackout period, so there’s six hours every day when we’re not allowed to be at the club. We’re not training, so people can work or study. I love that we have this balance. I just think it’s massively important for wellbeing.  I used to be a yes person, but I’ve found it’s OK to say no sometimes so you can find some time for yourself. Time for myself is going down to the beach and doing nothing. I walk and listen to the waves, because that relaxes me. I think that’s really important to have.

What’s your best tip for keeping calm in the circle?

For me, there is pressure, but you don’t have to think of that as a bad thing. I thrive on it. If we need to score, give me the ball and I’ll do it. The other thing I do is to be more process focused. Rather than thinking about the outcome of my shot, I’m thinking about the process that I need to go through to get the shot.

What’s your favourite netball memory?

The obvious one would be winning the Super Netball championship. But, for me, it was when I was 19 at Queensland. Queensland was not super strong in the under-age competition and we were absolutely terrible throughout the rounds, but it was a great bunch of girls and we got on like a house on fire. Then, we were playing Victoria in the semi-finals and all of a sudden it just clicked. We beat Victoria and then we won the grand final. It was the first time I think in 15 years that Queensland had won an under-age competition. It’s one of my favourite memories, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Did playing professional netball and playing for Australia turn out to be how you expected it to be?

Yes, it absolutely did. The first time I was given my Australia dress I absolutely bawled my eyes out. Then I had to give a speech. I don’t think anyone understood anything I said. It was a goose-bump moment for me. I’ve never taken it for granted. Not many people get to do it: I think there have been maybe 175 people who have played netball for Australia.

How many hours do you train per week?

We train six days a week so only get one day off. A typical week for us would be gym and conditioning on a Monday, court work on Tuesday, gym and conditioning Wednesday with a skills session, court work on Thursday, then our captain’s run which is a mixture of conditioning and some court stuff. Then we go into a game on a Saturday. You also have to factor in physio, nutrition, sports psychology, sports massage … I think it roughly ends up being about 25 to 30 hours per week of contact time with the club.

What female sports women do you look up to?

Laura Langman is probably the big one. I think she’s the ultimate athlete. She has a work ethic like I have never seen. I credit her a lot for why I’m where I am. She took me under her wing and dragged me along to a lot of conditioning sessions that she did. She’s an amazing, amazing player. She’s been playing at the top level for a long time and has been, I think, the best Centre in the world.

Do you still go back to your grassroots netball club?

I have been back a few times. It’s changed a lot. But yeah, I have gone back to do netball clinics and stuff there. It’s cool to go back and see what’s happening.

Do you have a special mentor or coach?

There are probably two.  Sunshine Lightning coach Kylee Byrne had a lot to do with me growing up, and she was there when I got my first contract and helped me through all that. She’s very brutal with me: we have the kind of relationship where she can just tell me how it is and that’s not something that I take offence at.  We can butt heads but, in the end, I know that she cares a lot about me, so she’s been quite a special person.

The other is Sue Gordon, who is a Super Netball commentator and was my coach at the Institute. She was a massive influence for me in that time and was the first person to tell me I was lazy and needed to work harder. She has a wealth of knowledge and definitely helped to make me the player I am today.

How important is it to have a good relationship with coaches?

Massively. It can be tough at times because you want to be your coach’s friend, and you can be, but there’s got to be respect. I think it’s really important to feel comfortable asking for feedback, and for coaches to be willing to give feedback. Players need to trust a coach’s vision because they know what they’re doing. Coaches need to know how to treat people as not everyone is the same kind player or person. I’m a crier: if I’m happy or sad, I cry.

What is your favourite cheat meal?

I always go for burger and chips with brie and cranberry sauce. I love beetroot on burgers, too.