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Mikki Austin on trying to have it all as a player-coach

Mikki Austin wears lots of hats but when Amy Flanagan went down injured, she was only thinking as a friend.

Austin is the head coach of Surrey Storm, also serving as an integral part of the mid-court alongside Flanagan who had been elevated to captain for the 2024 season.

With less than two quarters of the first game of the campaign gone, Flanagan suffered a season-ending injury and Austin lost last year’s All-Star XI wing defence.

The competing emotions Austin went through highlight the tightrope she has to walk as one of only two player-coaches in the Netball Super League.

“The emotion of it is quite difficult,” Austin admits. “Me and Amy are friends, I have known Amy for a really long time so the personal side was quite hard to bear.

“Amy is a fantastic human being and would openly describe her netball as a hobby that got out of control.

“She is just supremely talented but there is a whole heap of her life that she is incredibly active around that doesn’t really have anything to do with netball.

“It was that side of it that I thought ‘there are so many things that this is going to impact’.

“She is getting married this year and I am certain for her a lot of those thoughts were swirling round her mind at that time.

Flanagan has taken on a coaching role. Credit: Eva Gilbert

“Rightly or wrongly, immediately my emotion went to everything non-netball.”

In that opening game, Storm suffered defeat to the defending champions Loughborough Lightning before finding out Flanagan was ruled out for the season.

She added: “Then you have to crisis plan and I remember being in the car on my way home already on my phone looking at who to contact, checking with league regulations etc.

“That pretty much started immediately. But these challenges across the league, it is part and parcel of it, I guess the particular nature of it was the weight that Amy holds in that particular position.

“Last year she was voted the best wing defence in the league, so how do you replace that?

“For us it was about looking at it broadly, we needed experience and as these things all pan out, Rosie Harris had been someone who had been raising the question of whether she could come in and train before that.

“She had been in and around the league for five or six years or so, had experience starting as well. And separate to that, something which Storm is all about, she has to be the right kind of person.

Credit: Eva Gilbert

“Even with crisis management we don’t compromise the environment and what our values are so for me it was a bit of a no brainer, Rosie is a great person and she wanted to be part of what we are doing.”

Despite the initial set-back, Surrey Storm have continued to challenge as they seek to return to the semi-finals having finished fourth last year.

The duck egg blue franchise currently sit in fifth, six points off Severn Stars who they face in a potentially decisive clash on Saturday.

Austin is currently nursing an ankle injury that has allowed her to view the game from a different perspective.

“The great part about me being able to dual, selfishly, is I get to do something really great,” she said.

“If I’m injured and ruled out of a game, the player side of me is furious but the coach side of me is really excited to be able to sit back and look at it in a different context.

“The weight you have to carry as a head coach can be heavy at times and the expectation of you being able to problem solve that just comes with the job.

“That’s why it is so stressful but also so rewarding at the same time.”

While the passion Austin has for both her jobs shines through, the question of whether she has time for anything else is a tricky one.

She said: “You’ll have to ask my family and my partner because if I try and give a diplomatically answer they’ll say ‘Why are you lying, you lay in bed with your laptop open till three o’clock in the morning watching videos?’

“It is part of the job, people talk about no work/life balance, it is a 24-hour job, you are mentally unable to switch off.

“And that is win, lose or draw, but I am a bit of a glutton for punishment so I kind of like it.

“Just because the job is hard and the weight is heavy to bear, I will never overlook how lucky I am to be in this position.

“I am in a position of privilege, I am one of 10 head coaches in the Super League. I will never let that moment pass me by.”

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