Netball’s pioneers at the Commonwealth Games

1991 World Netball Championships 8_Michael Szabath

The Australian team prepared for its 1990 Commonwealth Games exhibition game in Auckland like it was a major tournament.

The only difference was the match against New Zealand was actually a demonstration event – eight years before netball became an official medal sport at the Commonwealth Games, in Malaysia.

It was played to showcase the sport to not just the Commonwealth, where netball has traditionally been played, but also to other parts of the international sporting community.

While medals were never presented, the Michelle den Dekker-led Australian outfit were the first netball team to claim a Commonwealth title.

“To go into that preparation for the Comm Games in 1990 was no different in focus or preparation from any other series,” den Dekker said.

“I think the highlight was that we wanted to be recognised as was the first Australian (netball) team to win at a Commonwealth Games, even though it was a demonstration sport.”

While the team didn’t stay with other Australian athletes, they were in Auckland for a week and took time to watch some other sports.

Heading along to watch the other athletes was a way of showing their support for their fellow Australians and it was reciprocated.

“We did, it was a wonderful opportunity just to see the hype at Commonwealth Games level because netball up to that point had been showcased through international series,” den Dekker said.

“I am sure we had lots of support but as an athlete I wasn’t aware of it because I was so focused … generally a few of the male sports came to watch as well.”

Since retiring from playing, den Dekker has coached extensively at all levels of the game from grassroots to elite.

This has included running her own netball clinics to coaching in the former national league and working with the Australian Diamonds.

mddInitially brought on board as a specialist defensive coach, den Dekker has since been elevated to an assistant role.

She’s excited about the prospect of being part of a group keen to redeem itself after the heartbreak of Delhi four years ago.

“The girls are very keen to bring home this Commonwealth Games (gold) medal,” den Dekker said. “The Commonwealth Games and World Championships are almost like a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“Many of our players have had opportunities to play in two or three, but it’s just something that you never forget so their heads are focused on getting that gold medal.

“It’ll be a fantastic Games for them.”

It would be a dream come true if Australia were to win gold in Glasgow – exactly 24 years after den Dekker and her team were the trailblazers.

ACGA current logo“It’s one of the dreams that I’ve had for a long time (to be involved in another Commonwealth Games),” den Dekker said.

“I took a bit of time off for having a family in between playing and really immersing myself back into the coaching arena. It’s just an amazing feeling to work with athletes that have relentless will to win.

“It would just bring me no greater joy for Australia to bring home a Commonwealth Games gold medal – particularly when I was involved in the first one.

“It’s got that extra special meaning for me.”

Australia kicks off its 2014 Commonwealth Games campaign in Glasgow on Thursday against Wales at 10.30pm (AEST). Follow the Australian Netball Team during the Commonwealth Games online on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aussiediamonds or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aussiediamonds