As we celebrate International Women's Day and Women's History Month, we had the opportunity to chat with the incredible Jade Clarke from England Netball, and delve into her personal reflections on the unique experiences and challenges that come with being a woman in the world of sports.

With an incredible and successful career behind her, and as the most capped international netball player for a single country, Jade Clarke MBE has experienced both the highs and lows of being a woman in sport.

With International Women's Day landing in March, Seat Unique - England Netball’s Official Partner- spoke with Jade about what being a woman in sport means to her.

Keep reading to discover Jade’s thoughts on topics including her sporting inspirations, the importance of visibility for women’s sport, and how we can encourage more girls to enter the sports space. Get ready to be inspired by her insights!

Jade Clarke
Image: Jade Clarke

Growing up, which women in sport did you look up to?

When I was young, it was athletes that were on TV so Dame Kelly Holmes, Sally Gunnell, Denise Lewis - women that had had really great success on the world stage.

I think Dame Kelly Holmes for me, as someone who got her gold medals later on in life, really inspired me to keep going and pushing.

Have the women who inspire you changed since you were younger?

I still look up to the same people but now there is such a big variety of women in sport on TV. We’ve seen football grow massively, with the EUROS last year, it inspired me, the team and everyone across the nation. It was so exciting to see women in a team sport capture everyone.

Closer to home, netball has grown so much and I am so happy that netball is now on a world stage and is really being recognised as a sport because when I was growing up it wasn’t on TV at all.

What is your favourite sports memory?

I’ve definitely got a few! I will always remember my very first netball session. We didn't have a netball team at our school so I kept on nagging my mum and asking her to start sessions at my school. I remember after my first one, I was absolutely hooked.

Going through my career, one of my best ever memories is winning the Commonwealth Games. When that whistle went and we’d won by one goal and got to have a pile on with all of my best friends who I'd been working hard with for years and years, that is a memory I will have forever.

Have you faced challenges being a woman in sport, and how have you overcome them?

I think with netball in particular, getting over that it might be seen as a schoolgirl sport and that it is not seen as something professional to carry on after finishing school, is something that collectively - all the players and all the fans - have fought really hard to change.

As players it is a constant battle that you really have to show your success until people will take notice, so it really took until the 2018 Commonwealth Games until we got quite a lot of media attention.

I think that you have to keep working hard to be successful to make people notice. I enjoy challenges, and think that you have to keep going and not give up.

 Jade Clarke
Image: Jade Clarke

What do you think is the biggest barrier to driving the visibility of women’s sport?

I think a barrier to women’s sport is how much it is shown on TV: there is a massive gap. Along with that, being able to show our personalities and not just the game.

I think we should have a lot more around to be able to show off who we are as people - when you connect with players, you want to watch them on TV and go and see them, and I think that this is something we can really improve on.

What does it mean to you to be such an inspiring sportswoman?

For me, I am always trying to connect with the fans and speak to everyone after games. I love that side of it. It is the fans that really inspire me.

When you are in a leadership position, how do you influence your teammates around you?

When I'm in a leadership position, I want to give my team confidence and highlight their best assets. I want everyone to be confident as I know myself when I’m not confident then I am not playing well.

How can we encourage and inspire more women and girls to enter the sports space?

I think making it more visible; when we go out coaching, we are encouraging all the girls to go out and play. We’ve got such a big base of girls who play netball, and we want to bridge that gap so that they don’t give up when they have left school.

How did it feel to receive your MBE at the start of this year?

It was a total shock! I was going to the shops with one of my teammates and read an email to say that I’d got an MBE, and I was crying on the street!

It was a great thing to happen towards the end of my career as you don’t often stop and think about everything that has happened in your life, but this was one of those moments.

Where do you see women’s sport, and netball, in 10 years from now?

In 10 years time for netball, I would love there to be a fully professional league in the UK, and to see other players from Australia and New Zealand fighting to come and play in our league.

I’d like to see every game televised and on YouTube; I'd love every game to be able to be shown to the public.

And more household names. We’ve got Helen Housby, so I’d like more Helen Housbys that people can look at, and think “I want to be like them”.

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