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Eleanor Cardwell: “I’m seeing more and more women on the TV every day and it makes me want to train harder”

Eleanor Cardwell of Manchester Thunder during the Vitality Super League match between Manchester Thunder and London Pulse at Studio 001, Wakefield, England on 21st January 2021.

She may play netball at the highest level but Eleanor Cardwell’s belief in the power of grassroots sport is infectious.

“I just think it’s so beneficial for young kids. First of all if you join a team sport, you’re going to just make so many friends and have so much fun.”

Cardwell is studying sport science at the moment and has ambitions to become a PE teacher, a career she has clearly had an aptitude for from a young age.

“I was one of those kids in secondary school who was running round the courtyard trying to get seven players for a netball team or trying to get 11 players for a football team!

“I was teaching people footwork at lunchtime and teaching people how to throw a rounders ball. As soon as they got involved, they all loved it.”

She spends one day a week teaching in a primary school alongside her netball training and has ambitions to inspire young children into sport.

“I would definitely say all kids should be involved in some kind of sport. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s team sport or individual sport. In a team sport, you’re going to learn teamwork and communication and all that sort of stuff.

“But taekwondo was my main sport for years and that taught me discipline, control and power. You bring different things in from different sports.”

Cardwell believes the level of this season’s Vitality Netball Superleague will inspire even more young people to get involved in netball.

“I’m seeing more and more women on the TV every day and it makes me want to train harder. My little cousin would never have been into sport, but she came along to one England game in Liverpool and now she’s obsessed with netball and wants to play it all the time. Just little things like that, it’s great to see.”

Her qualities as a role model include not only her current performance but her resilience through setbacks.

“When I got asked to try out for the North West region I didn’t get in first of all – I got in the following year. I was a defender back then as well and I think the England U17s were short of defenders at the time. They decided to put on a defensive camp and that’s when I got into England.

“I went through all the England youth systems as a defender and through the four-year cycle of trying to get to World Youth Champs with the U21s, but unfortunately I didn’t get through to the last part, the actual competition.

“I remember playing in one England trial and the first quarter was against Jo Harten and I was like… ‘Alright, this is how it’s going to go!’”

Cardwell was disappointed but carried on playing for Manchester Thunder as well as her university team. It was one particular training session at university that changed her netball journey forever.

“One training session one of our goal attacks went home, so Tracey Neville asked me to sit in as a goal attack for the session. They [her teammates] were all laughing and joking saying, ‘Eleanor, you’re our next goal-attack, goal-shooter’ and I was like ‘nah it’s not happening.’

“The next morning I got a phone call off Tracey. I thought I was in loads of trouble because you never get a phone call off Tracey. It was half seven in the morning and I was like, ‘Hello… are you alright?’ And she said ‘I think you can be the next best shooter. If you want to make it in netball, I think this is what you can do’.  From there that’s where my career changed and I became a shooter. I was no longer allowed to pick up the goal-keeper or goal-defence bib!”.

Tracey’s intervention paid off, as Cardwell is now one of Britain’s best goal shooters. She says her journey from that phone call still wasn’t plain sailing.

“I didn’t know anything about being a shooter. I had to go to all the U17s England days to learn from all the 15-year-olds. I was about 20 and they were younger than my sister, so it was a bit weird.

“I was asking, ‘How do you do a split in the circle? How do you do that, how do you work your feet?’ I was baffled because I was only ever used to being a goal keeper.”

It paid off, though, as she was one of the first 20 athletes to be selected for the full-time Roses programme.

“That was crazy to me. Especially as it was my first year being a shooter. It’s just been a massive learning experience from there as I was so inexperienced and everyone else knew more about the role than me. It just meant I was taking in all this information and absorbing like a sponge.”

Cardwell’s advice to other players would be to use every opportunity to their advantage.

“I just think having that mindset of… Say if you don’t get selected for a game, remember you can still improve yourself in training. If you’re pushing the other girls even further, you’re only enhancing your own performance and you’re playing against good players because they’ve been selected.”

And her advice for lockdown?

“Obviously we’ve all not been able to train in this weird time, so just think ‘OK, my opposition are also in this situation and they might not want to train and can’t be bothered. So use that time to think, right, I’m going to really work. If you’re a shooter and you just work on long shots and nail 20 of them a day, just do something every day.”

International Women’s Day takes place on 8 March 2021 with the campaign theme of #ChooseToChallenge. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

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