Layla Guscoth describes herself on social media as half netballer, half doctor.
In 2016, Layla qualified as a doctor and somehow has managed to balance that career with being a professional netballer.
Co-captain for the England side at the 2023 World Cup, Layla now has both Silver and Bronze World Cup medals.
Layla's played for a number of Super League teams in the UK and Australia and captained both Mavericks and Thunderbirds.
We explore how Layla has managed to balance two incredible careers, her pathway into elite netball and the women that influenced her progress, recognising her as a whole human, not just an exceptional athlete.
As Layla shares her journey, including injuries, setbacks and time overseas, we consider what’s changed for netballers with increased professionalism, and what the future holds in terms of broadcast, investment and increasing media profile of the sport.
Layla was incredibly open in discussing what a fully professional sport could look like in the future; what makes a great captain and is it time to think again about those netball dresses?
It was a privilege to hear Layla reflect back on her extraordinary netball career.
Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast with a National Lottery award.
Find out more about The Game Changers podcast here: https://www.fearlesswomen.co.uk/thegamechangers
Hosted by Sue Anstiss
Produced by Sam Walker, What Goes On Media
A Fearless Women production
Layla Guscoth: Half Netballer, Half Doctor
Sue Anstiss 00:10
Hello and welcome to the Game Changers. I'm Sue Anstiss, and this is the podcast where you'll hear from trailblazing women in sport exploring their stories as we consider wider issues around equality in sport and beyond. I'd like to start with a big thank you to our partners, Sport England, who support The Game Changers through a national lottery award.
Pursuing your life's passion is not something everyone has the chance to do, but my guest today is currently pursuing two of them. Layla Guskoth describes herself on social media as half netballer, half doctor.
Co-captain for the England side at this summer's World Cup. Layla now has both silver and bronze World Cup medals. Layla's played for a number of super league teams in the UK and overseas, in Australia, and has captained both Mavericks and Thunderbirds. In 2016, Layla qualified as a doctor and somehow has managed to balance both of those incredible careers. So, Layla, it's been a pretty incredible summer, as I say, for you, with both a World Cup and a wedding. So, firstly, a huge congratulations on both of those things. I hope you're able to enjoy a little bit of downtime since then.
Layla Guscoth 01:32
Yeah, thanks so much. I mean, I now in retrospect realise it was insane to plan a wedding four weeks after a World Cup and at the time I thought, oh, it would be really easy. And then, as soon as I landed back from South Africa, I thought, what have I done? But yeah, a really amazing summer and I feel like I've been just on a roller coaster for the past few months. So it has been nice to have a little bit of downtime and a bit of normality.
Sue Anstiss 01:57
You deserve it. I think you deserve it If I can start just by taking you back to those, your early years, as it were. So a little bit about a family life and where you grew up too.
Layla Guscoth 02:07
Yeah, so I grew up in Birmingham, just me and my mum at home, but I have a brilliant dad who's probably one of the biggest netball fans out there now, so always had a really good relationship with him. And, yeah, grew up there and started playing netball when I just tipped into secondary school and so I went to one of the grammar schools in Birmingham which was really big on sport, thankfully, and had an amazing PE teacher who loved sport, loved everything about girls playing sport, and so, yeah, I grew up there, had a lot of family around, a lot of older cousins, a lot of boy older cousins who I'd race against, and I think that helped develop a bit of the competitive spirit in me.
Sue Anstiss 02:52
It must have been lovely to be back in Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games then.
Layla Guscoth 02:56
Yeah, it was amazing and actually one of my old maths teachers came to watch one of the games one of my old school friends was volunteering and that kind of thing.
So it was really cool to see, I lived not too far or I grew up not too far from, like Birchfield, Harriers or the Alexander Stadium and so to go there for the opening ceremony and the bus on the way drove past my mum's house and she came out with her England banner waving and that kind of thing. So it was amazing and, I think, something I really don't hate for granted getting to play not just in a home games but literally a home games down the road
Sue Anstiss 03:33
Passing your home! I lived in Birmingham for a while. I worked for Cadbury 's when I left university and I used to train Alexander Stadium actually I my family joke, because it was at the time when Denise Lewis was there. I wasn't really training with Denise Lewis, but I knew her. But was Track and Field ever an option for you too, being so close to the stadium as well?
Layla Guscoth 03:50
Yeah, I did love. I did love athletics and when I was in primary school they used to have these like summer holiday camps that I used to get put shoved down to really during the summer holidays. And I do remember at school doing athletics and I remember the day I had my under 17s probably England trials was the same day as there was quite a big national athletics tournament and at the time I thought I love netball, I get to play with all my friends, it's so fun. So I went along to that instead of going to the athletics tournament. And I remember at the time my dad being like oh, I think you should go to the athletics tournament instead. But you know it's worked out in the end.
