England legend Serena Guthrie on the importance of diversity in netball

Serena Guthrie Gamechangers podcast

Netball legend Serena Guthrie was the latest star guest to appear on the Gamechangers podcast.

With 110 international caps, the former England star is one of the nation’s most established netball players. She was part of the team that won the goosebump-inducing 2018 Commonwealth Games gold and she also captained the Roses to two World Cup bronze medal finishes.

Last month, Guthrie announced her retirement from the court as she prepares to enter a new chapter of her life: motherhood.

After debuting for the Roses in 2008, Guthrie went on to establish herself as one of the greatest and most influential netball players of all time.

The versatile centre quickly became a mainstay in the England national team until she was eventually rewarded with the role as captain.

The former Roses and Team Bath captain admitted the thing she will miss the most about her time on the court will be the camaraderie with her teammates.

As skipper, Guthrie was a vital part of all the teams she played in. Her skill and experience made her a key figure at both league and international level, and England wasn’t the only place she made a name for herself.

A trailblazer overseas

Guthrie spent a year with New Zealand outfit, the Northern Mystics, before moving to Australia to join Giants Netball. Her time overseas saw her flourish as both a player and a leader and it equipped her with everything she needed to return to England and become her country’s captain.

“The decision to go to Giants was a really tough one because I’d really enjoyed my time with the Mystics,” Guthrie reflected. “But I think you have to recognise what’s easy and what’s needed.

“I think as an athlete, it would have been a lot easier to stay in that environment, and I probably would have still improved but I don’t think I would have maximised my potential as a player.

“So to be able to go to a completely new franchise, build a culture, start to build history and our brand was really appealing for me in terms of personal growth and what I could add off the court as well as on the court.”

Guthrie’s rise into the spotlight saw her scoop the Giants’ most valuable player award in 2017 and 2018.

The former centre powerhouse paid homage to her former coach Julie Fitzgerald, who “took a punt on a wildcard” in bringing in Guthrie as her only centre at the time.

“It was tough to leave [Giants] but it was the right decision for me at the right time. It was great to be under Julie — I think I probably started to become more of a world class athlete rather than just a great competitor.”

Paving the way for equal ground

Unlike the majority of world sports, netball is a female-dominated industry.

In November 2021, England partnered with the England Men’s and Mixed Netball Association in order to help to grow the men’s game.

Guthrie described the partnership as a “great addition” to the sport in England and believes the inclusivity that surrounds netball should also promote the male athletes as well.

“I think it’s a really positive step forward, I think it offers a whole new set of opportunities and a new audience to what we can do as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that partnership can grow.

“I think the men play the game and interpret the game completely differently to the women and I think that’s a fantastic thing.

“I love watching it and I think we can actually learn a lot from each other. And that’s what it’s all about, it’s about collaboration so we can actually learn and grow and it’s really, really pleasing that they now have a seat at the table.”

While Guthrie is delighted to see the men’s sport growing, she has acknowledged how some supporters may feel protective over netball, which has been about women, and for women for so long. There are very limited spaces in sport where women feel like they truly belong, even in 2022.

“I think there is a slight traditionalist in me as well,” the Roses icon divulged. “One thing that is special about netball is that it has been able to belong to women and we’ve lived in a world for a very long time where that’s all people have had in terms of a sense of belonging and identity, and something that they can call their own.

“But the world is changing and we have to change with it. In terms of having the opportunities that have been taken away from us just because we’re female, who are we now to take it away from the men just because we’re a bit protective?

“We have to open our hearts and minds to the future and that is moving towards a much more inclusive space in sport, arts, culture, you name it. So I think [we need] for everybody not to panic, it’s not going to change our sport, it’s great to open it up and to see what other opportunities come from it.”

This article was produced in partnership with The Game Changers podcast, which is supported by Sport England. You can listen to the full episode with Serena Guthrie here.

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