There is the small matter of 106 caps. There has been a captaincy at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2019 Netball World Cup. Throw in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2015 World Cup and there is a sharp picture of the experience Claire Maxwell brings to Birmingham. And yet this is all very new.
It is the first major tournament for Maxwell since becoming a mother. One-year-old Lucy is expected to be among the supporters who cheer on Scotland at the games with Maxwell revealing the on-court intensity that motherhood has heightened.
“I think perspective is a good word,” said Maxwell. “Lucy doesn’t care if I win or lose because she knows nothing other than me being there and being in the moment with her. I do look at things like that differently than what I would have a few years ago.
“But I also think that, when I am playing or training now, I am 100 per cent absolutely in the moment. It has made me really focus exclusively because every minute counts. I don’t have the flexibility that I had before having my daughter to get in another session or do some more work at night. I have to use the window I have to train or to play and to make sure that I give it everything I have. It has really helped me utilise the time that I have for netball so that it gets every part of my concentration.”
From the outside it would appear to have been a seamless transition from giving birth to returning to the court for Maxwell. However, what isn’t immediately apparent is the discipline and sheer hard graft that it took to get back to elite level sport while breastfeeding, coping with sleepless nights and appreciating the physical changes that childbirth brings.
“I was a bit naïve, I think,” said Maxwell. “I think people look at you and think that you look OK and you look yourself. But internally it is a different story. I was surprised at that and surprised at how I felt after giving birth. It was a long process.
“I had a back-to-back labour and then I breast fed for five months – and it is challenging. I would not change a thing about any of that because it gave me such a special and unique experience with my daughter and allowed me to spend so much time with her.
“She had silent reflux and sleep was a challenge for a few months. I am not sure I had appreciated before then how important sleep is! Touch wood she is far more settled now.
“But it really was much tougher than I thought. I was active all the way through my pregnancy and was still exercising at 40 weeks but I did find the post-partum period challenging. There have been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of juggling. But I am at a place where I am happy with my fitness. I had to look at my organisational skills and my time-management.
“I was lucky in that I was back playing 15 or 16 weeks after giving birth when I played in a friendly. I was able to get back to playing quite quickly but, when people look at you on court and think that you look fit and athletic, it doesn’t tell the whole story of how much work and effort it takes to get back to that level.
“I treated it like rehab. I didn’t carry a lot of weight throughout my pregnancy but you lose so much strength, especially from your core. I could not believe how different my body felt after giving birth. It was different even to how it felt when I was pregnant and exercising. I have always given everything on court and played on the edge and I have always put a lot of stock into physically being in the best shape to play. That muscle memory helped me, I think, but there is a lot of work and a lot of ups and down that people don’t see.”
Maxwell’s focus now is on is on pushing Scotland as far as they can go now. Currently ranked ninth in the world – eighth is the highest they have reached – Maxwell is intent on making sure the Commonwealth Games experience showcases the full extent of the talent within the Scotland squad.
Scotland open their games with a meeting against Australia, with Jamaica, South Africa, Wales and Barbados also alongside them in Group A. Teams receive two points for a win, one point for a draw and zero for a loss, with the top two teams in each pool qualifying for the semi-finals. As well as the gold/silver final and the bronze medal play-off, there are play-offs to determine each team’s final placing.
“We have a fantastic mix of youth and experience,” said Maxwell. “Right now we are ranked ninth the world and I think we would like to better than that – and I think we can be. It is quite a young squad but there are a few of us who have a lot of experience and I think that can help when it comes the intensity of the tournament and playing so many games.
“Some of us older members of the squad joke that the 2014 games were the best days of our lives – weddings and kids, apart! It was a home Games and it really was the pinnacle for many of us, such an exceptional experience to be part of. Hopefully we can make sure there are more big moments for us.
“There is a real camaraderie when you are away and everyone is focused on the same thing. If all goes well and there are no Covid situations then my husband and my parents will be down here with Lucy and that will be amazing, to have that support around me. I hope that we can give them plenty of encouragement with the performances that we put in and, as always, it is a joy to be here representing our country.”
Article by Alison McConnell