The saying goes ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’,
And Laura Malcolm’s will to learn leads her way.
Renowned for her flexibility to play across all mid-court and defensive positions, Laura Malcolm is an English Rose with 50 caps to her name, and a four-time premiership winner with the Manchester Thunder. Malcolm also played briefly for the Severn Stars from 2017 to 2018, before making the switch back to the Thunder ahead of the 2019 season. Her success, she says, boils down to her sustained hunger to learn.
“I work hard. I have always been a player that loves to learn. In general life, I’m all about learning
and growing and developing as a person and that shows in the way that I have been able to play
multiple positions on the international stage.”
Although her position might change, Malcolm’s tenacity on the court remains unaltered.
“I am relentless, I’m a non-stop player. I like to talk a lot and communicate a lot. And I like to take things on board and try and learn from the situation with every game. I am all for taking on new positions.”
Malcolm, once described by Thunder mid-courter Natalie Metcalf as the team comedian, goes on to laugh about one day putting on the goal attack bib; the only area of the court she is yet to appear in.
“I am still trying to push myself into the goal attack position. I will still be practising my shooting and hope that it happens for me one day.”
Debuting in 2012 against Barbados for the Vitality Roses and co-captaining the side across major tournaments in 2019 (three-match test South African Tour) and in 2020 (Cadbury Netball Series in New Zealand and the Netball Nations Cup in England), means that Malcolm has been amongst the
elite environment for a number of years. When asked about how she cultivated this growth mindset across her career, Malcolm notes the importance of soul searching.
“I had to do quite a lot of soul searching to get that [high-performance mindset]. I debuted in 2012 but then had some tough times within that and had to come out of England [Vitality Roses]. When I came out of England there were a lot of questions – ‘Do I want to do this?’ And ‘do I want to keep pushing myself in the way that you have to in that elite environment?”
But the power of Malcolm’s message lies in its simplicity and relatability.
“Do I enjoy it? Yes, I do. So, as long as I will enjoy this, I will want to keep learning about it. I will want to keep embracing it. I will want to keep pushing myself in that environment.
“I think I have always had it, but I haven’t always had the sustainability of it until having the backseat and looking at it with fresh eyes.
“For me, it is part of enjoying the game. Enjoying the game for me isn’t just playing, it is about studying it and being a dork with it really. I always say I’m a full-on netball geek. That’s what I am like on the court and that’s what I am like off the court.”
This growth mindset is stitched into all aspects of Malcolm’s life. Paying homage to all who have inspired, coached, and mentored her, she runs an online and face-to-face coaching clinic, Maias netball.
“I wanted to have something that embodies what I believe in and gives a lot of people opportunities, no matter what level or age or ability, to also buy into that mindset of keep growing their game, having opportunities to grow their game, and to embrace the world of netball as much as I do.
“When I was younger, I used to do loads of training in the garden. My dad was a very good football coach and sports coach and I used to get him to give me things to help me train in the garden. Now I am in a position where I have had coaching from a lot of great people. I know there are a lot of people who would also be like me who would want to do their own thing with netball.”
Malcolm views netball as ‘something that is bigger than me,’ and is humbled by her contribution to the growth of the sport itself. She said, “It is pretty cool that I can use the knowledge that I have got and learned myself and gained over the years, and put into something that is really productive for people to do at home.
“It is all about collecting and gathering and adding to my little package of what I know, what I love and what I can share.”
Beyond the current stage of her international career, the English Rose is unsurprisingly willing to also coach one day, alongside growing her business. “I envisage that I will keep chasing my best. I love coaching so anything in that direction would be interesting to me. I embrace every single part of the game and I do love the game inside and out.”
When Malcolm isn’t training, running her business, playing netball, or spending time with her partner and family, she is learning to play golf. “I started to really get into golf. My dad used to play, and we have a memorial golf day for him every year. Because netball wasn’t on, I could go and play a whole course for the whole time, which I was delighted with.
“I am learning my craft at golf at the same time, and it is really frustrating, but I am really enjoying the time.”
To the Southern Hemisphere
Having spent her formative years under the guidance of the English Netball Super League program, Malcolm will be making a move to the Mainland Tactix in New Zealand (ANZ Premiership) in 2023. The intensity of the training program and the solid team connection that this will foster are the key areas of excitement.
“Every part of our day we are doing together; we’re building together and that’s just something that I’ve only experienced in the England programme. So, being able to go off to my club team and kind of live and breathe as an athlete with a whole group of other athletes is something that I haven’t experienced from the club side.”
Playing alongside Silver Ferns like Jane Watson, Karin Burger, Te Paea Selby-Ricket and Kimiora Poi is also another massive drawcard for Malcolm, who welcomes the development to her game that this will provide.
“There’s a lot of the girls that are within the squad as well who I’m really excited to connect with, especially in that defensive end.
“To play with Silver Ferns behind me is something that I’m really excited about. A lot of players have wanted to stay at the team for quite some time, which speaks volumes for the coaching staff. And a few of our girls have touched that Tactix team and have played for that team, and speak well of the culture and the structure of training. So you know, it feels like a no-brainer to embrace that.”
When Malcolm had the call with the coach of the Mainland Tactix, Marianne Delaney-Hoshek she said it just felt right.
