In a season marred by injuries and on and off-court struggles for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Erin Bell shows the power of positive leadership.
Megan Maurice

8 Jun 2016 - 7:30 AM  UPDATED 8 Jun 2016 - 7:30 AM

Erin Bell isn’t afraid to admit she’s learning on the job. In a season plagued by injuries and changes, the Adelaide Thunderbirds captain has been thrown in the deep end at times, but she’s determined to keep her head above water.

“Obviously I’ve never captained an ANZ Champs team before and it’s been a bad year for us in terms of results,” she said.

“Personally I feel that my form has been down too, so everyone has been asking ‘Is it the captaincy, is it too much pressure?’ I think in rounds one and two that was definitely the case. I’m the worst person for putting pressure on myself. It’s been a learning curve for me to understand that what I can do best for the team is to perform on court.”

The captaincy seems like a natural progression for the 29-year-old, who moved to Adelaide from Sydney in pursuit of more court time in 2010.

“I’d been at the Swifts for five years and I got to the stage where I was ready to play, but I was sitting behind Cath Cox and Susan Pratley on the bench, who were both amazing players,” she recalled. “Jane Woodlands-Thompson [then Thunderbirds coach] saw me play at an ANL game and talked to Julie Fitzgerald [then Swifts coach] about me. Julie put in a good word for me and they offered me a contract.”

While the move could have been daunting for a young player, Bell only saw an opportunity.

“I just thought ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’” she said. “Really it would just be that I was sitting on the bench and I was already doing that at the Swifts. I had nothing to lose.”

It was also the first time the then 22-year-old had lived out of home. She arranged to move into a sharehouse with teammates and while she was nervous about living with virtual strangers, looking back she realises it was one of the most important years of her life.

“It was such a big learning experience,” she said. “I was learning to live out of home, how to shop for myself, wash my own clothes. And on top of that I was meeting new people and playing in a new team. I learnt a lot about myself that year. It really shaped the adult that I became.”

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The next few years were a whirlwind, with the Thunderbirds winning the premiership in Bell’s first year at the club and following it up by being the first team to win two ANZ Championship premierships in 2013 – with Bell the first player to take out three following her win with the Swifts in 2008.

However times have been a little tougher since then. While Bell herself had a strong domestic season in 2014, the Thunderbirds struggled as a team and Bell was not selected for the Commonwealth Games. 

Although 2015 saw an improvement in her fortunes as part of the World Cup winning Australian Diamonds team, the Thunderbirds continued to struggle and missed out on the finals for a second year running – uncharacteristic of a team that had always been synonymous with success.

It was a tough time for Bell, but she was buoyed by her passion for her new business

“Back when I lived in Sydney, Liz Ellis had a business where she did all these clinics for kids and I used to coach at them to earn a bit of extra pocket money,” she said. “I absolutely loved it! But when I moved to Adelaide there weren’t as many opportunities to do things like that, so I decided to start running my own.”

While having a successful business has taken the pressure off financially in a sport that is not yet fully professional, Bell finds her greatest rewards come from simply running around with the kids.

“Meeting those kids reminds me why I started playing netball,” she said. “Sometimes you get too caught up in the professionalism and the issues off the court. It’s made me realise just how much of the stuff I get caught up in isn’t about playing netball. If I’m having a bad day, doing the clinics really lifts me.”

Bell has managed to combine her business with her other passion – being an ambassador for the Royal Society of the Blind.

“I’ve been involved with them for about five years now and we do a lot of fundraising through my clinics,” she said. “Sometimes I get the guide dogs out and we do things where a couple of the kids are blindfolded and the dogs lead them through little courses we set up. I think if kids can learn something about putting themselves in that position and it inspires them to want to help people, then I’m proud I can help with that.”

And while her first year of captaincy hasn’t been the easiest run, Bell is nothing but positive about her experience.

“In the last few rounds I’ve started to really enjoy the captaincy and I’m not feeling the pressure so much,” she said. “I could have had with a season where we won games and that would have been an easy way to start my captaincy, but I just look at what’s happened and I think what a great situation it’s been for me to learn in."

"I try to see the positives and what I can take away from this year. I’ll come out of it having learnt a hell of a lot, not just about myself as a leader, but also as a person.”

It’s been a tough year for the team as a whole, but Bell believes it’s their strong team culture and their support of each other that has seen them through.

“In terms of testing our culture, we’ve really been thrown in the deep end, but that’s the greatest environment for quick learning,” she said. “It’s been challenging to make it a positive place to be in, but that’s what the team has done."

See Erin in action this weekend

  • Central Pulse v Adelaide Thunderbirds
  • Sunday, 12 June 2016
  • Re Rauparaha Arena

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