MELBOURNE Vixens goaler Mwai Kumwenda spoke openly with Ballarat Swans and Storm junior netballers on how she felt being kept off the court.
One year ago, Kumwenda ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament and had feared having to return home to Malawi for surgery she was unsure could be made. The Vixens rallied about MJ - as she is affectionately known - to be right beside her in hospital and her year-long recovery in Melbourne.
Storm junior netball coordinator Cindy Sullivan said it was a powerful story of friendship and lesson in what it means to be part of a team for the club's young players.
Ballarat won the session with Kumwenda to build on a specialist training session under-15 and under-17 netballers had in June to talk about depression, anxiety, suicide and well-being from a personal and sport perspective. The session, run by sports-based educator SALT, tackled difficult content in a safe environment for players to open-up and understand each other better.
Ms Sullivan said it was important to keep reinforcing trust and the need for teammates to keep checking in on each other - and Kumwenda was a fantastic role model to help achieve this.
"This has got to be an ongoing thing for girls," Ms Sullivan said. "We want to be encouraging conversations for girls about how they feel and knowing you don't have to be feeling great all the time, but that you have always got the support of your team."
The Vixens extended the session with Kumwenda so she could spend time with all 100 girls in the session, which also included Vixens-style drills.
Kumwenda also spoke with girls about her own start in netball, having to walk about two hours without shoes to a dirt court. For balls, the girls would melt plastic bags under a fire and mould into balls held together with string. They would cut down trees for goal posts with old car tyres for the rings.
Ms Sullivan said it was an eye-opening experience for Ballarat girls in determination.
Mental health, cyber-bullying prevention and drug and alcohol awareness have been key issues junior netballers and footballers in the Alfredton-based club flagged for wanting more club education about - and the club is finding ways to deliver.
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