Women's Sports: Why are more and more women playing Netball in the UK?

GMS Warriors

Netball is one of those sports that most women remember playing at school but now more and more of us are playing it as adults too. Over 300,000 of us now play netball fortnightly, that’s 50,000 more people taking part in the sport between May 2018 and May 2019 than in the previous year.

A large reason for this participation increase is surely the unprecedented success and attention towards England’s Roses, thanks to their first-ever gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and more recently their bronze medal at the World Cup in Liverpool

GiveMeSport decided it was time to get in on the netball action and that is how we found ourselves at London Euston boarding a far-too-early train up to Manchester for the RedBull Switch Up.

The event is a dynamic format of the sport involving four players per team competing across half a course. Everyone can shoot and if you shoot from outside the goal circle that impressive skill is rewarded with three points versus the one point you get by scoring closer to the net.

Team GMS Warriors talk a good game (after all can you even call yourself a sports fan if you don’t have a competitive streak?) but the five of us have never played as a team before and for most of us it’s been a little while since we’ve played too. Oh, and none of us has played four-a-side either but that won't stop us from winning, right?

Things get off to a comical start when we decide we don’t need to check the front of the bus before hopping on. A few minutes later we realise we are going the wrong way and quickly get off. 

Crisis averted, we finally arrive at the venue – EventCity near the Trafford Centre – to a daunting sight. Walking into the cavernous event space there are lots of girls in netball dresses and trainers practising their shooting and passing. In our gym gear, we start to wonder if we might have bitten off more than we can chew.

This doesn’t deter us and we start to limber up, after all, this is a serious business.

Guys, here’s a tip – don’t get an Olympian to run a warmup. It seems like a good idea asking teammate and Olympic medallist Anyika Onuora to help us get ready, after all, she knows her stuff but after running, skipping and lunging ourselves ready we are more than warm, we are breathless. The warmup is a workout in and of itself and when we decide we’re warm, it is clear Anyika was only just getting started. 

Netball Switch Up

Remember how annoying it was at school when you had to make earrings out for PE? It turns out this, along with not having long nails, is very much still a rule in netball. As a result, our first match is a little delayed while an unimpressed referee tells us off like we're still at school and we frantically de-earring and break off longer-than-regulation nails.

Netball is hard. By the end of our first match, we’re sweating from head to bum (sorry, not sorry) and it was only ten minutes in total!

It’s exciting, too. We improve match by match – each team plays five in the group stage – as we learn how to work with each other, pass more effectively and get those shots in.

We also quickly realise that we might need to adjust our expectations. When you’re playing together for the first time, against teams with all the gear and a good idea of what to do, winning the whole event is maybe a little ambitious for our first tournament. Instead, we decide that we should all try to score by the end of the day. 

Netball Switch Up

We don’t qualify for the knock-outs, but by the time our final group match is over, we are all netball converts, high off the feeling of scoring and full of plans to start a netball team ASAP. After all, given the rate that we improved at in just five matches (from a 10-1 loss to draws), imagine what we’d do if we were playing regularly. Those Roses should watch out, just saying…

Leaving the changing rooms (aka empty toilets) with hair and make-up refreshed and ready to head back to London, I turn to fellow GMS Warrior Samantha and say: “Imagine if we had to play again lol!”

Lol indeed. It turns out the netball gods would have the last laugh. As we start to get ready to leave cries of “GMS Warriors” start to rise. Wait what? Why are they calling our name? We are already aching from the day's efforts and we exchange confused looks.

“The team that was meant to play in the semi-final dropped out,” one of the organisers tells us, “we need you to play.” 

And so suddenly we are playing again, game faces on in front of a crowd and with a place in the final at stake. What could the GMS Warriors pull out of the bag?

The match is exhilarating and we put up a good fight, holding the oppositions back until they sink an impressive three-pointer. We get a few up on the board but it’s not enough to pull back and they go on to win the match.  

Knowing we have left it all on the court, it is finally time for us to return to London. By the time our train pulls back into Euston, we are all tired and achy. Proud, too – going from zero to semi-final is not an experience we will forget in a while. Watch out London, because it looks like GMS will be coming to a Netball court near you soon…

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