Former England netball captain Ama Agbeze admits she is still driven by the increasing popularity of the sport in England, as she focuses on her domestic career with new club Severn Stars, writes Peter White.
The 37-year-old is hoping to put a disappointing 2019 behind her – in which she missed out on selection for the World Cup and suffered persistent injuries – after signing for the Worcester-based side last November.
Melissa Bessell’s Stars suffered defeat at the hands of Saracens Mavericks and defending champions Manchester Thunder in their opening two rounds of the new Superleague season, but Agbeze remains confident of success going forward.
And while she had hoped to remain on the international scene, the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist insists she is buoyed by the country’s continually growing interest in netball.
“It’s incredible to think what has come off the back of the Commonwealths win,” Agbeze said, speaking as a SportsAid ambassador at an event dedicated to championing the parents and guardians of talented young athletes. “When you’re out there you never think you’re going to inspire a nation but that’s what seems to have happened.
“To have the stage we had on the Gold Coast was amazing and it came at the right time because it seemed to spike everyone’s interest, and then we saw lots of people either going to games or watching games on TV at the World Cup last year.
“Now we’re seeing events sold out – such as the Nations Cup at the Copper Box back in January – and we saw about 9,000 fans at our first Superleague game of the season. That’s amazing and it shows where the sport is going.
“Hopefully we can utilise the growing interest to perform well this season. We’ve shown flashes of promise so far and there’s still lots of games left.”
While Agbeze continues to get used to her new surroundings, she admits she is still adapting to the mental shift of no longer being involved at netball’s highest level.
But the former London Pulse star is hoping the new wave of Vitality Roses players – under the tutelage of Jess Thirlby – can push to emulate the team’s Commonwealths success at the 2022 version of the Games in Birmingham.
She said: “The majority of my life has been geared towards being the best netballer I can be, so now - even though I’m still playing at the top domestically - there is definitely a mental shift where I’m questioning whether I’m doing enough or if I should be doing less.
“I’m now doing a lot more things outside of netball as well and again I’m questioning whether I should be doing more or less. I’m still trying to work it all out.
“Every four years there seems to be a new cycle of players for England, and the team now are gaining the experience that will hopefully help them be successful in Birmingham.
“It’s tough because while the home nations are getting better, the team aren’t exposed to intense match play as often as the likes of New Zealand and Australia which I think makes a huge difference to being successful.”
SportsAid supports the most promising young British athletes by providing them with a financial award, recognition and personal development opportunities during the critical early stages of their careers. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk to find out how you can help the charity support the country’s next generation of sporting heroes!