How Super Netball player Maddy Proud gives back off the court
Published April 2023 | 4 min read
Words by Lucy E Cousins
Super Netballer Maddy Proud also works for disability support service What Ability and writes her much-loved book series for kids. Here’s how she balances it all.
For 29-year-old NSW Swifts co-captain and Super Netball player Maddy Proud, netball has always come first. It’s been a part of her life since she can remember. After all, she was the youngest ever professional netball player in Australia, having been selected at the age of 16 to play for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, and she also led the Australian 21 & Under team to a silver medal at the World Youth Netball Cup.
She insists it was the introduction of sport into her life when she was a child that has been crucial to her enormous success.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today – in terms of being a professional athlete, but more so the person I am – had it not been for sport when I was little,” she says. “Playing sport from a young age teaches you so many values that you can’t learn anywhere else. And being part of a team builds resilience and dependability.”
It’s a subject so close to Maddy’s heart that she’s even made it central to the theme of her series of tween-focused books, Grace on the Court and Grace Back on Court. She’s hoping her words, and her own performances on court, will encourage kids to take up a sport. And so far, it’s working.
“I love hearing parents say, ‘Oh, my daughter has never finished a book before, but she read yours in one night’. Or, ‘My daughter loves reading, and she's never wanted to play sport, but after reading your book, she wants to play netball’,” she says.
These are welcome messages, she adds, because the recent research showing that one in two girls stop playing sport between the ages of 15 and 17, left her feeling “sad and scared”. She’s on a mission to curb that trend.
“I just can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like without team sport at that age. And so I wanted to put something out there that would, firstly, be enjoyable, but also encourage kids to play netball or any sort of sport.”
Maddy Proud on court with Bianca, a What Ability participant.
Giving back to those in need
When she’s not attacking on the Super Netball court or writing her novels, Maddy also works part-time as a support worker for the disability support service, What Ability. She says it’s more than just a job for her – it’s a chance to change the life of a child.
“It’s all about giving children with a disability different opportunities and experiences.”
That experience could be going to a trampoline park, bowling or going on multi-night camps run by the organisation. It depends on what the child and their family would like to do.
“I've got Bianca, for example, who's a participant. I know Bianca, and things that she likes to do, [so we might be] going to the movies or getting her nails done. It might be just doing anything that puts a smile on any kid's face. And if you get to call that work, then that's pretty cool.”
One thing she loves to do with kids, of course, is see a sporting match with them.
“To be able to take a whole family to a netball game or a footy game, where you see the faces of the siblings and the child, is so great,” says Maddy, “because it’s the little things that they don’t get to do on an everyday basis. The things that you take for granted are so huge for them.”
A lot of the families don’t get to do excursions like this because of the effort it would take or because they’ve got other children they need to look after as well. For the fast-thinking centre/wing attack, it’s this part of the job that offers personal satisfaction and a feeling that she’s helping to give back.
“I think being a parent is a hard thing in any way, and being part of a family can have its challenges, but having a family where you've got a child with a disability, it's all consuming.
“The parents that send their kids away on camp love their kids and would do anything for them, but to have that chance to maybe do things for themselves that they wouldn't usually get to do because they are a full-time carer; it's all those little things that add up and make a huge difference,” she says.
Maddy's work behind the scenes
The Adelaide native also helps the disability support service with business development, aiming to spread the word about the positive work What Ability is doing. For Maddy, it was a natural step in her journey with the charity.
“As soon as I started, I realised that I didn’t want to only be a support worker,” she says. “So now, in my business development role, I try to spread the word as much as possible.”
Depending on the day, that could mean bringing more sponsors on board, networking or organising 50 tickets for the next Swifts game. Maddy loves these experiences as she believes “every kid should have the opportunity to watch live sport”. It’s just one of the reasons she feels lucky to be involved.
“There are so many facets to this job, and you can help out in different ways. It's not just a one-dimensional job, there's so many different layers to it, and there’s always some way that you can help,” she says.
Maddy's support network
Just as she supports others through her work, Maddy’s own support network has been integral to her success. She says her parents have been her biggest cheerleaders.
“I was very fortunate to have had the upbringing that I did. That's why I was able to do what I did and progress the way I did, because of their encouragement. Even throughout the years that I've been involved in professional sport, they've always been my number one supporters.
“My mum was the one who encouraged me to write my books. And even my dad was probably the person that got storytelling in my blood: he used to tell us stories every night before we went to bed. And so in every area that I've now been able to achieve in, it's come from them.
“The older you get, the more you realise it's pretty rare to have such a supportive family and you really are lucky to have that.”
The balancing act
While working and her writing take up much of her free time, Maddy’s clear that whatever she does has to work with her netball schedule. And that can sometimes be more complicated than it sounds, with changing timetables, match days and different playing locations.
“The number one thing that I look for in any work that I’m doing outside of netball is that they’ve got to be willing to compromise if the netball schedules change,” she explains, “and also just be able to fit into the ever-changing week that I have!''
But she wouldn’t have it any other way when it comes to her support worker role.
“Seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids is amazing,” she says. “It’s the most fun job in the world because I get to do things that I love and I’m doing them with someone whose family might not have the chance to be able to do that for them.”
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