Off The Court: Stacey Francis keen to rediscover confidence with West Coast Fever
"I felt very dissatisfied with my season for Fever last year. I was really keen to get reacquainted with England and hopefully for that to be a turning of the page..."
By Sky Sports Netball
Last Updated: 15/06/20 9:26am
After feeling "dissatisfied" with her own performances for West Coast Fever last season, Stacey Francis is determined to show her worth when Suncorp Super Netball returns on August 1.
The 32-year-old defender, who has been playing elite level netball since 2005, joined the Off The Court team from Perth, following the news that Suncorp Super Netball now has a definitive start date for its 2020 season.
Francis has spent the lockdown period in Australia and throughout her time at Fever, has used the medium of 'Let's Be Frank' posts on the club's website to document all aspects of their seasons and her own feelings.
She does not shy away from what some may describe as, 'the tough stuff'. Instead, Francis writes openly and lets people read her thought processes and conclusions.
"Although I don't consciously think about it, I am driven by my perfection and for things to 'be right' which often means that even when I am excelling, I spend little or no time celebrating achievements.
"Instead, I adjust my targets and expectations towards something new and challenging," Francis said during her 'Reflections about 2019' post, published on September 22, 2019.
After sharing that the pre-season leading up to last year's Suncorp Super Netball campaign, caused her to question herself, she continued to describe how things felt in 2019.
"The season started, and, for me, I established very quickly that things were going to be a huge uphill climb," she said.
"As soon as I mentally opened the door a fraction, self-doubt flooded in… What was I missing? Was I still capable of playing at SSN level? Had I peaked and missed it? Was I being phased out? Why was everything such hard work?"
As a reader, you can feel the pressure such thoughts would put on any individual, let alone a professional athlete who is taking to court with her team-mates every week.
However, a quote written about Francis helped a lightbulb to flicker in her head and more positive thoughts to spin off it. She started to overcome "her funk", as she called it and looked towards a new route.
With the introduction of Jess Thirlby as England's new head coach, Francis put her hand up for Roses' duty at the end of 2019 and her performances in South Africa and at the Vitality Nations Cup turned heads.
In both campaigns her experience paid dividends and her match-winning interception secured third position in the Nations Cup. Francis, as always, played with heart and determination but also, with an element of freedom.
Back in Perth in a fresh calendar year, West Coast Fever's 2020 pre-season was proving to be a productive one. However, like all netball, it was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Francis, and every netballer across the globe, lost the security of a normal daily training routine. Alongside wondering what might happen with the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season, she was almost 10,000 miles away from her fiancée and trying to process what was going on in the world.
She continued to share her feelings through 'Let's Be Frank' articles and also took to posting her daily gratitudes on social media.
On May 31 the announcement was made that Australia's professional league will start its 2020 season on August 1 and Francis' summed up her feelings in one word.
"Relief," she said to Sky Sports' Off The Court.
"It's been really hard. It was a great relief to hear that the league was coming back and I know that everybody's incredibly excited."
Suncorp Super Netball to start on August 1
A full 60-match season will be played and teams are returning to group training together from June 1, Suncrop Super Netball announce.
Weekly calls were part of the process of keeping all SSN players informed about the league's progress. Although they didn't always bring positive news, sometimes pay cuts were the topic of the day, they did provide ongoing updates.
"Although Suncorp is definitely the best league in the world in terms of the level of competition and the players that you will find here, netball is still a young and immature sport.
"We don't have the thousands and thousands of dollars that lots of other sports have been able to throw at the pandemic to solve issues, so there's been a very healthy and continued relationship and dialogue between the Players' Association and Suncorp.
"It made sure that the players are being looked after, and also that we were being made aware of how important it was for us to make compromises and sacrifices in order for the sport can come back."
The compromises Francis refers to did include pay cuts in order to help secure the competition. Now, that has been done and Australia continues to emerge out of its COVID-19 lockdowns, the defender's attention can turn fully to being back on a court again.
"I'm so desperate to play," she said.
"I felt very dissatisfied with my season for Fever last year. I was really keen to get reacquainted with England and hopefully for that to be a turning of the page to find a renewed passion, a different challenge and remember a bit of my own netball identity.
"There are a few compromises that you have to make to play in an Australian team, in a completely different league. So, this season I was just so enthused to take some of the success that I'd had with England and bring it back to Fever.
ANZ Premiership netball on Sky Sports
The ANZ Premiership in New Zealand is set to resume on June 19 and every match will be shown live on Sky Sports.
"I want to let them know that I'm worthy of being here and [that I am] one of the best defenders in the competition," she added.
"It's exciting that I'm hopefully going to get a chance to do that and to bring some more success like we had a couple of seasons ago. Plus, [get back] the same amount of confidence behind my performances that I originally arrived here with four years ago."
From Francis' description of her personality during her 'Let's Be Frank' posts last season, and from her personal goals for 2020, it's clear that she expects a considerable amount of herself.
However, after taking in her more recent written articles and social media posts, there are indications that she's working off a different base to 2019. The 'doubt' which she discussed, may still be present but doesn't appear to be such a loud voice.
Equally, she's been boosted by the work that West Coast Fever put on court ahead of their enforced pause in play.
"We had a really good pre-season before the pandemic came. We've been really lucky in that, although our training has been disrupted, it's been really to a minimum.
"Confidence is high, we've been working hard behind the scenes and we're an exciting blend of youth and experience."
Neither Francis or her team-mates know who their first opponents will be when the season recommences. But, the fact that they have the opportunity to return to court, when others across the world do not, is something they will be grateful for and will grasp with both hands.