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Comeback queen Langman’s sharp learning curve

She’s on the verge of becoming the most capped Silver Fern of all time, yet Laura Langman says she’s never been on a steeper learning curve.

After taking a year’s break from elite netball, the 144-test veteran says she’s having to relearn skills, like finessing her passing and her movement around the court.

Although it’s obvious from the outside she’s making an impact in the Silver Ferns’ revival, personally, she’s not happy with the way she’s been playing, three tests into her comeback. 

"I'm definitely behind the eight ball," she says. "I just have to squeeze as much as I can out of every training session." 

Although Langman has worn the mantle of Ferns captain before, this time, she says, is different. She’s learning how to best bring out the voices of her team-mates, and taking in what they have to say.

She’s using leadership traits “stolen” from her old Australian club-mates.

At 32, she’s learning to listen to her body more – although, touch wood, she’s as fit as she’s ever been, from dabbling in cross-fit and multisport during her absence. Her fitness is legendary - as long as she’s been in the New Zealand team, she’s never missed a game.

“I’m not scared to wake up sore. It means I’ve worked hard, I’ve made gains somewhere, and then I think ‘how are we going to make today better than yesterday?’” she says.

But the toughest hurdle for Langman this time around has been learning how to balance life with netball.

During even the slightest breaks in this week’s training camp in Auckland, and during the tour with the Constellation Cup against Australia starting this Sunday, you'll find Langman in a quiet corner, her head buried in a laptop. 

She’s just started a full-time job as the in-house accountant for Hamilton engineering consultants BCD Group. It means as much to her as her Silver Ferns captaincy.

“I’ve found a job that I really, really enjoy. I’m still very green there, and I want to get my feet under the desk. So I’ve been really torn,” Langman says.

“This week, whenever I can steal 10 minutes, an hour, or an afternoon off, I’ll be working on projects and other daily work. That’s really important to me, that I can still contribute to my job. I feel like I don’t function well when... you know, some people like to keep busy. And when I’m on tour, I definitely like to be busy.”

Langman’s career has helped her to form a new outlook on life and her return to the Silver Ferns after two years away.

“Having dipped my toes into the real world, it’s given me a perspective of what is real. Sometimes you get caught in the netball bubble. I love netball – it’s a very fun part of life, and hugely important to me. But it’s not my life,” she says.

When she takes the court in the first test against the Diamonds in Brisbane this Sunday, Langman will equal her old friend Irene van Dyk’s record of 145 test appearances for New Zealand. It's 13 years since she made her debut against the English Roses as an enthusiastic 19-year-old.

But she won’t be drawn to talk about the milestone. She’s very superstitious: eating the same breakfast before every test; wearing the same calf-high white socks in every game.

Langman would rather focus on the team, and their ongoing rebuild under new coach Noeline Taurua.

The Ferns’ last encounter with the world champion Diamonds, a five-goal loss less than a fortnight ago, was “really heartening” for Langman.

“I was really pleased that in patches we were taking the fight to them; we weren’t waiting, and playing the victim,” she says. “The challenge now is to start again where we finished off.”

She won’t be too concerned by what the scoreboard reads in this four-test series.

“The priority is what we’re putting out there, both as individuals and as units. We have a big focus on what your role is first and foremost, and then if you can lend a hand, by all means do it,” she says.

“Unfortunately every day isn’t rainbows and unicorns... but in the sporting world you have to be ready to give whatever you can on the day.”

- Laura Langman

Langman says her approach to training and games has changed a lot after her two seasons playing for the NSW Swifts and Sunshine Coast Lightning.

“I’ve learned that game smarts, and working with each other, is what really sets you apart from other teams. You just can’t get away with being a brilliant individual and not working with the people around you,” she says.

“And with four tests against Australia - where the hits are massive, the speed is big and the demands are huge - we’re going to need that more than ever.”

She’s working on bettering the team environment, with the collaboration of all the Ferns.

“We’ve all been around for a while; we’ve all played in ANZ competitions and had national exposure. So we need to start drawing on that and having people voice: ‘This is what worked for us’, and ‘we did this’,” she says. “I really like people speaking up. I just tell them: ‘Talk to me, tell me what you need’.

“It’s still a work in progress. But I was so heartened by the contributions from Gina [Crampton] and TP [Te Paea Selby-Rickit] in the last test series.”

Her exposure to "some fantastic leaders” in the Australian competition – she reels off the names of Kimberlee Green, Geva Mentor and Caitlin Bassett – has helped mould the kind of leader she wants to be.

“My philosophy is to take people along with me. I’d love to have an environment where they don’t have to go through designated senior players to get to the person they want to talk to. If they have an issue, they can go straight to the person,” she says.

“Over the years playing with Kimberlee, Geva and Caitlin, I thought that was something they did very well. So I’ve stolen it from them.”

Taurua, of course, has had a similar impact on Langman. Working with her again has “warmed my soul”, Langman says. “I’ve always been a massive fan, and I can’t speak any more highly of her. Her technical nous, her ability to pull a campaign together, but also to really grow people. I love it.”

Returning to the grassroots of the game, and playing for the Waikato University team in the Hamilton club competition this season, gave Langman some valuable lessons as well.

“No one really loves the game more than those who are down at the netball courts on a Saturday morning, rain, hail or shine, playing the game for their club sides,” she says.

“What I really liked most was their readiness. Everyone has a life going on outside of competitive netball on a Saturday. But when they turn up it’s their ‘Ready or not I’m here to play’ attitude. Just talking to the girls at the club, about what they do in a day, and then they turn up and  put out a remarkable performance.

“Unfortunately every day isn’t rainbows and unicorns, and you wake up feeling not 100 percent, but in the sporting world you have to be ready to give whatever you can on the day.”

It’s something she wants the Silver Ferns to do throughout the Constellation Cup. “I repeatedly say I’d rather someone go balls to the wall and then ask to tap out, than see them saving themselves to survive,” she says.

There have been times over the last two months, since making the decision to return to the top level, when Langman has questioned herself: “Am I still up to it? Do I still have the skillset?” The answers have been in the positive. 

“It has been a matter of relearning all over again. And not many people get the opportunity to do that at the highest level. The beauty of it is that I have a bit of experience, and my body is still willing and able.

“But I’m just loving it. I’m really ready to rumble.”

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