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Mikki Austin: “I’m obsessed with netball. I’m obsessed with the game”

WAKEFIELD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: X during the Vitality Netball Superleague match between Surrey Storm and Saracens Mavericks at Studio 001 on February 14, 2021 in Wakefield, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Vitality Netball Superleague)

“First and foremost I am an athlete, I’m a player. From the age of 12 that was all I ever wanted to do.” 

That dedication, passion and longevity is what Director of Netball and Head Coach Mikki Austin aims to inspire within Surrey Storm – from the Performance Pathway to the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) 

Self-professed ‘netball nut’ Austin’s diversification into wider areas of the sport has been an organic process. 

“I fell in love with coaching out of necessity really. I got my coaching qualification so that I could earn some money on the side of getting an education. 

“I’m obsessed with netball. I’m obsessed with the game. As a player, I love the fact that you have to use your brain to outsmart people and I guess just from playing it I had a real inclination to see where that took me.” 

Where it took her was a rapid ascension through the Performance Pathway to the position of Director of Netball at Surrey Storm in 2018, where she had played since 2015 and enjoyed back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016. When it came to accepting her current role at the club, Austin’s hesitation was fleeting – a mere 24 hours to be exact! 

“I guess personality-wise I’m a bit of a ‘jump head first’ kind of person anyway and would rather do it and fail potentially than miss out on an opportunity.”  

While her on-court accolades undoubtedly remain career highlights, Austin’s passion for developing the next generation of Surrey Storm players is a current focus. 

“There is honestly no better feeling than seeing players develop and then going out there and almost not needing you anymore because they’ve taken on board all of the information that you’ve been giving them.” 

“You just need to constantly learn as you go and be happy to be humbled at some points.” – Mikki Austin

It seems the club’s support flows both ways, with Austin acknowledging: “[I am] very fortunate to be supported by a franchise that wraps themselves around me in terms of resources and aids, and helps me keep every single role going as well as playing. It’s been a whirlwind ride. 

“I honestly don’t think [any] level of experience prepares you for this job. You just need to constantly learn as you go and be happy to be humbled at some points.”

In developing her own style and approach, the three-time Fans’ Player of the Year credits many of her own coaches along the way. 

“I’ve been so fortunate throughout my netball career to be coached by some of the most wellrenowned names that the game has to offer from a really young age. I was coached by Amanda Newton who is one of the best defenders that England Netball has ever seen and in my mind one of the greatest coaches.” 

Austin was coached by a number of league legends – something that she keeps front of mind when it comes to up-and-coming Storm players such as Sophie Kelly, and recent NPL graduates Grace Sullivan and Erin Leahy-Salvage. 

“We’ve seen it emerge across the entire league over the last weekend; how many debuts there have been, how many young guns have been injected into the league. That’s a credit to the pathway system that sits underneath the VNSL. 

“You kind of tread that fine line between how quickly do we elevate them because they are really good, but balancing that with the other side of it which is that if we elevate them too quickly, they could drop out of the sport in a year or 18 months’ time. Would [holding them back a year] be the catalyst that meant they stayed in the sport for six, seven, eight, nine years…” 

Storm’s Director of Netball is proud of all her players, and the progress they’ve made in resetting the club’s culture over the past three years, but the work is not complete. With the support of the wider leadership team, including Karyn Bailey and Yasmin Parsons, Austin aims to ensure “every single personality type within our group feels like they have someone to go to.” 

With 2021’s unprecedented VNSL season including greater visibility for the sport than ever before (a passion point close to Austin’s heart), there is one key point the 27-year-old wants her players to remember: “This is the fun bit! 

“I think in the midst of competition and in the stress and anxiety of getting results, you can lose the reason why we’re all here in the first place, and the reason we’re here is because we all love to compete. THAT is the fun bit. Never take that for granted.” 

Make sure that you get the news as it happens by following us on Twitter and Instagram. Find out more about the #RiseAsOne campaign here and read from the leaders of the league here.

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