Natalie-Haythornthwaite-1

How to get fit, rest and believe in yourself

You love playing netball. It’s who you are, what you do. Training with your teammates – your friends makes you feel alive, plus you just love being active. Then injury strikes. Maybe you went over on your ankle during a game or a long term niggle has finally won. Either way being on the sidelines sucks. One player that knows how hard it can be to see your teammates on the court is Elite Netball Academy Ambassador and England Roses attacking player Natalie Haythornthwaite. In this blog, Natalie talks us through her comeback following a hamstring injury and how this actually helped her develop as an athlete.

How important is rest for athletes?

I think this is super important and something I am still working on at 28 years old. I don’t think I am the best person at ‘resting’, in my mind I used to see it as just doing nothing. But now I appreciate that my mind can still be active while my body recovers. I have started to introduce other things into my daily routine to get better at resting physically and mentally, especially on the days when I struggle to just ‘rest’. I’m a big fan of the Calm app and I now listen to a daily episode of Calm. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes the last thing at night before bed, and sometimes on my recovery walks.

Don’t get me wrong there are definitely still days where I feel like lying on the sofa and watching movies all day – and I think that’s OK. Every now and again our bodies need to switch off. A day where we are not thinking about netball, or training, not thinking about how to be better. It’s so important to rest physically and to listen to your body.

Resting your mind is as important as resting your body. With life today being so busy, it’s important we take time out for ourselves and check-in with the body and the mind.

Coming back from my hamstring injury was probably the most challenging injury I have rehabbed in my career

What to eat before a workout

Nutrition is something I’ve had to work at consistently throughout my career and to be honest, I’m still learning what to eat before a workout, and what food best fuels my body for top performance. I like figuring out new favourite snacks (at the moment: peanut butter and honey on a crumpet are my go-to – give it a try!). I’m fortunate enough that at NSW Swifts we have a nutritionist who gives us good advice on what an athletes diet should look like. Ensuring there’s enough protein to help our muscles recover post-exercise, whilst still ensuring a healthy balanced diet with the addition of a few treats – everything in moderation right?

If you want to know what to eat before a workout, check out our handy guide here.

Coming back from a hamstring injury

Coming back from my hamstring injury was probably the most challenging injury I have rehabbed in my career. I’ve rolled ankles, had a stress fracture in my back, but the hamstring injury was the one that tested me the most, physically and mentally. I had a pretty bad tear in 2019, ten days before the start of the season with my club, and three months before the World Cup was due to start in England. I was gutted.


Looking back, I am beyond grateful for the people around me. For NSW Swifts for looking after me straight away with the scans, surgeon appointments, and the initial five-week phase of rehab. Then ultimately letting me travel back to the UK to rehab with the aim of being back on the court for the World Cup. From there, the support I had from England Netball was amazing. Julie Snow was my rehab physio, Katie Denton took care of my strength and conditioning and then Tracey Neville, our head coach at the time, worked tirelessly to help me rehab and make it back in time for the tournament. I will be forever in debt to those guys for pushing me out of my comfort zone, smashing through the boundaries and building my hamstring strength up in a reduced time.

Natalie and her parents
Natalie and her parents after winning Commonwealth Gold with the England Roses in 2018.

I’m also super grateful to my family, mentally it was challenging. I missed the first 11 rounds of netball with my club and it was tough being away from them. My family were solid throughout and honestly without all the people I’ve mentioned (plus many more – they know who they are!) I’m not sure I would have been able to make it back in time. I feel very lucky to have those guys in my life.

For me it was about pushing through my comfort zone, when things felt uncomfortable I had to talk to myself and tell myself I’d done the work, my hamstring was strong enough and I found a way to get past the worry of ‘doing it again’ or ‘will I be back on the court in time?’. Instead, I just focused on the small wins each and every day, staying present with what I was doing and not looking too far ahead. As cheesy as it sounds, I trusted the process and believed in the people around me, as well as myself, I knew I could get back fit and into the game I love.

Becoming a better athlete

Rest, nutrition and trusting the process have played a massive part in the athlete I am today. In the early days, I didn’t take rest and nutrition seriously. Looking back I wish I had. I was always looking for the next thing, pushing on and figuring out what I needed to do to improve. For me the hamstring injury was a big one, I was away from family, I couldn’t play netball and the rehab wasn’t comfortable at times. I had to find different ways to build my resilience and be the best version of myself for my teammates and for myself. I read a book called “Mind Gym” which I loved. It kept me on track to train my mind even though I couldn’t train my body. I consciously added gratitude to my life too – it helped me see how much there was to be thankful for (and I live by my gratitude journal now too!)

Finally, there are so many athletes out there all training just as hard as you, working their butts off to try and become the best athlete they can be. For me, it’s about finding the marginal gains, the 1% differences and working hard on them. Everyone has their own journey, and it’s about enjoying the journey, writing your own story – finding out what works for you and owning it!

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely testing periods in life, and we all have our times of struggle. For me, they are still part of the journey and as frustrating as they feel when you’re in the midst of it, try to see times of struggle as an opportunity to learn, grow and adapt. The difficult, dark times and situations, are the ones where we learn the most about ourselves. So sit tight, enjoy the ride, and trust in the journey!

Keep looking back on how far you have come, and how much you have already achieved on the way!

Natalie xx

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