Sue Anstiss 04:32
It's funny, isn't it? It's almost those sliding doors moments. If you just don't know, a decision at that age might have taken you down a different path too.
Layla Guscoth: Yeah, absolutely,
Sue Anstiss And you, obviously, you're, clearly you're tall, you're six foot. I think you're six foot
Layla Guscoth and half an inch Sue!
Sue Anstiss That's very important, that very important half! . Were you tall growing up? Were you much taller than the rest of the girls in school? Was that ever an issue for you, or are you happy being a tall girl at school?
Layla Guscoth 04:57
So I had a big growth spurt when I was in secondary school and the other day I was back at my mum's house and looking at my primary school photos and I was, you know, halfway down the pack there. But I really did have a massive growth spurt in school and, yeah, I guess it was something that I probably was quite self-conscious about when I was younger in terms of finding kind of clothes that fit. I don't think, you know, we didn't have tall ranges and things like. There's a bit more accessibility now, but being taller than everybody else was quite a strange thing. But I do think that sport really helped with that, because I think very quickly I started to see the benefit of being tall within my sport and realizing it was a positive thing in that regard and that really helped.
Sue Anstiss 05:46
Yeah, and to celebrate it , isn't it? I think I was the other way around. I was very tall when I got to secondary school and then when I've gone back, I didn't have this growth spurt. And when I've gone back, people are like, oh, you're not really that tall, are you? But I think people thought of me as tall when I got there. So, yeah, a different way. But you started out as a shooter and then made that change. So when did that transition occur, as it were?
Layla Guscoth 06:07
Very, very quickly, when I think everyone realized I was rubbish at shooting and that it was all to do with my PE teacher and you know I've spoken a bit about her previously because I think you only realize retrospectively what an impact people have had on your life and this teacher.
Her name was Caroline Key and she was my PE teacher in year seven and then, really sadly, at the start of year eight, she developed brain tumour and she passed away.
But she, even in that short year, like span, she just had such an impact on my love for netball and she's the one who came up to me one of my really good friends speaks about it often because she was the goal defence of the school team. And one day Miss Key said to her I'm afraid you're going to have to give up your bib, you're going to have to go and play somewhere else. And she came up to me and she was just like I think you'll be a really great defender and I said, oh, I shoot, that's what I do. And she said, no, I think I think you could be incredible as a goal defence. And she gave me the phone number of a local club where I then started playing and then I just became a defender after that and you know she had good vision, I think because I don't cope with the pressure of being a shooter and yeah, she had a massive impact on me and, yeah, almost just directed that path.
Sue Anstiss 07:28
Yeah, that's so interesting she's saying and also to acknowledge I hear a lot about PE teachers talking to, you know, elite women in sport now, but I think just generally sometimes not giving enough credit across sport, across all age, all grade groups, that they're doing so, yeah, nice to give them a shout out too. Your career in the Super League began at Loughborough Lightning, I think back in 2009, so how old were you when you, when you got there?
Layla Guscoth 07:53
Oh, I was. How old was I? Being 17? Yeah, 16, 17. I think I was definitely in sixth form. I was either in year 12 or 13.
Sue Anstiss 08:03
Excellent and how it's been almost 15 years ago. So what changes have you seen in the league since then in terms of quality of play and the demands on players too, versus when you went in at that age?
Layla Guscoth 08:14
Yeah, that's a really good question because I think it's really easy for us to... Obviously you want the game to keep progressing and getting better, so it's really easy to look at the things that the game still has to improve on. And you don't often, I guess, look back at where it's come from, but certainly 15 years ago we weren't playing in the Copper Box or playing in front of thousands of people and the viewership that we were getting on TV. I think that's really changed. Pay, has improved. Obviously it's not exactly where you'd want it to be, but the biggest thing that I think I see is the depth of talent and how much that extends into kind of grassroots and the younger age groups. When I first started at Loughborough, I just played for there was a probably about an under 18s level kind of national talent league that had just started and it was really in its infancy and it was probably the only kind of national level of competition that we had as teenagers at that stage, once you've kind of finished all the school age groups. But now, if you look through, there's what we call the NPL, which has an under 21s, an under 19s, an under 17s and many academies below that as well. So I think it's really cool that when you are 13, 14 and you might be in the Surrey Storm Academy or the London Pulse Academy, that you're looking at the senior players and you know what you aspire to do and how to kind of train and be funneled through that pathway to get there.
Sue Anstiss 09:43
Yeah, it's amazing to think how that has changed that. As you said, that elite pathway through and in terms of the England side, how is the support around the Roses changed over your career? And I'm thinking around, I guess the sports science, the strength and conditioning, the analysis you feel those must have really jumped on in that time as well.