“Initially, it is quite overwhelming to be honest, thinking about leaving England. But this has always been a dream of mine. As soon as I spoke to them it just felt right. Just the way they talked about culture, family, and environment, and put that as something important really resonated with me.”
Talking about growth was another sign for Malcolm that this was the right move.
“It is really a keyword for me. I really do live by it. They talked about it before I did, and everything was saying that this was right for me.”
Commonwealth Games and Uganda Series
A resurgence into the international space saw Malcolm selected into the 12-woman outfit to play at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year (2022). Coming into the Games as reigning champions, the Roses were focused on retaining the gold and toppling the Australian Diamonds for a second time.
Consecutive losses to Australia, and the Silver Ferns in the bronze medal match, left England a disappointed side, now looking to rebuild. However, dealing with disappointment is part of elite sport and Malcolm puts this into perspective which helps her, and the team, move forward.
“I have had times where I have had to step away from England because I have had personal life stuff to deal with. As you get older you have a wider perspective. There are tough things that we all deal with in life, and if you can deal with that, you can deal with Commonwealth Games disappointments
or losing games.
“Having said that, there’s no doubt that was a disappointment for us. We love spending time with each other. We are about enjoying the journey. But when it ends like that it certainly does tarnish it.
“We have had to have those individual talks to air out some thoughts in a safe space, and with a psychologist too, and address the elephant in the room as individuals.
“And then come together as the team and make sure we get everything off our chest. Sometimes it is just about dumping some stuff and then you can start moving forward. And that was a really big thing for us when we got back into camp. We really wanted to address it but also think about how we could move forward and how we can become better.
“All we can do is move forward. There is plenty to learn from the bad and the good stuff. That’s essentially the process that we have taken. I don’t think it’s about pretending that you’re okay. It is about accepting that it does hurt, and it is a tough situation and pill to take. And then accepting that, talking about that, and then thinking about how to improve, and how to move on.
“That involves looking back at the experience, finding the holes, and starting to figure out what we can do to combat that from happening again.
“That’s why it is so great that we are getting a hit out against Australia so soon because we can start to try things out and it can start propelling us into that forward-thinking mindset, which we have already done a little bit of work on.”
With some key players retiring before (Serena Kersten, nee Guthrie) and at the conclusion of the Games (Eboni Usoro-Brown and Stacey Francis-Bayman), the English Roses have used the recent series against Uganda, who finished one place lower in fifth place at the Commonwealth Games, to
trial new combinations with fresh faces. Using this series and the Commonwealth Games as fodder for stimulating team development, the focus is primarily on the structures across the court.
“We are still refining some of our structures. We came up against the Diamonds in the Commonwealth Games and didn’t get over the line against them, so there is a lot we had to go back and look at and will be hoping to trial some new things and tidy some things up against them this time.
“We can start to right some wrongs. And not necessarily have that pressure on that we need to have the answers right now, but having another opportunity so quickly after the Commonwealth Games to try and iron some things out is a big focus for this tour.
“We had some good conversion rates at the centre pass, but we’d like to be a bit more direct with that. Obviously, the Aussies are known for being relentless and being able to do multiple workloads over and over. So if we can be a bit more direct with our attack, it will help us in the long run of the
game, rather than playing so many phases.
“Defensively, we need to work with our connection as a back four so we’ll be looking at how we can try and create more opportunities for and work a bit more with each other, rather than being in isolation.”
Being on home soil also meant that the English Roses were able to spend time reconnecting with their fans.
“For the first time in a long time, when we played against Uganda, we got to stay behind and do all the signing and connect with our fans, which is amazing because Covid-19 stopped that for quite some time.
“It feels good to be able to connect with our fans because they help us on the court and even when we play away from home, the more they know us as players and connect with us, the more they get behind us on social media. So, when you play away from home, you really feel their presence.”
English Roses and Australian Diamond Series
The Roses have a three-match battle on their hands with the Diamonds on Australian soil. The first two matches of the series have been played in New South Wales on the 26th and the 30th of October, with the final match to be played on Thursday in Brisbane this week. Malcolm also celebrated her
50th Test Match in the second match of the series, where she played across wing defence and centre positions.
The training for the Roses leading up to the series involved matches against the English and Australian Men’s Team, which is a fantastic new inclusion this year.
Speaking before the first Diamonds match, Malcolm said, “We’ve got one more training session to tidy some stuff up and then we’ve got a lot of games against the men which I’m really excited about because playing against our own men is definitely a step physically and a completely different challenge.
“The English Men have just been able to have trials and name a Thorn squad [English Men’s Team name] in the last couple of weeks. So this is brand new for them. I’m sure they’re absolutely buzzing and it’s great that we’re out here with them and we finally get to play alongside them.”
It is safe to say that Malcolm sets the highest standard of what it means to be an elite netballer, orientated not only towards growing her game but growing the game of others. We can take this as a reminder to use joy as the driving force to excel ourselves and those around us and to find
flexibility in our approach to challenging situations.
With her relentless approach to growth, Malcolm’s game is only set to flourish on the international stage and as she takes a spot amongst the formidable line-up of the Mainland Tactix in 2023.
Where there is a will to learn, there is a way to grow for Laura Malcolm.