Dropped and dismissed from the Diamonds in 2017, Madi Robinson opens up on her incredible journey back to the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
‘I’ve just played my last game for Australia.’ That was the thought in my head.
When my husband, Todd, came home from work, I was sitting on the couch in a daze. He asked what had happened and I said, ‘I’ve just been dropped’. Even though I’d been told it wasn’t necessarily the end for Comm Games, there was always the doubt that this was it.
Telling my family was the biggest thing. There was this overwhelming sense of embarrassment. I was ashamed.
It was September. We’d come back from the Quad Series, and I’d seen a missed call on my phone after a gym session. Lisa Alexander, the Diamonds’ coach, had left a message, ‘We need to catch-up’. Instantly, I knew this was not good.
We met face-to-face, and I felt very respected that it wasn’t just through a voicemail message or over the phone. I have a really good relationship with Lisa, and I could see it written all over her face. She just said, ‘Unfortunately, there’s been a change to the Constellation Cup team and you won’t be going’.
I felt empty and sick. It came completely out of the blue.
The selectors had obviously sat down and looked at the performances. I mean, we’d had a big loss against New Zealand in the Quad Series. As a whole team we’d underperformed and, with a major event in the Comm Games looming, they wanted to see all the different combinations and give match experience to younger players.
I don’t know whether it was a case of, ‘All right, we’ve seen what Madi can do, maybe she’s not quite up to scratch, maybe she needs times to refocus and work harder to get back to her best’. There was on-court specific feedback to the wing attack position, but they also wanted to see some centre from me. Versatility is key at tournaments.
After I received the ‘Ok you’re out’, I needed time to process that decision, let all my emotions out and then go, ‘All right, what’s the feedback? Now I can start looking at it with more clarity and calmness’. It’s so emotional, because it means so much to you.
After the Constellation Cup, where everyone played so well, I knew it would be hard to get back in for the January Quad Series. And I didn’t. But Lisa had said, ‘We have four days in camp in Canberra before we go away on tour and that is your chance, that’s your opportunity’.
And that’s all you have to do. You just have to poke me, to poke the bear, and go, ‘Here’s your chance, there’s an opening’. That’s all I ever want, an opportunity.
I was thrust onto the big stage very early. I remember my first game for the Melbourne Kestrels sitting on the bench and thinking, ‘I’m just happy to sit here,’ and then at half-time I was told I was going on at wing attack. I was like, ‘Holy shit, what the hell do I do?’
The whole dynamic shifted when Kestrels and Phoenix merged to form the Vixens. I wasn’t getting much court-time, and everyone kept telling me, ‘You’re only young, it’s ok, you’ll get your chance,’ but then when I did get my chances sometimes, I was on for a quarter and then I was ripped off. So, mentally as a young person you’re thinking, ‘I’m not good enough, what does that mean?’ It’s hard to not overanalyse everything.
I’ve always had really high expectations of myself, believed in myself and my capabilities, and known that, ‘I can do this, I just need an opportunity, give me a quarter, give me a half, let me show what I can do’. At 19, I was like, ‘What would all these coaches know?’
They had told me I was unfit, I was heavy, I needed to lose a fair bit of weight and I wasn’t consistent enough. It’s hard to hear that at 19. But my lifestyle really did change after that. I cut back on the party life and went down the hard-training road, and that’s when I went to Perth to play for the Fever.
I lost 12 kilos, but grew so much. Moving was the best thing for me.In 2010, before I came back to Victoria, I got down to the last 15 for Comm Games selection. I’d only debuted for the Diamonds at the start of that year and I hadn’t played against New Zealand yet. When I didn’t make the 12, a lot of my feedback was, ‘You’re still very young,’ and, ‘Inexperienced’, but once again I couldn’t understand. Why? I want it now. I can do this!
I’ve always been very self-motivated and driven, I guess.
I also just missed out in 2011 for the world champs in Singapore. So, after two bang-bangs like that I was starting to second-guess myself and think, ‘Maybe I’m not cut out for that next step to the Diamonds’.
