Netball: Silver Ferns taking forward-thinking approach to motherhood as senior players put family first

When the Silver Ferns head to next month's Netball Nations Cup in England, they'll be without several senior players.  

A few regulars are taking sabbaticals, while others are putting family first – with the blessing of Netball New Zealand.   

Netball NZ and the Silver Ferns coaching staff pride themselves on supporting the mothers within the players group, it also comes with a catch.   

The Silver Ferns have a fresh look to them this summer, with a number of young players given the chance to prove their skills in the Nations Cup.  

"I think it's a real energy boost for us, well for us as the oldies," captain Phoenix Karaka told Newshub. "The confidence that they bring in themselves is huge."  

Karaka will captain the team in place of Ameliaranne Ekenasio, who has chosen to spend time with her two children.  

Earlier this month, Ekenasio told Newshub how hard it is to be both a netballer and a mum.  

"The juggle of having a family just takes its toll in every single way," she said at the time.  

Ekenasio won't be the only experienced player missing in the UK, either.

Mother of one Jane Watson is unavailable due to family reasons, while Shannon Saunders only gave birth nine months ago.  

"We are a female sport, and it is a big demand," said assistant coach Deb Fuller.   

A demand Netball New Zealand has worked hard to address.  

Playing mothers now stay contracted, are kept in the Silver Ferns programme and are treated the same as if they were injured - all with their playing future in mind.  

"I feel that sets us apart to some degree from other high-performance environments, where if you can't perform, that's it, you're out," Dame Noeline Taurua told Newshub.   

But allowing athletes to have such flexibility can put pressure on the system, and for the Silver Ferns, building depth is a work in progress.  

"You want to have a massive foundation of quality players that can fill those gaps when other players exit," added Fuller.  

"I don't think we have that right now."   

But January's series will be a great chance for those players to get that experience so when mothers step aside, they're ready to step up.