Layla Guscoth 10:01
Yeah, hugely and I think there was probably one moment of really significant change around 2016, 2015, 16 where Trace Neville was the head coach at the time and it's that Sara Symmington as the performance director and they introduced a full-time national England programme where, you know, players were being paid to be full-time netballers, based in Loughborough, with full-time access to strength and conditioning, nutrition, performance, lifestyle performance, psychology coaching and then all the kind of international competition that went alongside with it. That transitioned from being kind of monthly camps maybe was what was happening at the time so you get monthly hook ins with the England team and then you train within your regions. That everyone was still trying to balance full-time work with that, and so it was quite difficult to be able to train to the same standard as you can do in the full-time programme. So, yeah, there's been a huge difference in what you can do now, being part of the England programme, you can really be a full-time netballer and you can focus on that.
Sue Anstiss 11:12
Yeah, I'm going to come on to ask you about that and how you've balanced that with your other career. But just following through your I guess your path of playing in teams, you then went to play at Mavericks for five years and part of a team that won the Super League and the Grand Final. In fact, you're a player of that much too. So when you look back now, what are your memories of Mavericks time?
Layla Guscoth 11:33
I have the fondest memories of Mavericks and whenever I look back I always just think it's really crazy in sport that I think when you get older you remember things that at the time you don't realise they're special, and you look back and you think, oh, that was actually really amazing and at the time I just had no idea that it was such a kind of monumental time in my career.
But yeah, the team I played with when I first went to Mavericks had so much experience. So I had Karen Atkinson, who was England captain at the time and just one of the most hard-working netballers you could ever meet in your life. And then I had a head coach called Maggie Jackson, who was, you know, the type of coach that came in a suit, she had this notebook that she'd be scribbling away at and she wasn't afraid to tell you the truth. And so I had such a big developmental year in that year and I really learned a lot about kind of team culture and how you can gel 17 year olds at the beginning of their career and people in their mid 30s who are, you know, on the big England stage with a hundred caps, and how you can bring that all together to form a really good culture that challenges each other but is still kind and still a family, and so when I look back on that whole campaign, I think I learned so much about how I wanted to be as an athlete and some of the kind of standards that I wanted to have within my own career. But it was also really great to just win.
And I think you think when you win in like a second yeah, you're like, oh, this is going to happen all the time, and I remember everybody being really emotional and crying. I asked why are they crying? And then you realise that you've then not won another title for ages. ‘Oh, that was actually really good’. Yeah, I wish I had cried then. It was really good
Sue Anstiss 13:14
And obviously it was during that time that you completed your medical studies as well too. So you started your medical training Oxford in 2010, just as your super league career was kind of getting going, and I guess, when I look at that and you're reading more about you, it seems almost beyond belief that you would even consider combining them both. So how did you come to make that decision?
Layla Guscoth 13:39
It was one of those things that almost just happened and I think at the time I think my school were really great at supporting me playing netball, so they give me time off for camps or whatever it was that I needed to do from a netball point of view. But they also really pushed me academically and I remember when I was putting all my uni rankings down and one of my teachers just being like, oh, have you not considered Oxford? And I was like I don't go to Oxford, like I don't know people that go to Oxford, and I was like no, I really think you can do that. And you know, I felt like they really supported both sides and I came from a family where, you know, my dad was very keen on sport but also really keen on education as well, and so it just felt like something that went hand in hand for me and I do credit Mavericks a lot with being able to balance the, certainly the early years, because I think I heavily underestimated what it felt like to leave home and do my own washing and do my own cooking and cleaning and then balance academics and being part of a super league, that kind of adult training environment and certainly my captain Karen, you know, would. I'd stay at her house and she cooked me breakfast and dinner and I remember sitting down with the head coach and just highlighting and going through my diary and trying to be organised and trying to work out places where I could do in my lunch break a 30 minute session and get all the benefits and just not try and like burn out during that stage. So I think I had really good support around me where it mattered and I had a lot of people who told me, yeah, that it wouldn't work. I had tutor at uni who said I'd never that, yeah, qualify as doctor or I wouldn't be good as a doctor. And then I did have some netball coaches who, yeah, said that I guess they thought that it didn't show commitment to the sport if I was trying to balance a couple of things. So there were people that were more negative, but I think kind of the close people around me were really positive and helpful and I think, yeah, there was almost no doubt in my mind because of how great they were.
Sue Anstiss 15:52
That's so interesting, isn't it? I shouldn't say without being disparaging about my own children, but my youngest daughter's just started uni a couple of weeks ago and I'm and I, when you were saying that, I just suddenly thought, my goodness, can you imagine her being there and starting uni and then also playing in super league and combine you two? So yeah, I can. I can certainly see that would have been a massive change, and me, I guess, being away from home in a different place and cooking and cleaning for yourself and everything too.
