“All I want to do is play the game.” England netball shooter Kadeen Corbin on flipping the narrative to inspire future generations
By Denise Evans
Illustration by Esme Harvey-Otway
England netball shooter Kadeen Corbin, tired and a little bruised, takes her seat on the team bus for the long journey home following a tough away game. The 29-year-old opens up her phone to mindlessly scroll through social media to help pass the time. Her thumb stops dead at a comment that smacks her in the face like a goal keeper’s stray arm. It’s shaken her. “They said ‘you shouldn’t be at the front, as an attacker, you should be at the back with your friends’,” Kadeen recalled. Now Kadeen, who is currently the only Black shooter in the senior England set-up, is approaching a decade playing for the Roses.
As her career has grown, so has the prevalence of social media, providing a platform for direct abuse, sometimes for something as minor as missing a shot or misplacing a pass. Her first, and arguably most brutal, introduction to online abuse came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. England failed to win a medal, choking twice and losing by a single goal to Australia and New Zealand. The latter was after Kadeen had gifted possession to the Silver Ferns with seconds to play. With her international career in its relative infancy, Kadeen almost walked away.
“What’s the point of even being in the sport if that’s how people talk to me?” she remembered.“All I want to do is play the game. Every time there’s an England game I don’t go on Twitter,” she continued, “People don’t see me post that much now because I don’t really want to keep feeding the idea that I always have something negative to say.” In Scotland, Kadeen was lifted by her team-mates and having them by her side helped her carry on, “because they’re my sisters, you know?” she added. Kadeen has experienced racism “walking down the street” and initially struggled to fathom why anyone would target her, just for playing netball. “You see a few really good comments and then you see one bad one, which throws you off a little bit,” explained Kadeen.
“That racial abuse one hit me hard and I’d never really had it before,” she continued, “netball is a sport that is so diverse, it is culturally there, so I think ‘come on man, what are you thinking?” An infectiously positive person, Kadeen looks for ways to absorb and understand negativity and criticism, which she accepts is part of playing elite sport. But racism is never acceptable. Driven by her desire to be part of a continuous conversation around how social media abuse can affect mental health and how she can support anyone going through a similar experience, Kadeen is the perfect fit for the Women’s Sport Trust’s Unlocked 2021 initiative to help drive change.
Discovering her own coping methods is key to how Kadeen can help others unlock their own, she said: “I’m all about positivity. Having suffered social media abuse, it hit me: I could help others move forward in that situation. I’ve spoken to other professional athletes who’ve been through the same thing.” Since The Commonwealth Games, Kadeen’s seen England Netball put procedures in place to support athletes who are subjected to abuse and the Black Lives Matter campaign has also pushed racism and prejudice into the forefront of society. Kadeen speaking up, even years later, has played a part in pushing the organisation she is proud to represent into action.
And she would like to see netball fall in line with other sports, such as Premier League clubs releasing strongly-worded statements calling out those who racially abuse their players.“England Netball are trying to change the way they think and put things in place,” Kadeen said. “Back then I didn’t know who to go to, and if I said something I don’t know what would have been done. I wish I had said something,” she continued, “[Attitudes on racism] are changing slowly but it’s not going to be as quick as we think.” From the heartbreak of Glasgow to the euphoria of the Gold Coast in 2018, where the Roses clinched a dramatic Commonwealth gold by beating hosts Australia in the dying seconds, it’s been a cathartic career so far for Kadeen.
Nurturing her mental health to deal with the tips and dips of being an elite athlete is on a par with keeping physically fit, and Kadeen has created a way to combine the two – and simultaneously help her peers. After qualifying as a level 5 massage therapist, The Saracens Mavericks player has set up her own business, Kure & Care, with the name inspired by her initials. Her aim is to treat athletes from a wide range of sports with her massage techniques, either exclusively for a team or for individuals, whilst also utilising her mental health first aid training and personal experiences during sessions.
“I’ve done a lot on mental health first aid for youth and adults, and I want to make sure that I’m not asking the wrong questions,” Kadeen explained. “From there it will evolve. Everyone goes through ups and downs within sport and it’s about realising it, talking about it and knowing that it’s okay. I want to create a safe space rather than it just being about sports recovery.” After more than 70 England caps, Kadeen’s hunger for playing is as strong as when she was a 19 year-old debutant, and reflecting on how important being active is to her mental health, she said: “Netball clears my mind and I feel more composed afterwards – just happier generally.”
And that’s the sentiment she would pass onto any young player who’s struggling with any kind of discrimination, bullying or mental health issues affecting their ability and desire to play. “I’d make sure she understands her strengths so she can keep playing” suggested Kadeen, if she were approached by a youth player for support. Kadeen’s sister Sasha, who encouraged her sibling to take part in Unlocked after being involved in 2020, founded Solo Sessions and together they teach netball masterclasses, tutorials and drills, with a fun and sassy twist, bringing their big personalities, energy and netball abilities together.
The siblings are known for dipping into their love of music, popular culture and dance choreography, as they fuse netball skills and dance drills to music for social media platforms such as Instagram, Youtube and TikTok, encouraging fans to join in and learn the routines. Kadeen, alongside Mavericks team-mate Sasha, has been concentrating on their masterclasses in recent months during lockdown, but new dance steps may not be too far away: “The sun’s coming out now and we’ll start to feel like we want to try something cool, and it will just happen,” Kadeen said.
“Sasha will hear a song and say ‘we have to do something with this’ and we’ll just put ideas together! “It looks easy but it takes a few days to get the recording right – everyone likes to watch the edits and bloopers!”Kadeen embodies the power of positivity.
When she is not playing or coaching netball or expressing her love of urban dance and gymnastics, she is helping athletes clear their aches, pains and their minds. Kadeen has taken her experiences of disheartening racist abuse and prejudice and her own mental health struggles, flipped the narrative and created worthwhile projects, lessons and attitudes to inspire future generations in her own sport, and beyond.