My mum always says that even years are my years: 2012 was awesome, then 2013 not so great, 2014 was the most amazing, 2015 the worst, 2016 was sort-of there, 2017 not so great. It’s been so up and down that I just try to take it as it comes.
It couldn’t have got any better than in 2014 – a Vixens’ premiership, Comm Games gold medal, another Liz Ellis Diamond, Todd and I got married. It was phenomenal, and at the end of it I reflected and thought, ‘This has been the best year ever. I’m not sure this could ever be replicated. I’m on the biggest high in life, so where can it go?’
And then the next year, when I did my knee, it all came crashing down.
I knew the second I did it, and I knew that was world champs gone. It was the first thing that flashed through my head. It was devastating.
I went to Sydney for the last three days and it was hard. I was so close to so many of the girls, and especially having experienced the Comm Games the year before, I felt like, ‘This is my group, this is my team’.
I was honestly so proud and happy for them when they won, but then so gutted that I wasn’t in the inner sanctum. I’d played a lot of netball with people like Julie Corletto and Renae Ingles and I never got to play with them again. The hardest thing was knowing that 12 months ago that was me and now I physically couldn’t do it. It was one of the lowest points in my career.
But I wasn’t meant to be there. We’d just lost my grandfather to pancreatic cancer. So, as much as going away to world champs would have been awesome, the fact that I didn’t meant I got to spend so much quality time with him in his final months that I otherwise would not have had.
Pop was one of my biggest supporters. To honour him, and to feel close to him again once he’d passed, all I wanted to do was play. I had to wait eight months to do it.
The first game of 2016 was my first game back, first game as Vixens’ captain, and first game without Pop there, and it was the worst game I’d ever played. It was so emotional. And then we lost by bloody 17 goals – it was everything I had hoped it wouldn’t be.
It’s a huge achievement for anyone coming back from a major injury, but I kept thinking I had to get back to being the player I was. I’ve been told a few times, ‘You’re not the same, you’re not playing the same, you’re not back to that Madi of 2014’. But why do I have to be that person? Maybe this one’s better! Or maybe the wiser me is a better version as well.
You just have to poke me, to poke the bear, and go, ‘Here’s your chance, there’s an opening’. That’s all I ever want, an opportunity.
I was 27 when I did my knee. I’m 30 now, so I probably can’t play the way I did previously. My speed, my fitness, everything is probably a little lower than it was when I was at my absolute peak at 24 or 26, when I was killing all the fitness tests. But it’s also that change of mind that I don’t need to be up the front all the time. I just need to be doing what I need to do so I can play my role for my team, whether that’s the Magpies or the Diamonds.
As you get older, you get that bit smarter. I don’t need to be running round like a fart in the bottle, as my mum says. I’m strong enough that I can hold, I can wait on my timing, so when people go, ‘You’re not the same,’ I’m like, ‘No shit. I’m four years older. We’re all different four years on, whether we’re playing sport or not’.
My teammates will tell you I’m still a control freak, but I’m slowly relaxing. Even with what’s happened over the last few months, the girls are like, ‘This not-giving-a-f***-Madi is incredible. We love this Madi!’
This is the girl I probably was all along and then I got stuck in the cycle of thinking, ‘I’ve got to be this, I’ve gotta be that’. Once you’re in the bubble a little bit, it can be hard to see what it’s like from the outside. I got bogged down and a little bit too serious for a few years.
Especially in the leadership space with the Magpies, I want to empower others around me and relinquish a bit of that control. Things don’t always go to plan, so it’s, ‘Ok, sweet, let it go,’ whereas I used to hang onto a little bit of that stuff, and feel like I always had to be on, ‘WE ARE HERE TO PERFORM AND WE ARE ALWAYS READY’. Now it’s more like, ‘Today was a bit shit, but oh well’.
I treated the January camp as my D-day. My mindset was not to prove them wrong, but to prove myself right.
If I walked away from camp going, ‘I couldn’t have done any more,’ then, whatever the result was, I could live with that. I’d taken everything on board, trained really hard over the Christmas break, done all I could.
