Getting on with it: in praise of netball

In praise of Netball



Netball is a particularly idiosyncratic game. The rules, positions, uniform and absolutes are so strict they can feel suffocating. At first glance the basic premise and rules can look like an activity designed by a fascist state.  Seven players on court have set positions and set areas of the court they can enter. They cannot step onto the line demarcating an area they can’t enter without the umpire blowing a whistle. As you can imagine in a game with such strict rules the whistle gets blown often. Does this “stop – start” nature and the compliance heavy parameters slow the game down and make it less absorbing a sport? Far from it.


The very foundations (noncontact, explicit rules and clear divisions of labour) that shaped the game in its beginnings 100 years ago and reinforced that era’s ideology of femininity are now used as ways to play with more ingenuity, flair and assertion. The game and the players have outgrown the confines that attempted to define them.


Netball, even in Junior level competitions, is a riveting contest. The team is like an eco-system, each player’s skill contributes to the whole. In netball the team is more important than the individual. Evidence of those principles can be seen clearly watching our daughter’s team, Moomba Park, play. There are a number of girls in this side that if transposed to a footy team, would be seen as the star players. In a netball team they are part and parcel of the strength and quality of the team. And the team is the star.


It certainly took me a few years of watching the game to absorb the rules and the intent to the degree that I felt inside the game rather than standing on the outside. I don’t profess to know the rules that well but enough to follow the game with the enthusiastic interest of a rusted-on fan. Like other team sports netball is a metaphor of life, democracy and community. Netball is different in one small but significant way. Netball is one of a very few sports where the metaphor of democracy and community is expressed through a female specific prism. I’m not exactly sure what this means but, as a spectator, the bells and whistles (the hoo-haa) that accompany the game is less so than other sports.


What I find especially satisfying about netball is the manner in which it is played. Underlying the spectacle, team-work and individual achievements packed into four intense 15 minute quarters there is a sense that the players are just getting on with it. The ball moves like a missile, players hyper-extend so often, passes are millimetre perfect. Players are hard at the ball. It might be a noncontact sport but the speed of the ball, players and game means that there is contact every other pass. While some of it accidental, much of it comes from the fight and the desire to win.


Goals are scored from every conceivable point in a semi-radius around the net. Players can only hold the ball for three seconds before passing or shooting for goal. Imagine the pressure. Three seconds to shoot for goal. There is not a moment to go prancing around after having ‘scored a beauty’. There is hardly a moment to pat each other on the back having defended the cleverest attack. Players immediately get back into position to ready for the next play.


Moomba Park has a well drilled pattern when they have the ball. From the centre the ball is fired directly to the Goal Shooter, who has moved just outside the Goal Radius. She lobs the ball to a corner where the Wing Attack has sprinted. The Goal Attack (our daughter, Mercedes) pushes through defence and Wing Attack flings it at her just as her arms begins to reach out. Goal Attack has kept one foot positioned as close to goal (maybe a metre away) as possible and extended the other leg to snatch the ball passed by Wing Attack. In a blink, she turns to goal, ignoring the defensive pressure and cuts the ball in as tight a line from her fingertips to the goal lip as you could dare. The ball arcs over the lip and into the net. This play has lasted less than 15 seconds. The ball is returned to the centre and the game starts again.


Moomba Park U15s played in their division’s Grand Final. They played Banyule, a Rep team. That is a team made up of players selected from a crop of good players across a district. Moomba Park were underdogs. At half time (a two minute break) it was neck and neck. Up until then Moomba Park had plenty of the ball and had created a half a dozen turn-overs but couldn’t capitalise. In the third (the Premiership quarter) the game broke open and Moomba Park got out to a seven goal lead. They held that lead and won. It was a well deserved victory. Even more than that, it was an “on the edge of your seat” contest. However, even at its most tense, or most spectacular, or both I never sensed that a player was seeking glory in their commitment to the ball. They were getting on with the job.







  1. Loved the read TS. I’ll be way more appreciative of Netball’s nuances and delights next time I come across a game ( though, it’ll be hard not being distracted by the usual nuances and delights us men find in ladies netball!)

  2. Played a few seasons and loved it. Never worked out the ‘simultaneous contact’ call. Was once sent off for a corner-mouthed, under the breath “Learn the rules” call. Strong on rules and very good hearing in the netball umpiring fraternity.

  3. I defy anyone to call the Australia/NZ contests “non-contact”. They’re usually pretty brutal affairs.

    Its a far superior game to basketball…………….and soccer.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Netball at the top level is a great game to watch agree with dips above re the contact side in a Aust v NZ game is a he’ll a lot more physical than sme AFL players
    The speed and athleticism of the game is to be admired . I reckon they could have made a tidy profit charging spectators to get in to the game if we had known Harmsy was going to get sent off ! Congrats on Moomba parks success Trucker slim

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Hear hear. As a father of three netballers (the eldest also coaches) I’ve must have watched nigh on a 1000 games, but I feel frustrated that the rules need to be somehow brought into the 21st century as they impose unnatural restrictions on the athleticism of the players.

    It is a bit like race-walking, compared to basketball’s sprinting.

    As usual, I have no answers, only gripes. At the very least a penalty shouldn’t be awarded, especially outside the goal circle, if the offending team is made better of as a result.

    But some of the hit and giggle attempts to tinker with the game leave me a bit cold too.

  6. Agreed. One of the most enthralling sporting contests I’ve ever seen was an Aus vs NZ test match many years ago. Either team could have won depending on when the final whistle went.

    Like John, I have played a few games. Yet to clearly understand the rules either, but being 6’7″, seemed to gravitate towards the GS position. Not that the defenders respect that. Worse than the scraggiest of scraggy fullbacks.

    A bunch of union and footy types banded together for a training game against the UAE rep side. We got smashed and the girls later won a 16 team regional tournament. I took some pride in that…

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