Netballer Sharni Layton on why reaching her goals left her feeling empty

A few years ago netballer Sharni Layton was at the top of her game – literally. The accolades and awards were coming in thick and fast, and she was garnering a reputation as one of the best players in the country. But the former Australian Diamonds captain reveals that beneath the surface, she was battling mental health issues and a perfectionism complex fuelled by the sport she loved so much.

It was 2016, my third year with the Swifts. My netball career was continuing on an upward swing, and my popularity with the crowds and the public didn’t seem to be waning. I was on top of the world as far as my career and profile were concerned, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t have to worry about money, which was a huge relief.

I was on SportsFan Clubhouse, Fox Sports, Nine’s Wide World of Sports and doing regular radio spots on multiple stations. If there was an event on, I was there. But despite being one of the highest-paid netballers, I was still on the same wage as a first-year AFL player.

This was what motivated me to continue to get my sport in the headlines, so we could get more sponsorships and better broadcast deals, then I could push for our players to be paid what we were worth. The time and effort we put in was exceptional, our professionalism was next level, and there was nothing left that we could do on the court to make our game any better.

The sport was at its peak and now we just needed the wider world to notice us.

Even so, playing with the Swifts was taking me to heights I’d never dared dream about. But at the same time, it was also the start of a pattern that would be my eventual undoing. I was playing well, was in peak physical condition, and was loving my teammates and coach. I was so busy and single-minded that I didn’t notice that my sporting career had taken over all aspects of my life.

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I was on a dangerous road of ‘achieve, achieve, achieve’ and was pushing myself to be better and better every time I stepped on the netball court. If I got nine intercepts in a game, I’d beat myself up because it wasn’t 10.

Unfortunately, the most dangerous person you can compete against is the avatar of yourself you create in your mind. That avatar will always be better than you, and it’s a vicious downward spiral from then on. A ‘What now?’ spiral. And that was the direction I was well and truly heading in.

I had the best international tour of my career in England, getting MVP in all three matches and MVP of the whole tournament. Not only was I popular in Australia and New Zealand, but I also now had a ‘Sharni Army’ fanbase in England, too. The crowd there was wild and cheered for me, even though I was playing for the other team. I loved it.

I took the confidence boost I got from this experience into the Swifts season and had another blinder of a year. With the help of Rob Wright, Lachlan and my psychologist, Jenny, I’d built myself into a stand-out player and was finally receiving the recognition from the public that I’d always wanted.

But I was also learning that this kind of attention wasn’t anywhere near as fulfilling as being with people who really knew and loved me, and as I started reaching my goals, one after another, I just felt emptier and emptier.

I was doing the work, but it felt like something was missing.

This is an edited extract from No Apologies by Sharni Layton, $29.99, Affirm Press, out now.