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N

etball has long been one of Australia’s most popular

team sports, challenging soccer at the grass roots level

for the highest participation rate but it’s yet to find the

same recognition at a professional level. However, a record TV and online

broadcast deal announced in May brought it a big step closer to achieving

that goal.

The new deal between Netball Australia, Nine Entertainment and Telstra

will see netball matches broadcast live every week in prime time on the

Nine Network, simulcast on Telstra TV and available to view on the Netball

Live app, starting with the Fast5 World Series competition to be played in

Melbourne in October.

There’s no doubt netball, played by an estimated one million women

across the country, is riding a wave of success and Laura Geitz, captain of

both the Brisbane-based Queensland Firebirds and the national team, the

Australian Diamonds, is at its crest. Since her promotion to lead the Firebirds

in 2011 the team has won two out of five ANZ Championship grand finals,

been runner up for another two and this year heads towards yet another finals

berth (as

BNE

goes to press) to be played out by the end of July. In 2014 Geitz

led the Diamonds to a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in

Glasgow, putting them back on the winner’s podium after a

12-year absence, took them to a third consecutive World

Cup win last year and earlier this year led them to

victory against England.

When Geitz started playing netball at age 13

she dreamed of one day playing for the state and

maybe her country, but a captain’s role was not

on her agenda. Nevertheless Geitz has proved

to be a natural leader. Former Diamonds

team-mate Julie Corletto called her captain

a “fantastic leader” in a media interview last

year and went on to say that Geitz showed

leadership qualities even before she was given

the role. “Even when she wasn’t captain she did all

the right things. She is quietly spoken but says the

right things and she is the type of person that when

she speaks, everyone listens, she just has that effect on

people,” Corletto told Melbourne’s

Herald Sun

. “She leads by

example and always has,” she said.

Diamonds head coach Lisa Alexander agrees. “She is one of the hardest

workers on the court. She is always wanting to improve her own game and

the team’s performance. Laura never takes anything for granted,” she said.

Geitz, however, says her leadership style is far from natural. “I think I’m

always learning,” she says. She was vice-captain of the Firebirds when then

captain Lauren Nourse had to retire injured and Geitz was catapulted into

the top job. “Like most things when you are thrown in the deep end you’ve

got to learn quickly. You’ve got to be open to having some challenging times

and get on with the job at hand. For me, I just reflect on great leaders that I’ve

been lucky enough to play under and I take little bits and pieces of what they

have done, but I suppose I go back to the values that were instilled into us as

kids and my leadership is along those same lines,” she says.

Growing up on a farm near Allora south west of Brisbane on the Darling

Downs, Geitz and her sister Carla learned from their parents Ross and Juanita

to be humble, appreciate opportunities that came their way, to treat people

with respect and enjoy whatever they were doing. “We saw first-hand the

way my Dad went about things on the farm. He was always a huge support

to anyone who needed him. We saw how kind and generous and supportive

Dad was to the community he lived in,” she says.

It was devastating for Geitz when her father died following an accident on

the farm in 2013, only months after he had stood beside her at her wedding,

and she almost left the sport she had given her heart and soul to for more

than a decade. For almost six months she said she felt numb. It was her

mother who convinced her not to quit the sport she loved.

Since then she has said she often reflects on what her father taught her

growing up, on his wonderful outlook on life, his hard work ethic, how

he treated people and what he did every day. “He was probably the most

inspirational person I know. He was a leader in his own right although he

was never an athlete. He probably taught me everything I know,” she told an

interviewer a year after his death. It was her Dad that gave Geitz the simple

piece of advice that is her silent mantra almost every time she walks out on

court, “do your best and forget the rest”.

Geitz has also found inspiration in former leaders such as her first

Diamonds captain Sharelle McMahon. “Sharelle led by example and she

pulled up people when they need to be pulled up but she also was very

nurturing and she had a passion for what she did. It was obvious to anyone

how much she loved netball and she lived and breathed it. You’ve got to have

that passion for what you’re doing for the younger players to look up to you.

Sharelle was a huge influence on me in those earlier years.”

However, Geitz doesn’t claim any credit for herself when asked about the

key to the success of both the Firebirds and the Diamonds during

her tenure. Without hesitation she points to coaches Lisa

Alexander (Diamonds) and Roselee Jencke (Firebirds)

and the culture that has been developed by both teams.

It is also the result of hard work. The players are

contracted for 30 weeks a year to play the season

and it’s a full-time job for that time – they are

required to train every day, often twice a day

(except perhaps the day after a match), and

that doesn’t include their maintenance routines

of additional fitness training, physio and other

support services. They are given a day off

during the week and most of the girls are living

on minimum wage during that season, paid by

the clubs. Both the Firebirds and Diamonds have

a strong and loyal stable of sponsors and the girls

take on additional commitments as ambassadors. For

example, Geitz has become the face of companies such as

the Coffee Club, Rebel and Queensland Country Health.

Geitz admits it can be a struggle for the girls on base salaries but that’s

how it’s been in women’s sport for many years.

“That’s what makes the girls so amazing. They don’t complain but that’s

the reality of the situation and they get on with it. I’m very proud that we play

the sport because we love it.”

Geitz is more than happy to share her passion for her sport with a younger

generation of girls. She has teamed up with her Firebirds vice-captain Clare

McMenamin to host a series of Fuel2Fly clinics in July and September school

holidays, supported by their sponsor Chemist Warehouse, at locations from

Caboolture to Burleigh in South East Queensland. The workshops are for

girls aged 9-14 and not just netball players. The team-mates will share their

stories of success, their experiences and challenges along the way, their health

and fitness tips and host teamwork and leadership activities.

“The clinics are for all young girls, helping to empower them and inspire

them to follow the journey they want to follow and give them some assistance.

I’m really passionate about educating our next generation of young girls to

stay healthy and active and to pursue what their dreams are so it’s a huge part

of what I do away from the court.”

However, it does also mean there’s little down time for Geitz and what

she has she likes to spend with her husband Mark Gilbride and beloved dog

Charlie. Although they don’t have time in the netball season to go back to

the farm near Allora as much as they’d like it’s a favourite getaway when they

season is over.

BNE July/August 2016 |

11

Even when she

wasn’t captain she did

all the right things. She is

the type of person that

when she speaks,

everyone listens, she

just has that effect

on people

From growing up on a farm south west of Brisbane to

capacity crowds at every home match Laura Geitz has

helped put Australian netball on the map, and it’s about to

get an even bigger boost. Story by

Heather McWhinnie