SINGAPORE - When the netball bib you pull on is for country, every training session, every match and every tournament matters. Even more so, when the year ahead is arguably the biggest yet for Netball Singapore (NS).
Apart from the annual Netball Super League (NSL) which kicks off tomorrow and December's Nations Cup, there is also the SEA Games at home in June, where nothing less than gold is expected of the Asian champions.
The World Cup, the sport's most prestigious event, also presents a test of how Singapore measure up against the game's elite when it takes place in Sydney in August.
It explains why for national netballer Nurul Baizura, there can be no exceptions when it comes to clocking in training - even if it falls on her birthday.
"No days off. No exception," she told The Straits Times on Monday, when she squeezed in an interview in the 30-minute window she had after work and before training. She turned 25 that day.
"You have to go all out in training," said the special education teacher, who plays for the Mission Mannas in the NSL. "There's no such thing as giving just 50 per cent because you're tired.
"Your opponent won't give anything to you. You'll have to work for every single pass."
This work ethic is one that she said she picked up while watching her more storied seniors like Jean Ng and Pearline Chan from the sidelines as a rookie. Both have since retired from international netball.
Nurul, who plays in the mid-court positions, said: "The seniors were still at their peak when I joined the Open team five years ago, so I didn't really get much opportunity to play.
"But it was a journey that I appreciated. You see from the way they train that a lot goes into being on the national team and it's not as easy as you thought. They became my motivation."
Affectionately known as "Bai" on the team, she has since risen from being a bench warmer to a core member of the national team, and earned her 50th cap at the Nations Cup last month.
Describing her charge as a "game changer", national head coach Ruth Aitken said: "Bai's work ethic is second to none. To have someone who is able to be such a workhorse, in that centre role particularly, is fantastic."
Admitting that she has high expectations of herself in every thing she does, Nurul added: "I have a responsibility to help lead the younger ones on the team.
"I give myself pressure, but that's a good thing because you don't know what you can overcome when you push yourself."
So while she is quietly confident the team can do well at the SEA Games, she has her sights set on bigger goals - even if it means being up against the world's best teams like Australia and New Zealand.
She said: "I feel like the gap between us and the best is getting smaller. You've got to dream big. The point is always not to set your boundaries too low. For me, the sky is the limit."
This article was first published on January 23, 2015.
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