Layla Guscoth Yeah, yeah, they were the hardest bits.
Sue Anstiss I spoke to Pam Cookey for the first series, actually, of the game changers. It feels like a long time ago now, but she talked about the importance of having another career alongside netball to help you then transition for the rest of your life. So do you ever worry that if netball does become fully professional, players then might not have that option or might not take that option?
Layla Guscoth 16:42
Yeah, I do think it is a worry and I think it's one of those things that I think, even if netball and we all really hope that it does become more professional and get way more investment, but realistically we will never be paid the same as male Premier League footballers, and so there does always have to be a degree of succession planning, and I was recently at an event where there are a few of the kind of lionesses and cricketers and it sounds like some of the sports are starting to think about how to help players transition out of the sport into careers.
So it's certainly something if we, if we do continue to head in the direction we want to. I think you know, if you have girls that are finishing their career in their mid 30s, you've still got 50 years of life and paying bills. So, yeah, netball is not something you can live off forever. So, yeah, it is something that I am quite strong about and it's something that I do try and say to the younger generation that you know, I think there's been times, certainly in my career, that I have it has been too much, but certainly trying to keep some think there alongside to give you the options if… not even just retirement. But deselection, injury like these are all real, real things that happen to us regularly. So, yeah, how you can support yourself outside of the sport is important.
Sue Anstiss 18:11
And it was 2012, I think, when you had your first England debut against Jamaica. So, taking yourself back there, what are your memories of that as a young athlete?
Layla Guscoth 18:21
Yeah, it's amazing because I was recently watching some of our younger athletes get their debuts against New Zealand and they were so good and so confident and amazing. And I was not that at all. And I remember coming up against two really tall Jamaican shooters who are still playing now and they're, you know, both six foot six. And I just remember being so like awed by the experience that I went on, I did nothing for 15 minutes, ran around like a headless chicken and then was rightly escorted back to the bench until I had my next opportunity, and so I remember it being a really cool experience. But when I look back I often think, oh, I wish I had grabbed, I wish I hadn't been so in awe of the experience and had a bit more confidence to go on there and be like, yeah, I'm going to assert something on this match.
Sue Anstiss 19:20
And Anna Mays, Anna Stembridge now, but I remember her as Anna Mays, who gave you that first call up, describes you as a ferocious and tenacious player. Is that always how you've played? Is that how you see yourself as a player?
Layla Guscoth 19:35
Yeah, I guess yeah, I guess so. I don't. I don't see myself as ferocious, but people often tell me that I am
Sue Anstiss 19:43
Because you smile, you smile at the same time. So it's kind of the beguiling, isn't it?
People, I think yeah, people, I do think I have a slight on court alter ego and I think I am. I do really enjoy that I can have a real competitive outlet on the court. That probably wouldn't be okay just in normal life where you can just go for things. And yeah, it's a nice, it's a nice space to have an outlet and I, I love winning, I love competition and I like kind of working hard. So I think, yeah, I guess I guess those are words that probably do describe me quite well
Sue Anstiss 20:21
On court anyway.
On court. Yeah
You took a break from netball in 2015 to 18 to finish your medical qualifications and training, so was that a difficult decision to make at the time?
Layla Guscoth 20:34
Yeah, it was. And it came around the time of the full time program that I mentioned earlier and you know, at the time, Tracey Neville was the head coach and she is a fantastic woman and I really like, love and respect her as a coach and I remember she sat down with me and I was probably in my last like five or six months of medical school training and we had a really good conversation really where kind of both of us felt that I'd spent five and a half years at medical school, should finish this off, but probably wasn't. Yeah, probably be a really difficult time to start being a doctor and join a full time program and that, yeah, it seems like the right time to see how life felt being a doctor. See, if it's that's the avenue I wanted to go along, and she made it really clear at the time that the door would always be open, which was very, very nice of her. And so for those two years it was kind of 2016 and 2017 Super League season I just played Super League and didn't do any England kind of training or commitments and each year Tracer would send me a message and say you know how are you doing, and she'd catch up with me whenever she came to Bath and I think it was a really good time for me actually in retrospect, and it was a difficult decision but it almost felt like I had I'd done so much of my medical training. I had to finish it off and I had to kind of reach that end goal. But it certainly made me appreciate, when I came back into the England fold, a lot more just of the whole environment and it made me more certain with what I wanted to achieve in that environment and it gave me a lot more focus, I think, than I had when I exited the program.
Sue Anstiss 22:26
That's good and it's so good to hear isn't that of Tracy and Anna before her but respecting you as a human being and the whole of your life and I think that we see a lot of that across netball which is you can hope, as professionalism and more funding comes in, that doesn't change, but that is really to be celebrated, isn't it? That you are a whole athletes and people, not just, you know, performers on court.
