NATALIE BURTON OLY
I recently decided to do something that Natalie from 12 months ago was too afraid to ever let herself do.
I made the decision to leave the club I have played for and been a part of since I first started playing basketball when I was 12 years old. I am now 32.
For 20 years, I have put the same team colours on so often that I may in fact bleed blue and white.
Throughout this time, as I played all around the world, my home club was always the place I came back to in order to recharge and re-discover the joy I felt when playing alongside friends and family.
In 2016 following my Olympic experience, and backing it up directly with a gruelling WNBL season, I was experiencing burn out both physically and mentally. I had lost the joy and fun that was pivotal to the game and vital for my happiness. I was not playing my best, because I was not mentally at my best. The 2017 NBL1 season that year was the only thing that stopped me from walking away from the sport completely. The Hawks, along with the coaches and playing group, provided a space for me to find that joy again. And find it, I did. Basketball was finally fun again; I felt confident and capable on and off the court, and was surrounded by support from every area. That is the sign of a special club, coaches and playing group.
So, when that joy went missing from playing last year, I knew something had changed.
The 2021 NBL1 season was tough for many reasons. But I can only speak for those of which I had control of, and I take full ownership of them. I was not in a good headspace. I felt stagnant and trapped. The loyalty of which I was once so proud of turned into a box. In that box, I felt safe. I was comfortable. But it was also suffocating, and my mind-set on the court reflected that. It became increasingly harder for me to control my frustrations and anger derived from my own shortcomings. I met everything with resistance. If the coach went over training time by 1 minute, I was furious. I was turning into someone I barely recognised on the court. And I was incredibly ashamed.
At numerous times throughout the season, I told myself that I would not play again next year. Because in my mind, I was either playing for the Hawks, or I was not playing at all. Leaving my home club was not even an option I entertained. I would rather retire.
Until my great friend challenged this close-minded thought process, and asked me what I actually wanted from playing basketball. Just that simple question: “What do you see when you picture yourself playing next year?”. To which the answer was simply “Fun.” I wanted to feel the joy I get when coming up with a rebound I wasn’t supposed to get, or when diving on loose balls and putting my body on the line. The feeling that comes from sprinting the lane hard and getting a fast break layup purely from effort. The feeling of camaraderie that is born from sacrificing everything with my teammates in pursuit of a common goal.
This is what fun looks and feels like to me.
And with that intention in mind, I asked myself where I could achieve that, allowing myself to look at places other than my home club. Because a big part of the reason I couldn’t leave the Hawks was because of my fear of the repercussions of my move. The people who would judge me, the people I would offend. I feared it looked like I was turning my back on the club that was a part of me.
But to continue to make a decision based on the fear of judgement from others felt inherently wrong. I would have been doing something to please other people, therefore putting their opinion of me over my own. I would be saying that the way they think about me was far more important than how I thought about myself. I would be denying myself what felt right within me, purely to keep others happy. I would be allowing fear to sit in the driver’s seat, and I didn’t want to let it hold me back anymore.
By taking ownership for my own actions last year, and by finally letting go of worrying what others might think, I could make a decision based on what I wanted instead of what I feared.
By actually asking myself what I wanted and exploring where I could potentially find that, I became open to new opportunities instead of feeling like my situation was out of my control.
In doing so, I have held my worth and my future in my own hands, right where it was always supposed to be. And that is incredibly powerful.
I have realised that I have been holding myself back in fear in a lot of areas of my life, this is but one example. You may not be contemplating leaving a club…you may not even play sport. But I encourage you to ask yourself this one question, as I continue to do the same: How is fear holding me back from what I truly want?