LIZ Watson is one of the most recognisable names in the netball world. The Melbourne Vixens turned Australian Diamonds wing attack provides a vital cog through the midcourt, using her netball nous to deliver crucial ball to her goalers and provide an option on circle edge with her impressive hold and clean hands. But like much of the world, Watson is having an unprecedented break from netball, having to switch up her plan and structure for the year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it was tricky in the beginning, Watson said the adjustment to isolated training has come in time thanks to routine and constant contact with her Vixens teammates and friends.
“I guess it was a bit tricky at the start when it all kind of happened but now I’ve got a bit of a routine and I’m still keeping busy with uni, we check in with the girls every day at Vixens which is really helpful,” she said. “So it sets up the day on what we’re required to do.”
Settling into a routine has made social distancing that little bit easier, working into training plan that fits around other ways of keeping busy during the pandemic.
“Before we went into lockdown we were pretty much match fit and I guess building up to competition mode, and now we’ve kind of had to strip that back and go right back to basic kind of fitness and strength,” Watson said. “Our training plans have been sort of up and down, so that’s probably the most tricky part and I think now we’re just starting to incorporate a bit more footwork and netball specific drills.”
“I love going for a big long walk in the morning, that kind of gets me moving and I guess sets up the day, but we are following a training program from the coaches so it’s set out every day – there’s either gym, conditioning and a bit of footwork stuff, but I also am loving doing a bit of palates and yoga, which is good because I don’t usually do that as much throughout the year.”
The past weekend was shaping up to be a blockbuster round one battle against Queensland Firebirds in the Suncorp Super Netball, one that Watson would have hoped to see replicate their 2019 matches, during which they defeated the Firebirds on both occasions.
“It’s probably just, you know, the mental and physical idea that you’re preparing for a match, but now we’re going right back to sort of that preseason fitness base kind of work,” Watson said.
“We’d be having a pretty much a normal week at training but I guess that it’d probably be a bit lighter and throughout the back end of the week we’d have a light training session at the venue which would have been at Melbourne Arena for us. “That’s where we were playing round one so we would have headed there on the Friday for a training session and then played there on the Saturday, so a lot different at the moment, but yeah it is what it is, I guess.”
On the international stage, Watson is vice-captain of the Australian Diamonds, joining forces with a number of her Super Netball rivals. She said the vice-captaincy has given her a lot of confidence in her game, able to share the leadership load with a number of her teammates.
“It’s really special,” she said. “I think the one thing I love the most about it is that you actually are voted in from the team and I think that it’s really important to have that belief and confidence and trust from the teammates to put you into that position. “That gives me a lot of confidence going out there and actually being able to be the vice captain alongside Bass (Caitlin Bassett) as captain so it’s a really special group. “Everyone has to come together, obviously we’re rivals throughout the year but then we are teammates.”
Teaming up with quality players from across the country, Watson has had to switch up her game style on the odd occasion, namely when taking the court with one of her round one opponents in dynamic goal attack, Gretel Bueta. Watson also took on somewhat of a different role in the Diamonds in 2019, playing more of a centre role than her typical wing attack.
“I absolutely love playing with Gretel because you don’t really know what she’s going to do,” Watson said. “I think that’s something that we’ve learned and are really encouraged, is to let Gretel play the way she plays and we kind of mold in around that.”
“I think I definitely feel it more in my lungs in centre, rather than wing attack. “But yeah, I think that they’re quite similar in their positions and the gameplay isn’t too different… in all our analysis sessions we’re always talking so I was across what centres have to do typically in a game so from a game sense it wasn’t too bad.”
At the Vixens, Watson feeds a couple more conventional – but not any less talented – goalers in Caitlin Thwaites, Tegan Philip and Mwai Kumwenda, typically teaming up with captain Kate Moloney to feed into the goal circle.
“A good mid courter, our job is to make our goalers look good and we need to do that by playing to their strengths,” Watson said. “So someone like Tegan is very fast and speedy and Caity, she can hold really well and get that high ball in, so as a mid courter it’s about working with each goaler and actually enhancing their strengths as much as possible and letting them do their thing and kind of fitting in around their their gameplay.”
With plenty of talent coming up through the pathways, Watson is well aware of the Victorian netball pathways given she followed them through in the traditional sense, even playing much of her junior netball at the State Netball and Hockey Centre where the Vixens train and hosted their impressive semi-final against Collingwood Magpies last season.
“I’m very lucky I’ve played and pretty much followed the Netball Victoria pathway to a tee,” Watson said. “I’ve been there ever since I started really, 11-years-old.”
Watson said the Victorian pathway helped curate her competitive streak, with the winning culture something that helps push every young player to keep putting their best out onto the court.
“We always have a strong history of winning in Victoria, and right through nationals, Victoria were always expected to be in that top two, if not number one,” she said. “So it brings that competitive side and I think it’s great that we’ve got such a really structured pathway for young girls and they know the step by step to become a Vixen, and it’s easy when kids say to you, you know, how did you become a Vixen and I say ‘I followed this pathway, this is what you can do to get there’. “We’re very lucky in Victoria that we have that winning culture and that success and that’s because all our pathway is planned out right from when we’re juniors.”
“Simone (McKinnis) has made a Vixens squad so we’ve got an extended squad of girls who are up and coming and I think that’s really important,” Watson said. “It’s so special. “As a young kid I remember going into the Vixens environment, even if it’s just for one training session, and you just see how they train and then you go back and you say, ‘that’s how I need to be training if I want to become a Vixen or be at that level’. “So I think it’s great that we’ve got this squad, and then they can go back to their clubs and I guess drive that standard with their local clubs too so I think having the extended squad has been really valuable for us.”
While the 2020 season is ultimately still up in the air, Watson said the Vixens’ season aims still ring true despite not yet taking the court. Having made finals last season but fallen short, the tenacious Vixens want to win back some of the glory that has evaded them in the Suncorp Super Netball and bring the trophy back to Victoria.
“We want to be the team that comes out of isolation the best… yes we can be fit and strong and deliver our programs but it’s that mental toughness that we’ve always been working on and that’s the side that I feel has let us down previously, that mental side of our game, and if we can come out of this isolation the toughest strongest team mentally, then nothing can really stop us,” Watson said.
As for fellow netballers who are itching to get back on the court and may be feeling a bit sluggish or unmotivated, Watson said it is useful to remember that everyone is in the same position and acknowledge that plenty of others are in far worse situations across the globe.
“I think it’s important to know that everyone’s probably feeling a little bit like that, even us as elite athletes do feel like that … I always think I’m so lucky – I am still playing, I still get to train and I still get to talk to my teammates every day, it’s just in a different way and that’s just the way it has to be right now,” she said. “I think just acknowledging that – yes it’s hard, but if we just sit here and say it’s hard then we’re not going to really move forward at all.”
“(We’re) all trying to work to come out as I guess, fitter and stronger but also just mentally ready to hit competition mode and, yeah, hopefully have a really good season. “Fingers crossed we do play some sort of netball in the back end of the year.”