As a player, Mikki Austin won Surrey Storm’s ‘Player of the Season’ three times, and was part of two title winning efforts. In 2018, she was confirmed as their new Director of Netball.
The year is now 2022 and Austin’s time at the franchise continues to grow – the new season starts in February 2023 and with squad lists being confirmed she has managed to secure the signing of England Roses Layla Gusgoth and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, and secured Proscovia Peace and Felisitus Kwangwa for an additional season in Surrey. And if a final four finish has been long overdue, Austin has the passion and roster to make it happen.
Austin spoke about the pressure faced in the role over the years.
“I think there’s an element of pressure that comes along with the territory of just being a high-level coach or a manager in any sort of elite-level sports environment. But I guess I knew that and accepted that and wanted that for a really long time, so it’s just one of those things that comes with the territory.
“Obviously I am three to four seasons into it now, so I feel a little bit more prepared for the madness. I think it doesn’t really ever get any easier but you just learn to deal with the hard stuff a bit better and I think over the last few years, I’ve probably done an OK job at being able to be quite robust to hard situations that this job can throw at you.”
So as we head into 2023 and the new season, where do you think you are in that stage of the coaching career?
“Coming into this role when I did, was when Storm had a really tough couple of years and a rebuild that never really happened. We were under no illusions of how long that process was going to be and how tough at times that process was. We always spoke internally about how it would take five years, and three years in it’s no shock to us that we’ve started to make some headway and inroads into where we want to be.”
Austin shared more on the signing of England international Layla Gusgoth
“I think for us this year in terms of our recruitment phase and our strategy was pretty simple, to be honest. We knew exactly the players that we wanted to recruit in what court area. It was just the case of whether we could execute that plan and make it happen.
“And you know it took a while, a bit of stress on my behalf, but I was really, really pleased that we executed that exactly the way that we wanted to. We knew from really early on where we wanted to fill those positions and who we wanted to fill them with, with some really “A star” netballers, but again just some great human beings who you know are really great trainers, and are fantastic personnel to have in and around the environment.
“They spearhead the spine of our team with a winning mentality and I think that’s really important for taking us from the mid-table team where we are now. Last season we did a great job to compete but this season it’s about getting over the line.
“You know, we want to make finals, we want to be a finals team and we’re very much hoping that the recruitment phase we’ve gone through this season with retaining players from last year and with players like Layla, Sophie and Amy Flanagan it’s gonna help us do that.
“Everyone who’s donning the duck egg blue dress this season has a connection with someone. I think that’s very important.
“There’s going to be ample amount of opportunity for all of our athletes to get exposure on an NSL court and in a training environment which I’m sure is going to be incredibly competitive. It’s a long old season and things are bound to happen. You know, there will always be injuries and illnesses.
“I’m still super enjoying it, still loving every minute of it, still feeling incredibly grateful and blessed and fortunate and lucky and any other superlative. You could probably imagine that I’m in this position and you know I am arguably one of the more experienced coaches around the league, which is a bit wild to say considering I’m still not 30 yet!”
Mikki remains as enthusiastic as ever despite being asked about Storms’ finish outside top 4 playoff places over the last couple of seasons.
“I don’t think there’s a single franchise that would sit here and say that isn’t the same for them. None of us have a secret recipe in a book somewhere that tells us how to do it. I think as much as we’re hoping for a really positive season this year and I think we’ve covered our bases recruitment-wise to be able to do that. You know, just because we think that’s the way, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be the way and there is absolutely no guarantee in this wonderful world of sport.
“You know what it’s like, sometimes in the world of elite sport, you do everything right and you still don’t win. That’s just the way that it goes. So just because you may think you deserve it doesn’t mean it happens, and there’s nothing guaranteed.
“We’ve just got to worry about our controllables, keep our feet firmly on the ground, keep our mentality in the right headspace and hopefully at some point, towards the end of the season next year we will be where we want to be. But what I do know is it’s not going to be for the want of trying.
“For us this year we need to find a way to win, almost the Thunder mentality, which they were incredibly good at last year, the best in the league, which is why they went 22 unbeaten even on days that even they would say by their standards they weren’t functioning great and still a lot that they needed to improve on, they still found a way to win, and that’s our task this year, is how do we get to that point, how do we get that mentality?
“So I think it’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be a different challenge to what we’ve had over the last couple of years. But everything is a headache, isn’t it? There are some headaches that are marginally better than others, so this will be a headache much like any other season.
“And call me a bit sadistic, but I’m kind of looking forward to it.”