KWIB interviewed Sasha Corbin Captain of Benecos Mavericks and all-star Wing Attack for England Netball (and before you ask… Yes, we did have a bit of a fan-girl moment!)
In July 2019 Liverpool hosts the Netball World Cup where the best 16 countries compete against each other for the Word Champions. Netball truly has come a long way with its most early version a variation from basketball! Today netball has taken on its own identity; it is well recognised and supported across the globe.
Historically, women’s sport has been on the back foot, with men’s sport firmly remaining in the spotlight. However, times are definitely changing, as Sasha discusses within the article! 15-20 years ago it may have been hard to imagine what a ‘professional netballer’ looked like. Could we have ever predicted that women’s sport would reach a level where we had full-time elite players?
Whilst it is true that there is still a lot of work to do to equal the playing field between male and female athletes, netball is certainly an example of the Nation’s pride in female athleticism. Long gone are the days of empty stands and a lack of funding, netball has had a successful journey and has indeed taken many devoted fans along for the ride.
As well as playing for England and Mavericks, Sasha developed Solo Sessions where in her video tutorials she attempts to help players build strength, agility and confidence. Highlighting that no matter the age or ability netball is an accessible sport.
There are so many sides to netball, we have ‘High 5’ for young children, ‘Walking Netball’ for the slightly older player and of course we have the elite and professional game that appears to have captivated so many!
CB: Sasha, can you tell us what it takes to be an elite athlete?
SC: First and foremost you have to know what you want and then you need to go hard for it. It’s always easier when you have supportive people around you that can help you achieve your dreams.
You need to have a really good attitude towards training; want to be better, want to be the best in your mind! Work hard at changing direction, running fast, stopping dead, being in control when you have the ball, jumping high, taking a ball strongly, turning fully and delivering strong and accurate passes. There are so many key components to being a really good netball player, all of these paired with understanding the game with a strong and dedicated mind will mean you can perform.
CB: Were you talent spotted? Or were there any trials that you had to attend to reach the position you’re now in?
SC: I actually trialed for my county at Middlesex, and the more I played with them as an under 16, the more I grew in confidence and got better. I went to the Alex Barless competition, which is where all of the counties came together; it’s such a big tournament and it was there that all of the England scouts & selectors came to watch.
It was after this tournament that I got a letter through the door, saying that they’d selected me for the potential talent camp, which was really exciting as a youngster. Then once I was there, I was on the pathway to try and become an elite player. At about 15 I trialed for the England under 17’s, but I actually got in to the England under 19 team as a Goal Keeper.
It wasn’t until the under 21 trials, which took place a year later that they said that I was too short to play Goal Keeper and that I needed to play Wing Attack. I was quite late at learning the Wing Attack position (16) so I needed to adapt quite a lot of my game play. However, as long as you are equipped with the vital skills and have potential then they’re happy to work with you. Then it’s just about understanding the game after that.
CB: So what is it like to be a full-time female athlete? Did you ever think that you would be playing netball professionally?
SC: When I was younger I always wanted Netball to be an elite sport, and when I say elite I mean professional. I wanted to wake-up and only have to train and play, so the fact that it’s happened right now is huge. It’s fantastic for netball, it gives young players something to aspire to – to know that they could have a career in the sport.
CB: When you started out in netball were your parents supportive, did you have a good network at home?
SC: My parents are very supportive, but it was my Mum who would take me up to Sheffield, or to Manchester, any trial, any match, my Mum was there! I didn’t realise at the time how much it meant to have my Mum come with me all over the country, but when I look back on it now it’s huge to have that support and to have her have my back regardless of the outcome. It was the same thing for my sister Kadeen.
CB: What would you say is your biggest achievement?
SC: My biggest achievement? Well, stepping out for the first time for England Netball in 2008 against Malawi, that was huge! The shivers and the tingles that you get, playing for your country and playing with your sister are massive achievements for me.
Then in 2013 beating Australia three times in a row was huge, it had never been done before, it truly was the start of history making moments! So there have been quite a few highlights and it’s always nice to reflect on those as well.
CB: You are obviously a key player for the England Roses, could you give our readers a break-down of your position and what kind of responsibilities you have in game-play?
SC: Yes! I play Wing Attack and also Centre, but for England I mainly play Wing Attack. My role is to get out at the centre pass. Sometimes you’re doubled with two defenders on you and you have to get free at the centre pass. The next aim is to link with other players and really drive towards the circle edge. You need to be able to take the ball – turn fully and make sure you can feed the ball in to the shooters, so the goal attack and goal shooters can score the goals! As Wing Attack you’re also looking at creating space, being creative around the circle edge and that hard work-rate to always be an option. You need to be nippy and quick and be able to off-foot your defenders really well. It doesn’t end there, you need to be able to defend well too.
CB: How does it feel to represent England?
SC: It is the best feeling to represent England and to just be playing at the highest level in general! Not everyone gets the opportunity to do that, lots of people want to be in your shoes and its important to really cherish the moments, because you never know when it will come to an end. But it’s wicked, standing out there with the national anthem playing, you just want to go out and perform and do the best for your country!
CB: And what is it like playing with your sister at national level?
SC: I love playing with Kadeen, I do really feel like we have a good connection and when we play together it is really exciting, I always know where I’m going to pass the ball. I love it, and I just know that it makes our parents proud and that’s all we want to.