Layla Guscoth 22:48
Yeah, absolutely, because I think it's… people always love to try and separate sports and tell you things like leave whatever's going on in your life at the door and that kind of thing. But it is almost impossible to do that as a human being. And so I think when you do have people that can appreciate your life and you can discuss with them how to kind of optimize that off court side of things, I do think it really does help your on court. So I think it is a benefit to care about the person as well as the netballer who's out there.
Sue Anstiss 23:18
Yeah, it clearly has shown, hasn't it, as you come back, Did you? Did you always know you would come back and play at a high level? Do you think in your head, even at that time, you knew you would do?
Layla Guscoth 23:26
Yeah, I think to some extent. But I do remember one particular time where I was on a night shift and I was thinking I need to go back and play some netball. I just sat there thinking I need to do that just to be sure. I guess that I had achieved what I could achieve, and I kind of went back in with the attitude that if I don't make it, I don't make a team or I don't get to go to a major championship. I’m okay with that as long as I've tried to try to do it, and I think I just felt quite unsatisfied with not even really making an attempt to try and play at the highest level I could do. So I think I always knew, in a way, that there was something unfinished there. I guess it was my ease with that, whether I was okay with it being unfinished or whether I felt that I needed to give it another shot. And then kind of over the 18 months, I thought, oh no, I really do need to go and see what I can achieve in the sport.
Sue Anstiss 24:25
And I don't like to mention it really, but you obviously missed out on playing in the Commonwealth Games Gold team, gold-winning team. So how hard was that at the time and in retrospect, or actually when you now look at all that you have achieved, is it? I would assume that's kind of just part of the balance of where you are.
Layla Guscoth 24:41
Yeah, you know, it felt fine and not in the way of like obviously, everybody would love to be there winning the gold medal but I think I knew why I'd made that decision at the time. I also wasn't it wasn't like I was, you know, the best player on the team and I'd be guaranteed to be there and I would have been there lifting the trophy or anything like that so I think I had a level of, yeah, just realism with it all that it might not have even been my journey if I was in the program anyway. And I just think your story is your story, isn't it? Like there's sometimes no point in trying to say what if or this could have happened, because you just have no idea. And ultimately I was just really happy for the girls. It was such a defining moment for Netball which benefited Netball as a whole in this country, and I had so many friends that had worked so hard over the years and I knew what they'd put in, and Tracy and Collette, who was one of the assistant coaches and had coached me since I was about 12. So it was nice to just see a kind of altering of the world order and just something that was good for Netball in this country. I thought.
Sue Anstiss 25:50
That's lovely, isn't it? And I was thinking as I was doing the questions. I was thinking, actually, in one way, then there's another female athlete isn't there that made it and did win a gold medal. Although you didn't, you almost didn't deprive somebody else from doing that that you may have been in a team or not, but somebody else also went on to have a life-changing experience of winning gold, and then you've now come back and played in the World Cup again too.
Layla Guscoth 26:12
Yeah, it's so easy. I think in sport there's so many moments that you could be like, oh, I regret that, I wish that didn't happen. Or like we all have our goods and our bad bits, don't we? And I think, on balance, I think I've had a lot more good than bad moments.
Sue Anstiss 26:32
And we hear a lot in sport, don't we? About how sport, especially team sport, can help professional women in their career. So how do you feel your Netball career and playing in an elite team at that very top level has helped your medical career too.
Layla Guscoth 26:45
Yeah, I think it's massively helped actually, and I've started anesthetics training, so that's my specialty, and so much of that is about teamwork and managing pressure and the way you communicate with people and that kind of thing which I think you just naturally develop in team sport. So you naturally learn how to manage your time and how to find your own ways to cope with pressure and whether that's selection pressure or whether that's the kind of immediate pressure of playing in front of crowds or in finals, and then how to interact and work as part of a team. I think they're all skills that team sport just gives you along the way, that you don't realise you're requiring, but you do, which I do think are really beneficial in medicine generally.
Sue Anstiss 27:37
And what does an average day look like for you when you are, when you were working in the hospital and then also training, either with the Roses or with a Super League team?
Layla Guscoth 27:45
Yeah, so when we're with the Roses we're usually in a centralized camp so we're usually in Loughborough and that kind of is full day, four days a week. We're up there and we have the technical stuff on the court and then psych and our nutrition and all the other kind of allied stuff around it. And that's almost easier when you're there because you are just netball and you can just focus on that and you might do a bit of reading or some of the girls will do a bit of uni work in the evenings, but generally you're all in for netball. It is a bit harder when you're back at your club and you're doing Super League because you are trying to balance training with work and so I'm not a morning person. So I know some people can get up and train in the morning.
