A message to our purple family, the Firebirds Faithful

A message from Catherine Clark, CEO Netball Queensland and Lorna Jane Queensland Firebirds 

I must have uttered the word “no” a hundred times. I had no other words.

The pain on Harl’s face as she clung to her knee cut me to the core. The twinge in my own knee a reminder that I know that pain.  The gut-wrenching feeling of a snapped ACL. And it’s not your knee that hurts so much as the heartbreak of knowing your season is over before you even get the scan.  I know it was an agony felt by all of you, and any parent or coach who has shared such a moment with a loved one.  It is crushing.

Tippah sustaining a season-ending foot injury was bad enough, then Kim with a fractured finger, Romelda with a tibia stress fracture and now Mahalia out for the season with a second ACL rupture.

Sport is the agony and the ecstasy.  You cannot know one without the other. To value glory you must have felt the pain of defeat.  We love sport because it is to dare greatly, to sacrifice, to risk our bodies and roll the dice on an uncertain outcome. The thrill is the contest. And in a high-performance team culture like the Firebirds, losing hurts but seeing one of your team-mates go down with a season-ending injury for a second time, hurts more.

Our team (yours and mine), are sisters and care deeply about one another. So, with four of our players taken out with injury, they are hurting. And that’s before we even contend with our ladder position. This is a very foreign space for the Queensland Firebirds. One of the most successful teams in the history of professional netball and women’s professional sport in this country. We still hold the title for the most consecutive wins in the national league with 21 and were the first team to go back to back as Champions in 2015 and 2016 after winning the Premiership title in 2011.

As fans we have been incredibly spoilt with this record, so for both team and tribe, we are not familiar with being winless. And we don’t ever plan on becoming so.

One thing is certain.  Our girls are hurting. Blow after blow of injuries has pushed us to our knees.  It puts in perspective how lucky we have been over the last 8 or so years.  Season 2019 is a story of constant adaptation, and unexpected twists, things being thrown to us at every turn.  The passion and microscope of sport tends to magnify everything, however in reality that’s life. Life has a funny way of getting in the road of best laid plans.

Most of us have had them; days, weeks or years where everything seems to wrong. Sometimes life isn’t fair. As a parent I’m trying to teach my young two and five-year-old sons this from an early age. It is my responsibility that they learn how to cope and overcome disappointment or failures, so that they will thrive no matter what life throws at them.  They cannot learn resilience if they haven’t had to overcome adversity.  This is one of the greatest ways in which sport prepares us for life, especially our young people. Through sport we learn how to be part of a team, how to win, how to lose, to be a leader, and what it takes to be resilient. To get knocked down but get up again. And again, and again, sometimes. And this is exactly what our Firebirds must do.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in moments of challenge and controversy“.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I think this goes for all of us, whether its about family, our personal lives, sporting pursuits, or at work. It’s easy to have friends, or fans, when you are successful. We all love success and it’s magnetic. But as Martin Luther King alluded to, hard times reveal things that success can mask.

Given our season to date, some people have asked me about the fickleness of Queenslanders in terms of only showing up when their teams are winning. They ask if I’m worried that you, our fans, will desert us. It is a fair question which all teams will face at some point in their journey. But here’s the thing.

It’s the hard times which reveal who is truly in our tribe. And here lies the deep benefits of sport to society. Sport is an exceptional builder of community. We experience and learn what it is to be loyal, faithful, to belong and stick together through good times and bad times. Many clubs and teams, in all countries and cultures, have large, passionate fan bases and they haven’t won a title in decades. For some NFL fans I met recently in the USA, their team has never won a title in their lifetime. But the value of their belonging transcends a trophy. It is about family, hope, pride in their communities, the pride in seeing local athletes who they watched as kids making it to the big time. It is the inspiration and the intoxicating power of the contest which excites and enthrals.

So, my reaction to those questions, is no. I don’t accept our fans are so fickle. Rightly or wrongly I believe that all of us, our Firebird Faithful, will surround our team and stand together with our girls through this adversity. I know this tribe. Netball was built by overcoming adversity. There is immense strength and there is resilience. Do we want and expect our team to win? Damn right we do. And they have long rewarded our loyalty with incredible contests, nail-biting title wins and a spectacular brand of netball.

This is a special group of young athletes, very nearly the youngest in the league. And they will be hurting. Any of our netball teams, from community to elite, would be hurting in this position and losing four players to injury.  Now is the time they need us all, their purple family, the Firebirds Faithful, to wrap our arms around them and help them through. To ourselves demonstrate all the qualities we want to see in our kids, in our families and in our community. Relentless hope, resilience, loyalty and compassion so they feel supported. Every one of us will go through hard times and make mistakes. We cannot be perfect all the time.  It is precisely in these moments we need to support each other, even our role models, our champions, need support.

We are ravaged by injuries and we stand heading into round 6 winless. Now, more than ever, your team needs you to stand united as their purple family. Your support has always, and will always, mean the world to our players. Let’s ignite the arena this weekend and remind our birdies that we believe in them and will be by their sides through thick and thin. We are family and together we will fly higher.

I ask you to come out in force this weekend and wear your colours.  Our volunteers will be handing out purple ribbons at the match on Saturday. Please seek one out and wear it with pride, to show our team we are behind them.

Yours in purple,

Catherine

CEO, Netball Queensland and the Queensland Firebirds

#TogetherWeFly #FirebirdsFaithful #IAMFIREBIRD

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