Growing up, I lived five doors down from my best friend, JC and I have dozens of memories of us running up and down the street to each other’s houses. However, one particular memory stands out of when, for some reason, my mum ran down the street with me back to our house. I remember looking at how slow she ran and wondered why she didn’t pick her feet up off the ground properly as she jogged along. Nowadays, my mum is fitter than me, runs faster than me and weighs less than me. Why?
Because I am a lazy arse, who likes too much chocolate. Netball – that’s why.
During her school years, my mum was the best player on her school netball team and they won everything. However, when she grew up, she stopped playing. She didn’t want to, but it just wasn’t a game you really played as an adult. When I was six years old, she built up a team of friends and colleagues and has played ever since. A couple of years ago, she retired from playing on the court and is now a B Award umpire (a tough qualification to achieve) and the West Yorkshire Umpiring Secretary. “Netball helped me through a lot of tough times,” she said when she told me that she was taking on the Secretary role. “Now it’s time for me to give back to netball.”
Therefore, from the age of six, I have never been far from a netball court. I gave it up during my university years so that I could make time for
drinking studying and when I returned over to the right side of the Pennines at twenty-one, I joined a team and have played continuously ever since.
My first attempt playing competitively came when I trialled for my school team at ten; it was almost a disaster. I played and I didn’t make the team. Returning home with my head slung low, I felt a failure – my mum and I would not share this common ground. The next day at school, however, I learnt that they had duplicated someone’s name and I was in.
I realise I am talking about the game as if I am a talented player. I’m not. In no way shape or form am I talented. I am sluggish, lazy, I laugh too much when I am playing, I umpire and talk to myself whilst I am on court, I am a big softy and I am always apologising for throwing bad passes. The best quote from me this week was “Oh, that was like a wet fish”, as I saw the ball
soar limp through the air into the opposition’s arms. However, this sport has impacted on my life in so many ways that I wanted to write about it and celebrate it. I am cringing as I write this, but netball has and always will have a special place in my heart and I know this phrase will resonate with the few rather than the many, but it’s not just a game, it’s a family – it’s a way of life. In the past, there has been many a night out I have turned down due to my having a 9am netball match the following day.
I am lucky enough to be blessed with two children – a girl and a boy and as a mother of a girl, I want her to grow up in a world where women support and encourage one another and for me, netball is the complete epitome of this belief. A famous saying in the sport is ‘Here if you Need’ and it not only does it embody the game, but it is the underlying factor that makes netball girls the best you will ever meet. Never in my life have I come across a group of women who will support you in everything you do – not just during a game. I met a close friend at twenty-one after joining a local team and during my Dad’s illness, I shut myself down and avoided seeing people at all costs. One Saturday, I played an abysmal game and my opposition ran rings around me and was particularly aggressive – but, she didn’t know my personal battle and wanted the win more than me. My friend walked through the sports hall doors after the game (she was playing in the game that followed mine) and she spotted that I was about to lose it. As in, the floodgates, that I so furiously protected, were about to burst open and I would not have been able to stop. She grabbed me, hugged me (and I am NOT a hugger) and let me – a sweaty mess – sob openly into her shoulder. In an instant, she picked me up and put me back together right there in the middle of the court.
Playing and umpiring Saturday morning netball in and around West Yorkshire for the last fifteen years means that I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing women. I can guarantee that no matter which court I turn up at on a Saturday, I will see someone I know, like and admire and that’s a lovely thing to be able to say.
So, if you are after a new hobby and want to be part of a team of women who will support you and defend you to the absolute death (or until the final whistle blows), then you should give netball a go and here are some reasons why:
- Squad Goals
Your team is your squad. I joined my most recent club three months pregnant and during my first pregnancy, seven of us all had babies within weeks of each other. Since then, the club has birthed over twenty babies. Away from netball, I think it’s clear to see where these ladies get their kicks! During the early days of motherhood, we were a support network for each other and our children have become friends. One day soon, my daughter might be lucky enough to intercept the ball from these aging hands of mine and play the game with some of these amazing children.
2. A two minute team talk can become a life changing epiphany
I am honoured to know a lovely lady who, despite having some health problems, is driven by her passion for the game and is the most positive person I know. Despite not being able to play as often as she would like, she turns her attention to others via coaching and captaining a team. Driven by the love of the game and her passion for her club, this lady will always put others’ needs before her own; she is selfless and inspiring and the perfect pin up for what a good player should look like. She is all about the team and encourages others to be the best they can be. Who doesn’t want a friend like that in their life?
3. Netball Mums
I can’t wait to be a ‘Netball Mum’. Growing up, I only really had the opportunity to play for my school team, but now, throughout West Yorkshire, there are a host of leagues and junior clubs. My coach at my most recent club only picked up a netball ten years ago when her daughter played for her school team. In those ten years, she has built a successful senior club and junior club, trained as a coach and is a high level umpire. For me, this is a little ambitious, but if I can stand on the side lines shouting “that’s my girl” then I will be one happy Netball Mum. By the way Dads – I saw a Dad last week wearing a ‘Netball Dad’ hoodie, so don’t feel as if you can’t get involved!
4. It can be quite a lucrative little earner
Well, I don’t think I can quit my day job, but becoming an umpire helped me pay off my student over draft, contributed to a couple of holidays and now, as I can not umpire as much as I would like, it helps me keep my car fuelled and my wine rack filled which, I think you’ll agree, are life’s little essentials. One lady I know has, however, turned her hobby into a successful career while another amazing lady raises money through charity leagues and tournaments all in memory of a beloved family member.
5. Netball girls can party
I don’t get out much these days, but last November I put on an old dress, dug out some black heels from the back of my wardrobe and attended the annual ‘Netball Christmas Do’ and for eight hours we ate, we quizzed, we drank, we sang and we danced. I even surprised everyone when I flashed my netball knickers on the dance floor. Don’t worry, I wasn’t taking my obsession one step too far – they are great for holding up tights!!
I’ll end this sycophantic piece by just saying thank you to all the fantastic women I have come to know through playing netball all these years. I think the picture below sums you all up perfectly. Oh, and I am sorry for all the crap passes and missed interceptions.