That is not me. So I usually work would start for me about 7.45, 8 and probably finish it around half-five unless I'm on call, and then it's a 12, 13 hour day and I usually just sit and kind of plan my training around that. I wouldn't train on a 13 hour day because that's just not really good for anybody, but certainly kind of trying to make sure that I'm getting in my harder sessions at the start of the week when I'm less tired. Super League training. that would often be in the evenings, because most girls who are playing Super League and not in England programme will also have full-time jobs. So you're not alone, really when you're turning up at 7 o'clock to train. A lot of people have been teaching, running after kids all day, or something like that. So you do just learn how to balance it all. But the days can be quite long and you are sometimes leaving at half-six and getting back at half-ten 11 from training in the evening.
Sue Anstiss 29:29
Wow, get up and do it all again, then again.
Layla Guscoth 29:32
Sue Anstiss 29:34
And you mentioned that you moved to Baths, to the play-at-bath, where you were a coach's player of the year in 2017 and 18. And then you went to play for the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the Suncorp Super Netball. So how much did you enjoy playing and living in Australia?
Layla Guscoth 29:49
Yeah, it was really cool and I almost had a mixed time in Adelaide, because the first season I was there was incredible and it was really good being part of a full-time training environment like that. It was really good being by the beach and having sunshine all the time, which was really nice, but in a way I couldn't work out there through visa restrictions and so on, and so in a way, it almost took that away from you, and that, initially, was quite nice actually, because you do just focus on one thing, it was a bit of a change for me, which was quite a nice change. It was towards the end of that season that I ruptured my Achilles and the pandemic began a few months later. So the second season I had there was a bit of a different season and, although it was still really enjoyable, rehab is a really awful, frustrating thing. The pandemic was obviously an awful thing for all of us, and so it was just a bit of a different environment in my second year, but still a really awesome experience which I learned a huge amount from, and just the intensity and the professionalism of the league and for yourself as an individual player was something that I was really glad I got to experience.
Sue Anstiss 31:13
I was just going to ask about your Achilles then. Is that harder or better in terms of your medical background? When you're trying to do your rehab, like, you know how important it is, but is that better or worse as a doctor?
Layla Guscoth 31:24
I think, worse in a way, and I think I just found it so frustrating. And I'd had a major injury before in 2011. I'd injured my knee, but then I was really young and just kind of went with it and it was just fine, whereas this time I just felt really frustrated the whole time through the rehab, and Achilles' rehab is generally really annoying because you can't wait there for a period of time and then you're in a boot for ages and it just is a really slow rehab process. And so I think, yeah, I guess the medical side of me I just wanted everything to be so much quicker than it actually was. And then you find yourself reading stuff all the time and trying to work out what the best way to do things are, and sometimes you just have to give responsibility to the people that actually know which isn't me at all and your physios and your medical team to be able to get you back on court.
Sue Anstiss 32:22
I was going to mention about obviously fantastic that you went to Australia and it clearly is an amazing opportunity for athletes that go out there. But it obviously doesn't help the Super League at home and home fans when we lose some of our greatest players to the Australian League and I'm thinking obviously of you but Jo Hart and Helen Housby being more recently at Elly Carboil, Fran Williams etc. Potentially Sorry, just to frustrate you that we can't keep all of those players in England with professional contracts, or actually is there a bigger picture of it? It's just great at the netball that they're playing wherever they're playing.
Layla Guscoth 32:59
Yeah, it's it's. .. That's a really good question and I think the ideal I think would be for all the leagues you know, the Australian League, the New Zealand League, our league to have the money to allow kind of more flux between the top players, let's say, because I think the challenge is, I think it is an awesome experience individually and I don't think you'd want to take that away from people and I know maybe about a decade ago there was a restriction on England players going and playing abroad and I think it brings so much to our game to be able to play in a professional environment. And then often players do come back. So, like Nat Metcalf has come back, Serena Guthrie came back, yeah, and so players do, Ama came back, and so willl bring the knowledge and the experience to try and elevate our game. But, as you say, it does mean that fans here don't get to see the best players in the league, and so an idea would be if we could compete with the Australian League and so even if we did have players going overseas, we had more of the top players coming into our league and it just created kind of a more equal system.
Sue Anstiss 34:15
And obviously we've seen this huge growth in women's football and other professions what you mentioned, meeting athletes, events from cricket and other team sports and yet for netball, we're not still not quite seeing those numbers. They've improved, but not to that level and investment. So, as you sit there as a player and you've been, you've been through that journey, haven't you the last 15 years are you confident that we are getting nearer to that time when we'll have more investment and professionalism in netball?
