How motherhood impacts athletic career
Fear drove professional netballer Renae Ingles to explore a career change. But she found an unlikely coach to get her past the angst of overanalysing her performance: motherhood.
Renae Hallinan would have driven Renae Ingles nuts.
Renae Hallinan, the old Renae – before her marriage to NBA star Joe Ingles and the arrival in 2016 of their twins Jacob and Milla – would scrutinise every detail of her netball performances. She demanded perfection.
Every lift in the gym, every vertical leap and every pass would be trailed by a series of questions over how that action could be improved even further.
“Before kids I’d want to tick every box. Everything would have to line up,” she said. “I’d always be asking the coaches and high performance staff what more I could do. I realise now what a pain in the bum I was.
“Given the perspective of marriage, parenthood and study, I now appreciate the bigger picture. Not everything has to fall perfectly into place.”
The comparison between pre and post family begs further investigation over whether elite female athletes can reproduce their best after childbirth. Or could they perhaps perform at a higher level?
Renae’s baseline was greater than most. She played almost 160 national league games for the Melbourne Phoenix, Melbourne Vixens and Adelaide Thunderbirds before taking a break from netball to begin a family. During this time, she won Commonwealth gold (2014), a world title (2015) and in 2013 was awarded the game’s highest individual honour, the Liz Ellis Diamond.
After taking maternity leave in 2016, the wing defence returned to elite sport in 2017 with the Thunderbirds before relocating to the US to support her husband Joe whose Utah Jazz charged into the NBA playoffs.
On her return to Australia earlier this year, Renae made another Suncorp Super Netball comeback, this time in her home state with the Melbourne Vixens. It caught the attention of national coach Lisa Alexander who included the 31-year-old in her Australian squad.
The Australian Netball Diamonds coach believes Renae can return to her peak but has challenged researchers to delve deeper into the physiological aspects of high performance sport after childbirth.
“We don’t understand enough about our limits,” she said. “I believe Renae can return to her best, but physically it’s a bit of an unknown. Lisa Ondieki won marathons after having a baby and (netballer) Laura Geitz tested better in some areas as a mum.
“From what I’ve observed, mentally you can come back a lot stronger.”
Renae agrees she is mentally stronger as a mum, better equipped to balance the unpredictability of parenting with the regimented demands of professional sport and postgraduate study.
She has settled back into full-time sport, with Renae and Joe reading from a colour-coded diary to keep on top of family and work commitments.
“It’s (the diary) like our bible,” she said. “It’s a logistical nightmare. You can have the best laid plans, but at the end of the day, the kids decide. But that’s not a barrier to getting back. I’m lucky to have such a supportive husband and family, and where there’s a will there’s a way.”
The next step
As prepared as she was to exit netball, retirement was a frightening prospect for Renae.
Not even a bachelor’s degree in communication could ease her trepidation about pursuing a pathway beyond professional sport. There was little appeal in coaching, so uncertainty shadowed her as the young family shifted base to Utah.
“Retirement was a scary space to head into,” Renae said. “I was married, with two beautiful kids, and really happy but still it was tough. I’d been in the sport 16 years so I needed to find some other way to find that sense of achievement.
“I felt like I was saying goodbye to netball and thought I would miss being part of something bigger.”
Renae has resolved her apprehension through ACU’s Master of High Performance Sport. She has one semester remaining, and hopes to use the degree and her own experience to help steer athletes along similar journeys.
Managing all her commitments is a delicate balance. But the juggling act
is aided by her participation
in ACU’s Elite Athlete and Performer Program which supports students in maintaining sporting and performance excellence
“I love learning. Ideally, I’d like to finish in a role in high performance, either as a high performance manager or in administration,” she said. “Because of my experience I’m really passionate about player welfare for those making the transition to retirement.
“It just looks and feels different to what you’re used to, so I’d be really excited to step into that space.”
Renae Ingles is completing a Master of High Performance Sport at ACU. Explore where ACU’s postgraduate high performance sport courses can take you.
Copyright @ Australian Catholic University 1998-2018 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G