Women's Netball: New Year's resolutions Netball must get behind

England Netball Portrait Session

It is January 1st 2020. It is the first day of a new year. In fact, it is the first day of a new decade.

Naturally with a fresh, new horizon in front of us, we find ourselves moving away from what is behind us and resolving to finally address what we can change as we take our first steps forward. Creating New Year’s resolutions is a tradition as old as time and it is one that netball must now embrace. 

As the landscape of women’s sport grows netball still has the chance to be at the forefront of this developing phenomenon, but in order to do so it must seize the initiative; it must start asserting itself as that possibility. And what better occasion is there to fashion new resolutions, new targets and new hopes than at the turning of a new decade? 

1. Be louder

Netball does not speak loudly enough about its participation rates.

Since England won gold at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018, Sport England’s Active Lives Adult Survey found that 319,400 adults now play netball fortnightly. A YouGov poll found that after the Vitality Netball World Cup hosted by Liverpool in July 2019, more than 160,000 people started playing netball or played more regularly.

These are exceptional figures and show a strong correlation between success at the elite level and participation at the grassroots level. As it stands it’s as if a quiet revolution has occurred.

You perhaps heard whisperings about a ripple but you didn’t really know that the flood was coming. It’s time now to be raucous, to be louder and to be prouder about these statistics. Let’s plaster it on the walls, put it up in bold and tell everyone about it.

2. Be arrogant

This resolution belongs first and foremost to Wales Netball. After failing to qualify for the 2019 Netball World Cup the Welsh side has shown the only defiance, as they’ve grown from strength-to-strength. At the hands of Julie Hoornweg, Wales marked their best-ever result against New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

In 2019 Wales defeated Malawi, Trinidad & Tobago and Grenada in a test series before securing silver at the 2019 Netball Europe Open Championships; goal difference the insurmountable obstacle that prevented them from taking gold. Back safely in the top 10 of the INF World Rankings, as the year closes Wales should be feeling more than just pleased; they should be feeling confident. They have had a remarkable comeback – so why don’t we talk about it more? 

2011 World Netball Championships - Day 5

Netball too, as a whole, has been far too humble. It should own with far more bravado the fact that the sport brandishes one of the most successful teams of all time. The Diamonds of Australia have won 11 of the 14 available World Cup titles. They have never won bronze, only gold or silver. Such success puts the Diamonds in contention for the most successful sports team in history. How about we start reminding the world of that more often?

3. Keep growing

Come January 8th we shall know with certainty the 15-strong squads from each of the 10 Vitality Superleague netball teams competing in this year’s competition. But one need not wait until then to be able to say confidently that this season will be the tightest one yet. Netballing talent is growing exponentially and now, it’s no longer staying in one place.

There are old faces, new faces and old faces in new places. If you were a betting person you would not want to bet on this year’s title winner; looking at it now it feels a nearly impossible task. What we need now is to see the competitiveness of this league translated to the netball-watching world. 

As a sport, we must talk about our league more, promote it more, so that we inspire people to go to fixtures and witness the fearlessness of Superleague netball at its best. Imagine for a moment that everyone who played netball regularly watched it too. Should we not be moving to target this potentially enormous audience?

4. Be fearless

Wasps Netball, title runners-up in last year's Superleague competition made a great leap for UK netball as they took their preseason down-under, competing in Netball New Zealand's Super Club tournament. Challenging teams from both New Zealand and Australia, the decision by Mel Mansfield and her side to make the journey reflects the growing fearlessness of netball in the UK.

There is the desire and real intent to evolve the game, to catch-up with the leading nations and learn from the best. It is a decision that we should commend for its boldness and it is also yet another indicator of just how competitive the Superleague season will be this year...  

2019 Constellation Cup - Australia v New Zealand

5. Be critical

It is finally now no longer enough that we simply cheerlead netball. Championing netball and its growth is, and will always, be a priority but if we want real equality for the sport it’s time we start properly scrutinising the game, its players and the structures of the systems support it. The time has come to be critical and to demand transparency; to not be afraid to ask questions and challenge the status quo. Criticism gives birth to discussion and discussion, in turn, engages involvement. 

So what are we waiting for?

Let’s make 2020 the beginning of a new era for netball. In the words of the infamous Sue Gaudion, let’s use our “‘netBALLS to stand out.” We talk so much about the ‘potential’ of netball but the only way we can properly realise this potential is if we shift the way we talk about our sport.

We must become the change we want to see.

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