Layla Guscoth 34:42
Yeah, I hope so. I think there's a number of factors that are… some factors that netball can't control, such as the fact that we're not linked to a high profile male game, so there's not the knowledge already of the sport. So a lot of people know the rules of football and therefore find it easy to watch the Lionesses, who have done incredibly, but already have the knowledge of the game, whereas netball you're probably trying to reach fan bases that don't really know much about netball, haven't watched it before, don't really know the rules, and I think that that is a challenge and it's a challenge financially to not have any other sport that you can align with in terms of sponsorship and marketing and that kind of thing. But I do think netball has a role in, you know, trying to push itself out there a bit more. And I do think sometimes, when I go to things or I think you know we should be putting ourselves out there more, like we should be getting netball, as at various things and events and in papers or magazines or just something, to build the profile of the sport a bit more, because I think it has grown and I think the thing about netball it has a great fan base, an incredible fan base in fact. But in order for it to grow, it needs to like the popularity, needs to exceed the fan base even more so and needs to attract people who don't know the sport or love the sport already.
Sue Anstiss 36:18
Yeah, I'm with you. I'm frustrated but I'm excited for the future. But it's frustrating to admit there's been lots of talk recently about sportswear for women and girls in a really positive way in the last couple of years or so. I'm interested in your thoughts on netball dresses and whether you feel they might be off-putting for some women and girls.
Layla Guscoth 36:36
Yeah, I think it's an interesting one because I think you know people do say, certainly at grassroots level, and you know, I think if you asked lots of us in the team, we'd prefer to be in leggings or tops rather than dresses. However, I do know, you know, over the past 12 months we've had conversations and we've worked with our kind of sponsors in terms of trying to design kit that is suitable. And I think it's one of those things where the replacements of the dress has to be good and it has to be suitable and it has to be comfortable and it has to be something that people want to wear. And I think we've not reached the stage yet, because we're not already in kind of a top and a skirt, where you can just substitute it with shorts. I don't think we've reached a stage where we have a genuine alternative that would be comfortable, would feel special, like a match day, because that is what's nice about a dress in a way, you get given your matchdress and it's amazing and you don't wear it for anything else. So it does feel really special compared to if you were wearing like versions of your training kit, and so a way to keep something that's special but probably offers some more versatility for people if they wanted to wear, you know, shorts or leggings or whatever form it takes, yeah, is a bit more universal for people.
Sue Anstiss 38:00
Yeah, good, that's interesting. I hadn't thought about it from that perspective too. That's so important, isn't it that it feels something aspirational and special too.
Layla Guscoth 38:08
Yeah, definitely, that's something that we spoke a lot about, because you only get in England netball, you only get the red dress when you've made the senior team and it just you get handed a dress presentation like your first red dress and it does feel like this really monumental thing and so, yeah, how to kind of still emulate. That is quite important, I think.
Sue Anstiss 38:32
I was just going to touch on leadership, if I could. I know that you captained Mavericks and Thunderbirds are mentioned and we're vice captain or co-captain for England and I wonder what you think, as a player, makes a great captain?
Layla Guscoth 38:46
Yeah, good question. I have always kind of in my leadership, tried to lead by example, and that's something that I certainly like look for in leaders to be able to kind of look at them and think, oh gosh, okay, they are I don't know killing themselves on that death test. They're dragging me up with them and I want to do as well as them, to, like benefit their leadership, and so I think being able to listen to your group, being able to represent your team, I think is really important. Like I often see myself as a bit more of a player's captain which, yeah, I don't know if that's always a good thing, but I do like to like really represent and stand up for the players. But certainly, yeah, someone who really leads by example and you know, Jade Clark, who's got billions of caps for us, is an example of that someone who's quite quietly spoken and very modest but leads by example and therefore, to me, is one of the best leaders I've played with because of that.
Sue Anstiss 39:55
Yeah, she's incredible, isn't she? I was going to ask if you had been. We talked about that professionalism of netball. I wonder if netball had been a fully professional career and you'd have to choose between your medical career and being a professional netballer, what decision would you have made do you think?
Layla Guscoth 40:12
Yeah. No it's interesting because I think it would really depend on what professional looks like.
And so if I look at I don't know some of the football, the women's super league teams, if I look in Australia at the Suncorp League, I probably would have gone along the netball route more so, but I still would have done a bit of study and a few other things for sure, just to keep your brain working a bit sometimes and also to give you some perspective outside of the sport, which is so hard to find sometimes. But something that is just yours and outside the sport is nice. But I think, yeah, if there had been an opportunity for it to be a model like those kind of structures, then I would have gone along the sport avenue, because I think it is such a short-lived thing like you can only really do it until your mid 30s or, unless you're incredible, like some of the girls in our team, that's into your early 40s that even then, like, your time is so short, whereas your working career is unfortunately a lot longer. So, trying to, yeah, I would have given it more of a full-time shot, I think.
