Opinion

Michelle Phippard retires: an open letter to the netball family

By Michelle Phippard

Hi everyone, I wanted to let you know that I have decided not to accept the contract offer made by Netball Australia to be part of the SSN/High Performance Umpire Squad process in 2022, and will be stepping away from active on-court umpiring. 

Much as my heart would like to continue, my head and my body are saying no, and I just don’t feel that I will be able to give netball the priority, focus and commitment that I know is necessary to continue at the highest level.  As Kenny Rogers sings in “The Gambler” – you’ve gotta know when to fold ‘em. 

There are a number of reasons for making this decision now – physical, mental and practical – but most of all, it feels like a natural conclusion to a journey of which I am immensely proud.  It is truly a gift to do something you love for such a long time.  When I first encountered netball as an eight-year-old, I could not have imagined the adventures that would follow, and I still pinch myself when I think of the opportunities I have been given to contribute to a sport I love at the very highest level.  It has been an absolute privilege for which I feel incredibly grateful.

I believe that intelligent, fearless umpiring makes the game better, and I’ve always brought my whole self, unapologetically, to what I do.  I have loved the chance to test myself on every encounter to develop a deeper understanding of the game for the sake of the players, and to manage matches in a way that is authentic, respectful and genuine. 

I’m sure I haven’t always succeeded, but it is in striving for perfection that we get to excellence, and I like to think there have been some small glimpses of that across the many games I’ve officiated at domestic and international level.  I am so honoured to have been a part of elite netball and I am in awe of all of those who devote so much to making our game great – players, coaches, team personnel, bench officials and volunteers in all capacities. 

Not forgetting my fellow umpires of course, who have been respected colleagues, and in many cases, treasured friends with whom I have shared many incredible experiences.  I will miss being on court with you.

Netball’s community is its superpower, and it is a special sport because of the enduring passion of the people who choose it as their own.  It means so much to be a part of something bigger than yourself.  Thank you to all the people at all levels of netball, all around the world who have shared this adventure with me and have supported, inspired and challenged me to be my best.  

Your kindness and friendship are the greatest rewards of my umpiring career, and have sustained me over the inevitable ups and downs that accompany any life in sport.  I feel pretty lucky, however, that the highs have far outweighed the lows along the way.

I am especially appreciative of my husband and three beautiful children for their unwavering encouragement, generosity and patience for so many years.  My achievements would not have been possible, or meaningful, without them and I am looking forward to putting them first for a while, particularly in these unpredictable times.  Luckily COVID has meant that me actually being at home shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to the system! 

I especially want to acknowledge my mum and my sister, my original netball heroes, my greatest fans and harshest critics (when required) who have played such a huge part of this aspect of my life.  I honestly couldn’t have done all of this without your moral and practical support.

As for what comes next – well, I have no shortage of things outside netball to keep me busy, but I hope to keep some space aside to stay involved in some capacity, whatever that might look like. 

Let’s wait and see.

Michelle’s great career at a glance:

AA badge – 1998

IUA badge – 2001

Domestic matches – approx. 60 in CBT, 122 across ANZ Championship and SSN

Grand finals in 2001-2003, 2016-2019

International test matches – 112

Major events – 4 Commonwealth Games (2002, 2006, 2014, 2018), 3 World Cups (2003, 2007 – selected but didn’t umpire due to pregnancy, 2015, 2019), 1 World Youth Cup (2009)

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