Sport

Layton’s passion for life shines through

By Alex Mitchell

It is hard to put a finger on what it is exactly about Sharni Layton’s personality that has carried her from Mordialloc in Melbourne’s south-east, through to netball superstardom.

The same energy she brings on the netball court to electrify crowds and startle opposition players continues off the court, where she resonates with fans like few others in the sport.

In town last Friday to speak at Shepparton United Football Netball Club, again the Collingwood player’s energy could not be held back.

While coaching a game at the club’s holiday clinic, when one young participant went off injured, of course the former Diamonds captain jumped straight on court to get involved and fill the gap.

Layton said getting out to country towns such as Shepparton was about showing emerging players the gap between the grassroots and the elite level is not as far as it seems.

‘‘For us it’s so important, especially during school holidays, that we get out amongst the community,’’ she said.

‘‘I know I loved it when I was younger when I had girls in the Melbourne team come out.

‘‘You’re not just looking at them on TV and thinking ‘how do you get there?’ Everyone has their own story and if you can just give them that motivation, they want to do it as well.’’

A two-time netball world champion, Commonwealth Games gold medallist and Australian league Player of the Year as well as former national team captain, the 30-year-old has achieved more in the game than even those youngsters could dream of.

Demons president Craig Blizzard said when he asked his club’s netballers for a star they would like to hear from, it was a unanimous decision — Sharni Layton.

‘‘It means a lot and you really have to pinch yourself when you hear things like that because I still see myself as the same person I was when I was 10 really,’’ she said.

‘‘It is really bizarre and I absolutely love it, but I also wouldn’t be where I am without my support base — not just from netball and my family, but from all over Australia, especially country towns.’’

But while a bubbly, confident and loud personality, Layton in recent times spent time away from the game battling mental health issues, something she has spoken about publicly in an effort to normalise the conversation.

In many respects, she is the perfect example mental health problems can trouble anyone, no matter how positively or confidently an individual carries themselves.

‘‘I probably hadn’t been right for a while, but I hadn’t realised, or picked up the signs of it, in regards to feeling down and not being myself,’’ she said.

‘‘And not having the motivation to put in what I needed to at training, that was why I took time off, because I couldn’t give what I needed to give to the group.

‘‘I’m a high personality, and I thought ‘why am I down? I have everything amazing in life’. But it can happen to anyone and it doesn’t mean it has any less of an effect on you.’’

Perhaps her biggest takeaway from her ongoing experience is that mental health concerns are no less of an injury than any other.

‘‘When I took time off, seeing psychiatrists and psychologists, I realised how scientific it is,’’ Layton said.

‘‘It really normalised it for me and, once I realised that, I wondered why people aren’t talking about it, and why is it a big deal — if I strained my hamstring, I’d take time off and no-one would make anything of it.

‘‘It gave me the confidence to talk about it and that’s why I wanted to share it. I should have reached out earlier and I didn’t and I want people to be able to reach out to people with the experience and expertise in being able to help.’’

Layton has been in and out of the Collingwood side this season in what has been a difficult campaign for the Magpies, with a 3-7 record dropping the side to seventh in the eight-team Suncorp Super Netball league.

But for every down in her decade-long career there has been an up and Layton said her message to the next generation was to keep battling and find their own way over hurdles.

‘‘It doesn’t come easy — I spent five years on the bench, it was attitude more so than skills that got me there,’’ she said.

‘‘There’s not one set way to get anywhere and I like to share my way of how I overcame obstacles and hopefully that can inspire them, not just in sport, but whatever they want to do in life.’’