Sue Anstiss 41:25
And you say that keeping your mind active. So, aside from being a doctor and international netballer, I hear that you play the piano and the flute too. So how important has that been, to have something else that takes you away from the red dress and the scrubs, as it were?
Layla Guscoth 41:38
Yeah, it's good, I would say I don't think I've touched the flute in about a decade.
Sue Anstiss 41:42
Layla Guscoth 41:45
But the piano, I do really enjoy playing, and it's really nice to just come home and be able to do something completely separate, because I think one of the things that you find when you're training is that your enjoyment for exercise goes down quite a bit, and so it's funny. I'm on a kind of off period now and I'm loving running and exercising, but typically I would say that I see them as work rather than as something that's enjoyable. So it's nice to, yeah, have something which really is just a hobby that you just do for fun.
Sue Anstiss 42:24
And do you think in the future your love of sport and your approach to sport will combine with medicine? Is that what you see in the future?
Layla Guscoth 42:32
So I don't see myself as a sports medic because I think athletes are so demanding, so I don't see myself doing that. But I think for me I see myself like still being involved in sport, and I think more so in a way of and I'm starting to do a bit of work with the Players Association with this but what we've kind of talked about a bit already, like the succession planning and just ensuring that people have just something outside of sport, so that when it all finishes, in whatever capacity it is, that there's something to move on to and that, you know, all of the really intelligent girls that we have coming into the system get what they should get at the end of their career, and I think that's something that I'm quite passionate about. I think we can still be an amazing netballing nation and we can still have people in full time professional contracts that still, at the end of it, have degrees or things that allow them to continue to be successful women in society.
Sue Anstiss 43:33
Brilliant? Yeah, absolutely, and I'm going to kind of close with the question that lots people are asking but what are your plans for next season?
Layla Guscoth 43:47
Well, that's a very good question Sue.
I'll save that to the end.
Layla Guscoth I think I might take a little bit of a break, but I'm still trying to weigh it all up at the moment.
Sue Anstiss 43:55
With a view to coming back again.
Layla Guscoth 43:58
Yeah, yeah. I think, a view of coming back again. I think for me, certainly, over the past 18 months I've had numerous niggles, which are fine, but I've also, that's been compounded with a bit of, I'd say, netball burnout, where I've just lost a little bit of the enjoyment in playing. And yeah, I think for me that's not a place that I've really been in before. I've always loved the sport, I love training and you know it's never been something that has been a chore for me to do. So I think now for me it's probably a good time to take a bit of a break, have a bit of a refresher, do some nice things like learning to run 5Ks and then, yeah, just look to come back to the sport when I'm a bit more refreshed and therefore, hopefully, a better athlete who may everything that I would want to be in an environment.
Sue Anstiss 44:57
You can pick up the flute again. Can't you Start playing the flute again? And just finally, what advice would you give to any young woman that's starting out on a netball career today?
Layla Guscoth 45:10
Good question. I think there's a couple of things. So I think the first thing would be to just like enjoy the processes of it all and to enjoy each of the moments, because, as I said before, kind of with winning that Maverick's trophy, you don't really realise that that might be the only time that you win a trophy, and so to really enjoy and celebrate yourself successes along the way. And then probably something I've always thought about is just kind of striving for, like my own personal excellence. So it's, you know, whatever you do, just try and do it to the best of your ability, and whether that is that you can only fit in a 20 minute session after school or something, just do it really well and do everything you do to the best of your ability to get where you want to be at the end.
Sue Anstiss 46:03
It's always lovely to talk to someone when you're a massive fan and I certainly am a huge fan of Layla's, especially as goal defence was my position in netball too. We wish her well for the future, whatever she chooses to do.
If you enjoyed the podcast, there are over 160 episodes featuring conversations with women's sport trailblazers that are free to listen to on all podcast platforms or at fearlesswomen.co.uk. My previous s include elite athletes, broadcasters, coaches, administrators, scientists and CEOs from a vast range of sports. If you'd like to hear more from those involved in netball, I've spoken to Pamela Cookey, Serena Guthrie, Jo Adams and Liz Nicol.
The whole of my book, Game On, the Unstoppable rise of women's sport, is also free to listen to on the podcast. Every episode of series 13 is me reading a chapter of the book.
Thank you again to Sport England for backing the game changes through a National Lottery award, and also to Sam Walker at What Goes On Media, who does such a brilliant job as our executive producer. Thank you also to my colleague at Fearless Women, Kate Hannon. Do follow us to make sure you don't miss out on future episodes and if you have a moment to leave us a fantastic five star review, that would be brilliant, as it really does enable us to reach new audiences. Come say hello on social media, where you'll find me on LinkedIn, twitter and Instagram. @SueAnstiss. The Game Changers. Fearless Women in Sport.