I wasn’t so nervous about the playing side of things; it was more that I haven’t had a lot to do with some of the younger girls because I’ve been in and out. So it was just about developing a bit more of a relationship with them, and they were all so welcoming.
There was still a bit of embarrassment, though. You hear the word dropped, and to me it says, ‘It’s me. My fault. I’ve done the wrong thing. I’ve been dropped because I haven’t been performing, which is in my control’.
But then after camp, I was thinking, ‘If this is it for me and I don’t play for the Diamonds again, or I’m not in the squad, then I’m ok with that, because I’ve given it my absolute best. I know there is so much more to me, than just being a netballer’.
The team announcement was on the Wednesday, and mum and dad were like, ‘Should we take a day off work? Are we all doomsday-prepped for this moment?’ It goes in alphabetical order, and I knew the time for my call from Lisa was 3.10.
I had to go outside when the phone call came. I was sitting in the passenger seat of my car with the door open in case I vomited, because I felt physically ill. But my gut feel from the sound of Lisa’s voice was different this time.
When she said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve made the team’, I just lost it. I was a complete blubbering mess. A lot of the girls will tell you I never cry, or show my vulnerability, but I just could not speak, or put a sentence together. Hard to believe when I can speak underwater with a mouth full of marbles.
This one was the most special, because it affirmed a whole lot of things. It wasn’t just about selection. There was doubt in my own ability, obviously, but there was also doubt in my decision to move clubs, there was doubt whether I’d be able to play at that level again or, ‘Is my time up?’ Maybe my body’s just deciding that, ‘You’ve had a bloody great career. If it stops, then that’s ok.’When I walked back inside crying, Todd was like, ‘It’s all right…’, and I was like, ‘No, I made it’.
He said: ‘Well, get your shit together, what are you doing?’
Then it was an incredible call to mum and dad. I put them on the phone together for a three-way chat, and mum was like, ‘We’ll be there in an hour’’. They drove up the highway from Geelong, and when we all went out for dinner, Dad was like, ‘What do you want? Drinks are on me’.
For a very unemotional family at times, there was a lot of crying, because they’ve been on the ride with me all the way. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces.
I do reflect quite regularly, but once I finish my career I know I’ll be very grateful that I’ve gone through what I have, because that’s just life. It’s not always easy. Everyone’s not always happy and positive all the time.
Life can be hard, and relationships are hard and making teams is hard, so I cherish everything I have.
Including, now, a Commonwealth Games silver medal.
It wasn’t the colour we wanted. Of course, we were absolutely shattered to have lost to England by just one goal. You put in so much time and energy and sacrifice so much and, to even look up in the stands and to see your parents and your husband and your sister all looking at you, just as devastated as you are, not knowing what to say or do, sometimes that’s the hardest thing.
But I guess because my journey to even get there was difficult, I was in a really good headspace in the sense of, ‘Actually I am really grateful to be here, and when I get an opportunity I’m going to make the most of it and get out there and enjoy every minute of it’. You always want to win, but a silver medal is no easy feat, either, so you’ve got to be proud of everything it’s taken to get that.
I also know that these opportunities don’t come around very often and you’re never guaranteed to be there again, so you’ve got to try and embrace it for what it is, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute on the Gold Coast. Apart from the last five minutes, I wouldn’t change anything at all.
I look at my silver medal and I think it’s incredible. I’ve got it right next to my gold one from Glasgow and it kind of encapsulates everything that I’ve had to go through in netball, to be honest: there’s been the great gold medals and then there’s been devastation. One reason it’s so hard to deal with is because the people who get the gold and the people who get the bronze both win their last game, whereas the people who get the silver lose.
But, as I said to the girls, ‘I’m going to rock silver like silver has never been bloody rocked before’. It’s taken so much bloody hard work to get there that I was not going to get up on that dais with a frown on my face, because I’m actually super-proud to have been able to do what I have, and to be somewhere I didn’t know if I would be again.