IT’S a sport many of us left behind at school but in recent years, netball has seen a resurgence.
Women who enjoyed the sport in their teenage years but gave up to start careers or families are returning to the pitch in their 30s and 40s to increase their fitness levels and make new friends.
Back to Netball is a national project run by England Netball that was set up four years ago to encourage more women back into the sport.
Here in the North East the scheme is proving a huge success with programmes in Tyne and Wear, Northumberland, County Durham and South Durham and Cleveland.
Sessions are coach-led and cover basic skill development and court play.
Participants include full-time mothers, city workers, business owners and professionals who are keen to return to a sport they loved at school.
The scheme has also attracted a number of women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who are trying the sport for the first time and who enjoy an activity based on teamwork.
Fiona Johnson, netball development officer at England Netball, who is based in the region, explains: “The scheme is aimed at women who have played at school but we also have a number of women who are trying netball for the first time.
“It’s for women of all ages. Many women play netball at school then when they leave at 16 they go into the world of work and don’t have time to play because of their job or family or they don’t know where they can play netball now they have left school but they love the sport.
“We’ve made the Back to Netball programmes flexible and non-committal. They can turn up one week but if they are looking after the kids the following week they don’t have to come along.
“We’ve got sponsorship for the scheme with Asics so for every person we get back into netball they give us a £1 which we then put back into the programme.
“This keeps the cost down for women so we only charge £2-3 a session.
“It’s a fun way for ladies to get fit and because netball is about teamwork, the ladies bond too.”
Mother-of-two Ann Tudor, of Gosforth, enrolled on the Back to Netball programme at Kenton School sports facility a year ago.
Before signing up the 43-year-old last played netball at the age of 18.
She says: “I found out about it through one of the mums at school who had seen an advert.
“I had played netball when I was younger but I’d not played for over 20 years. I’d loved it when I was younger so I thought I would give it a go.
“Lots of people go to the gym or run or do an aerobics class but netball is more fun.”
Women returning to the netball court don’t need to have a sound knowledge of the sport as coaches will teach them the rules.
“I couldn’t remember the rules and was a bit rusty so I was apprehensive about going along,”, explains Anne. “The coaches really help you and you soon pick it up again.”
Sessions can last from an hour up to two hours depending which location you visit and those who find they excel at the game can go on to play in the Back to Netball league.
Some of the participants have gone on to train as coaches and help others getting back to netball.
Fiona says: “Many find they enjoy it so much they want to play competitively or become coaches, for others they just want to come along and play netball, have fun and get fit.
“We have a real mixture of women from those who played it at school to mothers who have daughters who are now playing netball at school and the mums get the bug too.
“Netball is a team sport and is very sociable. You can come along on your own or bring along your best friend or your sister and meet new people and get fit in the process.”
Ann has seen an improvement in her fitness levels over the past year.
She says: “I really enjoy it. It’s so different to going along to the gym. I have played squash or gone for a run occasionally or gone circuit training but my fitness has been off and on over the years.
“A lot of men think netball is for sissies and you look pretty in a little skirt but actually it’s not like that at all. We don’t wear tiny skirts and after an hour session I’m knackered.
“At my session most of the women are in their 30s and 40s and we’ve made friends. You look forward to seeing each other every week.
“My daughter is nine and she has come to netball with me during the school holidays, which is great.”
Mother-of-one Lori Walsh plays netball twice a week at Kenton.
The 39-year-old, who works in clinical admin, says: “I decided to join the scheme to get fit. I had tried fitness regimes before but never stuck to anything. I enjoyed netball at school so I thought I would give it a try and I’ve found it so much fun.
“It keeps you fit but you don’t realise how hard you are working, it doesn’t feel like gruelling exercise because it’s so much fun.
“At Kenton there is a creche, so if you have a child who isn’t in school they can go to the creche while you play netball.”
Another former school netball player to get the bug is trainee psychologist Alice Bennett.
The 28-year-old from Durham attends the Back to Netball sessions at New College in her home city.
She says: “I played at school for years. I moved to the North East for a job promotion and when I came here I wanted to meet new people and get fit. Netball was a way for me to combine both.
“When you are in the gym you can slow down or maybe not put as much effort in but when you are training with other people it makes you put more effort in.
“My fitness has definitely improved and I have tried to be more healthy as a result too.”
Netball is also a popular sport for university students who are keen to carry on playing when they leave school to further their studies.
Hayley Cameron, from Forest Hall, North Tyneside, joined Team Northumbria, the Netball Superleague franchise for the North East, in November.
The 21-year-old, who is studying sport coaching at Northumbria University, competes against other teams from across the UK. She says: “I went back to university this year and played for the university team and then my coach suggested I try for Team Northumbria.
“I first started playing netball when I was nine then when I went to high school in Longbenton I carried on playing.
“Netball is the biggest girls’ sport around and if you enjoy sport then it is great to get into because there is a great team spirit.
“In Team Northumbria we have a real mixture of ages and most people work full-time in different jobs such as teaching.
“It’s a great way to keep fit, you have the team spirit, it’s fun and you have the social side too. Many of the teams go out socially.”
Gemma Sandberg, netball coach on the Back to Netball scheme has seen dozens of women get fit through the sport.
She says: “It’s fantastic to see women getting fit and having so much fun at the same time. The programme is for 16+ but we have women who are 50 coming along.
“Some women had bad experiences of netball at school but we want to show them it’s not as bad as it used to be, it’s not gym skirts and knickers. It is all about fitness and it has the same health benefits as going to the gym.”
For information, visit www.northeastnetball.co.uk which includes details of the Back to Netball scheme.
Anyone wishing to watch a netball game (and try out an alternative girls’ night out!), can do so when Team Northumbria take on Team Bath in the Netball Superleague at Sport Central on Saturday, February 18, from 6pm (doors from 5.30pm). Entry costs just £3. For further details, call 0191 227 4024.
Page 3 - Helping to enpower women >>
Helping to enpower women
NETBALL is used to empower women and encourage healthy lifestyles in developing countries.
Anita Navin, pictured, head of sport development at Northumbria University, travelled to Botswana last year to train coaches in the sport, who in turn pass on their knowledge to groups ranging from school children to Olympic level athletes.
She says: “Netball is a hugely popular sport with more than 20 million people playing it worldwide and it’s also exclusively for women so it’s now being used as a means to empower women.
“It’s a great sport to encourage team-working, build confidence and help women believe in themselves.”
Anita is a member of the UK Sport IDEALS (International Development Through Excellence and Leadership in Sport project ) project which sends students out to Zambia to work with young people.
The International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA) comprises more than 60 national teams organised into five global regions.
Netball matches last an hour.
During general play, participants must release the ball within three seconds of receiving it.
Netball was finally recognised as an Olympic sport in 1995.
Regular players feel that the practice of racing backwards and forwards in a high-energy contest, requiring them to stay on their toes, has improved their stamina levels considerably.
As well as improving one’s nervous and cardiovascular systems, regular play can make the body nimble. Shielding the ball from the opposition, jumping to reach high balls, and scrambling to beat opposition players to the ball exercises the joints and can help the onset of joint pains.