In its illustrious history, the Australian netball team has had no more inspirational captain than Anne Sargeant who, after establishing herself as a once-in-a-generation champion for her club Manly-Warringah, NSW and Australia in the late-1970s, skippered the national side from 1983 until her retirement in 1988. A fine player – her position was shooter – who led from the front, and a forceful and tireless advocate for her sport, Sargeant in recent times has established herself as a dynamic motivational speaker and netball ambassador.
She was a member of the Australian team which shared top place with New Zealand in the 1979 World Championships, the sport’s Holy Grail, and, as vice-captain of the 1983 side, she avenged the loss to the Kiwis in the World Championships final. Assuming the national leadership at the end of ‘83, she presided over a glorious era, which included wins over all other netball nations, with her regular victories over fellow big guns New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago and England especially sweet, and an undefeated tour of Wales in 1985, during which she shot three consecutive 100 per cent games.
Sargeant, who complemented her captaincy of the national team with captain-coaching Manly-Warringah to six straight state titles in the ‘80s, and NSW to victory in the national championships in 1984, ‘85, ‘87 and ‘88, says she took on the Australian captaincy “knowing I was stepping into an awesome tradition of success and that letting down that tradition was not an option.” She believes her strengths as a captain were “my ability to communicate with my team. I respected and valued them. I strove to personalise our relationship.”
Testimony to her bonding skills is that she remains close to her old teammates today, referring to them as “sisters.” Leading by example was the only way she knew. “I was always aware that I was a role model for my players, my sport and country, and for the hundreds of thousands of juniors who play netball.”
Sargeant, today at 55 a coach and a national selector, says that when appointed she was “well and truly aware of the responsibility that goes with the privilege of captaining the Australian netball team,” and her standing in the game allowed her “to bring attention to netball, to work hard to access the media and so give netball the high profile that it deserves. I wanted everyone to know that as far as Australian sporting achievements go, our record is a great one. Australia has dropped only a couple of World Championships in the history of the game.”
Reflecting, this most decorated champion – Order of Australia medal, member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and the Netball Hall of Fame – has only a few regrets. It still rankles that her only tilt at the once-every-four-years World Championships as captain, in 1987, was derailed when injuries and other disruptions saw Australia pipped by New Zealand in the final. “And I wish,” she concludes, “that when I was captain of Australia, I had the life experience I have now.”