Nowadays most sports have variations and adaptations to the traditional game to ensure it is inclusive to as many people as possible and netball is certainly no exception. We are very lucky that there are so many varieties of netball available, which allow you to keep playing at whatever level suits you regardless of age, ability and commitment levels.Netball really does seem to be ticking all the boxes and my little chart below can show you just what is out there to take you on a netball journey.
So, let’s start at the very beginning. I hear it’s a very good place to start! I am pretty sure that there isn’t actually something called First Step Netball anymore, but I found a wonderful booklet which toted it as “The official 4-a-side game of the All England Netball Association” I have no idea how old the booklet was but, as it was referring to the AENA, I would take a stab at at least 20 years. It appeared to be aimed at 7 – 9 year olds and is pretty basic so I think it is fair to say that this has now been superseded by High 5. However, some of the guidance it gave (8 foot posts, development of fundamental basic skills, allowing youngsters to make decisions and act upon them), could very well be adapted for a slightly younger age group. Having recently been asked if I would think about setting up some (I quote) “mini-netball sessions”, I am going to leave it on my little plan above as I believe it could be a very good entry level option to the sport for 5 – 7 year olds for a coach to work with.
Which moves us on to High 5 for kids up to 11 years old. This can be played as a single sex or mixed teams which I personally think is the better option as it teaches the boys and girls to work together and also, from the play point of view, it does mean that the game becomes much more spread out. Little girls together have a tendency to have a “magnetic ball” tendency when they all cluster around the ball carrier shouting “me, me!”, where boys have a propensity to lob the ball as far as possible, so it definitely opens play out having the boys in the game! With the additional roles that are given to off-court players too (Scorer, Centre Pass Marker, Time Keeper), it ensures that all the team are given responsibility and kept engaged the whole time.
High 5 to 7-a-side is definitely not a recognised form of netball, but it’s here to show that it is at this point where the sport does become single sex and girls start to learn the traditional game which moves us on nicely to Junior Netball. Back in my day at school (such an old woman thing to say!), we only played netball and hockey through the winter with athletics and tennis (and netball if you were in the team) through the summer. In today’s schools, the children are exposed to a far wider variety of sports within the curriculum, so the tag here of Junior Netball could be for the games played in school but it could also show at the point where keen juniors move into a club environment to pursue their netball aspirations through Club, County and Regional netball.
So we have now reached Senior Netball and it is at this point things start to splinter off and suddenly, a plethora of options are available. Some people rediscover netball through the Back to Netball initiative having not played since school. After attending some of these sessions and depending on what they want to take from the sport, they might join a club to play affiliated league netball or they may decide that they don’t have the time or they want to keep it more relaxed so find local Netball Now sessions which encourage people to just turn up and play on a very relaxed weekly basis. In a very similar form, there are a number of unaffiliated leagues springing up under the “Play Netball” banner which is actually a pretty good enterprise. Played at a central location, the league provides the court, equipment and umpires so it allows people to just turn up and play as a team without too much commitment or expense.
For those that want to be more serious though, being part of a club will mean a much more structured approach to your netball. As you will be part of a team playing in an affiliated league, you will be expected to train on a weekly basis so must be prepared for the additional commitment on your time and the extra financial costs this will incur. Depending on your availability and enthusiasm, you could perhaps combine playing in more than one league, or perhaps add in a little Netball Now, or you could decide that you want to have a go at a completely different form of netball and start to play NETS, an indoor variation of the games played within an enclosed high tension cage involving 5, 6 or 7 players with versions for both women or mixed teams.
And then there is Fast5. I have to say that I have never seen this played other than at international level in the Fast5 World Series, but it a really exciting and explosive shortened version of the game involving zoned shooting areas giving more points the further out you shoot and Powerplay quarters where double points are up for grabs. Less whistle, rolling subs, and centre passes being taken by the team who conceded the goal make this a fast and furious game. Added to the mix are flashing posts when the extreme 6 pointers are netted and lot of razzmatazz when the teams take the court plus an over excitable commentator whipping up the crowd, it really is an all bells and whistles event. It may not be a variation of the sport that will ever be available to us mere mortals, but is is certainly something which a coach could include in a training session to give her players a bit of variety and it would definitely spice things up a bit!
And then after all that excitement, we now have Walking Netball, the latest netball incarnation from England Netball. Netball, but at a slower pace. Still in it’s infancy, it is proving to be massively popular not just for older ladies, but also for players who maybe want to come back after having had a baby or having had had to hang up their netball trainers due to serious injury. Giving everyone the opportunity to keep playing the sport long after they thought they would be able to, it’s fun, relaxed and friendly and is certainly proving to be a very successful addition to the Netball stable.