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Eboni Usoro-Brown

When Eboni Usoro-Brown first fell pregnant, she knew she wanted to return to the court.

The Commonwealth Games champion was determined to ensure the days of motherhood bringing an end to a netball career were over.

But she knew she would not be able to navigate the road back on her own. Thankfully, she had the support of Team Bath.

Before long, Usoro-Brown was back on court, in her 11th season, powering the Blue & Gold to a Super League Grand Final, earning a move to Queensland Firebirds and a return to the Roses dress at the Commonwealth Games in the process.

“Before there was unwritten understanding that you would wait until after your career to think about motherhood,” she said.

“Hopefully examples like myself, Gretel [Bueta], Sophia Candappa and Liana Leota (and many other elite netball mums) have provided clear examples that you don’t necessarily have to put it on pause.”

“It is all about the support network around the athlete to help them return to the court, because without that, it would have ben a different outcome.”

“I had Savannah in August 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic, and was signed to Team Bath for the following season. I really welcomed the fact that they put a plan in place to assist with my return to the court, given that I knew I wanted to return to playing elite netball following the birth and they supported me in doing that.”

“Team Bath provided support not only just with the physical steps of returning to play but the logistical steps in being able to do that. By way of example, they allowed me to access to a pelvic floor health consultant, and provided provision within my netball contract for babysitting services so that I could train.”

“Furthermore, Team Bath were able to adapt some of the services I was already accessing in its High Performance Programme, like my strength and conditioning and nutritional programmes. Both programmes were adapted to be appropriate for my pre-natal and post-natal stages.”

“The support provided, allowed me to focus on having a healthy pregnancy, the transition into motherhood, training purposefully post birth and performing on court once the season commenced.”

Usoro-Brown’s experience was a positive one, but the defender knows that the support she was given is not yet universal across both netball and the wider women’s sport landscape.

Her time in Australia showed there are other ways of incorporating motherhood into elite sport, and the former defender called for the work to continue to further support athlete mothers.

“I was lucky enough to play with former Australian Diamonds, Gretel Bueta and Kim Ravaillion at the [Queensland] Firebirds in the 2022 season and the setup over there was completely different,” she added.

“They had a small creche where you could drop the little ones while we trained or sometimes they would be at the side of the court being minded by franchise support staff; it was very much a club family feel and the children were incorporated into the training environment. It definitely depends on the infrastructure around the athlete to make things possible.”

“When an athlete informs the club, coach and team that they’re pregnant, it inevitably means that they’re off your roster for that season. Depending on the level of experience and seniority of the athlete, understandably, that can have quite a big impact.

“However, in my opinion, we need to encourage more in depth conversations about how athletes can be supported if they fall pregnant during their netball careers in the hope that they can return to the court post birth (should they choose) in good form. This applies not only to the elite playing field but also to the domestic club leagues that we have in the UK. ”

“An education piece, by way of policy and guidance, for clubs and coaches which details how they can best support athletes during pregnancy and post-birth at elite and domestic club levels needs to be developed further. In turn, this would strengthen athlete knowledge and understanding as to what can be expected from their clubs should they fall pregnant during their netball careers. This is so that informed decisions about motherhood with regard to ‘when’ and ‘if’ the journey can be embarked upon can be made.”

“Each woman has a biological clock that is ticking. Motherhood is such a blessing, it made me a better athlete, and where possible, you shouldn’t have to delay it because of your sporting career.”

Motherhood and pregnancy is just one area covered by England Netball’s NetballHER campaign, which looks to provide educational resources and open up conversations around women’s health and sport.

It is something Usoro-Brown wholeheartedly supports and believes netball can continue to lead the way in this area.

She said: “The NetballHER campaign is a really good space to be in given how dominant a sport it is for women, the educational content could be industry-leading in the sporting world.”

“I have really appreciated and celebrated the NetballHER initiative as an education piece. From a social media perspective it has been absolutely fantastic.”

“Having conversations, from ‘choosing the best sports bra’ with Eleanor Cardwell to ‘how good is your pelvic floor health’, to ‘her menstrual cycle’ and ‘Her Menopause’; these are all conversations that should be widely had and continued to be developed.”

“My understanding is that pregnancy in other sports, is often treated like an illness, which it is certainly not. The Netball community has an important role to play in changing this narrative, because of the reach that it has across different generations of women. My hope for the future, is for netball to be the best practice example across the spectrum, to other sports, as a sport that exceeds in managing and supporting the welfare of athlete mothers at each and every stage of the athlete and motherhood journey.”

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