CB: It must have been so difficult to end your season with an ACL injury, what was it that powered you through all of the rehab?
SC: I did my ACL in 2016, I was playing for Loughborough and it was the second game of the season, which made it a really early break for me. It was really tough, but my family rallied around to support me, I’m not sure how I would have coped if I didn’t have them around.
It became a case of where I wanted to get to, knowing that I didn’t just want to come back and play, but that I wanted to play internationally and at the highest level.
I knew that there were a lot of steps that I needed to take, so I broke down my end goal in to small and manageable targets. For example, one week I was asking whether I could get my hamstrings to work and the next whether I could get my calf muscles to work. It was just a collection of lots of small targets that I had to hit just to keep myself sane, because I think otherwise you can think too far ahead and you just get upset.
I chose to air all of this on the second season of ‘Solo Sessions’, I documented my whole rehab process. I wanted to show other people that yes, you can still train when you’re injured, even if this is just on one leg there are still things that you can do to stay fit.
CB: How important was it for you when you returned to Hertfordshire Mavericks?
SC: So when I had done my ACL, the next place that I played was in the ANZ premiership, I went to New Zealand and played there for a year. That was very exciting but of course very daunting because I was overseas and I hadn’t played netball for 14 months since the injury to my knee. When that season had ended I was ready to come home and that for me was Mavericks! It was just easy, a seamless transition almost, and to be named as captain was obviously a huge privilege.
CB: Do you ever feel the pressure of captaining Hertfordshire Mavericks?
SC: No, not really I just want to perform and to try and help others, if I can be an inspiration in any way, or if I can be a motivator in any way, that is the kind of role that I like to take. I obviously have goals and its about marrying that all together, so no I don’t feel the pressure but I do enjoy it and I definitely do feel privileged to have that role.
CB: What was it that inspired you to start Solo Sessions?
SC: For me, I always want to find new ways of improving myself, so when I get messages from players looking to improve their game, I just want to help! So I thought, why don’t I just show you? There are so many things that you can do with a partner or a friend, or your mum or your dad to help you. A lot of people want to get better themselves and I thought this would be a good tool to help them find creative ways to do things. Solo Sessions is there, it is readily available but you can do so much more, just use my video to develop routines you can create yourself.
CB: So what’s the best thing about travelling around the country and training with so many amazing netballers and so many of your friends as well?
SC: I’m not a fan of the travelling anymore! Travelling around is pretty tiring when you have to perform, but I love going to different countries, that’s definitely one of the highlights of being an international player.
But I do love training with the players, they’re such professionals and they all work so hard everyone pushes each other so much, and I think that’s what you need in any training environment. The training sessions are not only about improving yourself, but to also improving other peoples game play and improving as a team. That’s exactly what we need and its great that we have the opportunity for this too.
CB: What do you find yourself working on the most when doing your solo sessions, what is it that people are struggling with the most?
SC: The things that I pick up on most in a solo session is being reactive, for example, a player must be able to catch a ball from any angle, sometimes with limited time to see the ball! Great for defenders!
We are also looking at speed and agility training – getting those quick feet, how to get around your defenders and how to read the game and predict play.
CB: Women’s sport is really taking off at the moment, how do you think netball has developed since you started playing?
SC: Netball has completely changed since I started playing, I just remember being younger and genuinely not knowing where to turn or where to look to find netball. Obviously now we’ve got netball on Sky Sports, and we even had the Commonwealth games on the BBC!
When I was young, netball was not a professional sport and no one ever suspected that we would be heading in that direction so quickly. So the fact that netball has developed with players being able to be full-time professionals is mega!
Netball is definitely growing and it will continue to grow, especially after all the success England has had recently – it will only get better.
CB: Why do you think playing sport is important for young people?
SC: Sport is so important for young people because it gives each one of us a purpose; you get to challenge yourself, you get to try new things, improve general fitness whilst learning new skills; hand-eye coordination, reaction, endurance and speed. I think everyone needs to be fit and healthy – obviously the nation’s health is such a massive thing to tackle and sport is definitely the way forward. There are so many different sports you can play, all it takes is to find the one that you enjoy.
CB: Other than the physical benefits of playing a sport, what are the benefits of playing in a team?
SC: First and foremost, you make the best friends. You are in a team together and generally when it comes to team sports, you are on a journey. You start something together you pick up people a long the way, you’re heading towards one common goal and I think within this there is a massive sense of belonging.
CB: To what extent do you think any woman of any age can play netball?
SC: That is exactly it, I feel like any woman or any girl can play netball. There are so many different versions of the game now its really exciting, each version of the game can be tailored to ability. Additionally, there are so many different positions that you can choose, and you can also choose how you play the game, you tend to use your brain more when you’re a bit older.
I do think netball can be played at any age – England Netball have got ‘back to netball’ for players that haven’t played for years since school. There is the elite side of netball, and now there is also ‘walking netball’ for the older generation. There is ‘Fast 5’ where you can shoot from outside the circle, there’s even ‘High 5’ for kids! It really is a game that has evolved to every type of age group, and it really is exciting.
CB: And so, obviously you are an inspiration to many young netball players, what would be the one thing that you would say to them?
SC: To know what you want and to have fun with it! You play your best netball when you are having fun.