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Jodi Brown on the mana of an athlete

28 Jun 2023

The mana of an athlete

Silver Fern Jodi Brown passes the ball during a game against Australia.

Former Silver Fern and DFSNZ Education Quality Advisor Jodi Brown shares her thoughts on mana, athletes and anti-doping, and asks how you will demonstrate mana in your approach to sport.

In Māoridom, there are more cautionary notes dealing with mana than you could shake the proverbial stick at. Mana is a source of personal and collective strength, of pride and identity. Mishandled, it becomes the bearer of shame, ridicule, and embarrassment. If mana allows us to walk tall, then it also casts a long shadow—humility.

What mana means to me

Mana is a supernatural force in a person, place or object. To me, mana means respect, power, prestige, control, and influence. Mana is unique to our country and culture, and every athlete who wears the Silver Fern on their chest carries the mana of that emblem.

When I wore that Silver Fern, I was so proud of my hard work, my ability, and the blood, sweat and tears it took to get there. It was so special. I carried my family, my whakapapa, and the history of the people and women who had come before me. There was a certain uniqueness about the “little black dress” when I debuted: I was Silver Fern #130. Considering how long netball had been around, that number seemed quite small. I was part of an elite group of women in NZ sporting history. There was a certain amount of pressure to live up to and expectations – those you put on yourself and those of others as well.

The sense of belonging and power I felt every time I took to the court as a Silver Fern is hard to describe. As a proud Kiwi sportswoman, I can honestly say that each time I stepped out on court I did it with strength, mana and the pride of representing my country. I wanted to showcase my talent and skills and had the opportunity to demonstrate how powerful 12 women can be together and the collective strength we can exude on court. It was magical.

Mana and great Kiwi athletes

You can kind of say that as New Zealanders, we have special powers: we have a special strength formed from an invisible thread that ties together our culture, our people and our land. We have many shining examples of clean athletes with mana, and each is unique. 

When I look at Dame Valerie Adams and think about how she demonstrates mana, I see a strong woman able to stand up for what she believes in, inclusive of others, and dedicated to being the best she can be. I think about her training ethic and the sheer determination and focus when she steps into that throwing circle.

Dame Lisa Carrington – you can see it in her eyes – is focused on that finish line; her eyesight focuses on nothing but that line. Nothing sways her; her technique is solid to the end. The discipline to get that right all the time must be immense. 

If I look in my own backyard, my dear friend Irene van Dyk never had a bad word to say about anyone. She was one of the only players to stay, signing autographs for anyone who wanted one. Her willingness to give so much and expect nothing in return is second to none, but when she stepped on the court, her focus and commitment to push herself was evident, and always done with a smile on her face.

Richie McCaw’s determination, his ruthlessness, his ability to flirt with the rules and push them right to the limit, and the respect he demonstrates when he picks someone up off the field after smashing them in a tackle, all those attributes display the mana of a clean athlete.

Mana in anti-doping – and you

In an anti-doping world, competing clean means that we demonstrate the power and control to ensure that we have left no stone unturned. We commit to working, training, and being the best, we can be through sheer hard work and determination. Competing clean means that, on the day, we can honestly and truly say that we did it just that little bit better than our competitors.

Athletes around the country will have their own ideas about what having the mana of a clean athlete means to them, how they demonstrate it, and who their role models are. That’s the beauty of it – it’s unique and no one athlete’s interpretation is going to be the same as another’s.

I encourage you to develop your ideas about what it means to have mana as a clean athlete. What are your values? How do you want to be remembered when sport is finished for you?  How do you want people to talk about you? What example do you want to set? We might not get it right 100% of the time, and it might take some tweaking and adjustment, but that’s the beauty of it: mana – especially the mana of a clean athlete – can mean something different to each of us, and we can each demonstrate our mana in different ways.

How will you demonstrate yours?

Photo credit: Michael Bradley