September 18, 2021

‘Evolution can be a positive thing’

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Tamsin Greenway

Netball Expert & Columnist

“I don’t think that netball can be closed to anything when it comes to developing and enhancing the product. I’m not talking huge changes, I’m talking about stamping out the ‘school girl’ tags once and for all and not replacing it with ‘glamour’.”

Last Updated: 31/07/20 9:28am

Greenway looks at the continued need to educate those who don't live and breathe netball Greenway looks at the continued need to educate those who don't live and breathe netball

Greenway looks at the continued need to educate those who don’t live and breathe netball

In this week’s column, Tamsin Greenway discusses that Suncorp Super Netball season ‘review’ and shares why she believes it’s paramount that netball continues to evolve to break down such stereotypical opinions and boost its place in the global sporting landscape.

With record crowds in New Zealand as the ANZ Premiership teams head back to their home venues, and with Suncorp Super Netball finally getting to Round One after a turbulent build-up, the netball landscape has enjoyed a bright few days.

However, as can often happen when things are looking good, it was quickly back to reality. In this case, we were jolted back there by a two-and-a-half star review of the forthcoming Super Netball’s season in Australia.

“Once just for schoolgirls and workplace bonding, this is now a full glamour sport for many,” that was the part of the review which enraged and incensed so many.

Nat Medhurst, the president of the Australian Netball Players’ Association, joined Caroline and I on the new Off The Court and shared her thoughts about it. She said it was ‘a joke and quite embarrassing’, I agree, but she also raised a good point about how netball needs to evolve its image and make itself more appealing.

This is what I’d like to talk about this week, how do we ensure that netball gets out of its own bubble and starts to break down the barriers which means that someone writes something like that review.

Medhurst openly shared that she can actually find netball quite boring to watch. She talked about how she thinks it needs to become more engaging and entertaining. I think the same around the engagement, I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again…

There are other changes that could be tweaked too. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like netball to still largely keep its format but take for example the first comment I get a lot from my male friends when they watch; ‘Wow there’s so much whistle’.

How about we remove it for sidelines and shots? How about removing the whistle for centre passes to; a centre simply steps in and we crack on? Not radical but, I think it’s important to start listening to those who don’t follow.

Australia's professional league starts on August 1 having been postponed since May Australia's professional league starts on August 1 having been postponed since May

Australia’s professional league starts on August 1 having been postponed since May

Netball needs to have its ears open when people say that they don’t watch because of X or because of Y and be willing to start thinking about how to make it work for them. It’s not to break down what we’ve always seen, but it’s an understanding that evolution can be a positive thing.

Next, when it comes to enhancing engagement, let’s talk about the fan experience on a match-day and harnessing that crowd interaction. If you look across at different sports – basketball, rugby, football – they all have their own traditions, something that netball is still developing.

When I first started at the Queensland Firebirds, they introduced a song similar to the AFL clubs and when I first started at Surrey Storm we decided to put music into the matches.

If there was a footwork call, Ciara’s ‘1, 2 Step’ would sound or ‘Ice Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice when there was an injury. But, in the first year we trialled it we got into trouble. We were just trying to create that atmosphere and enhance the match-day experience.

Netball is still developing its fan experience and needs to drive it on a regular basis, not just at major tournaments Netball is still developing its fan experience and needs to drive it on a regular basis, not just at major tournaments

Netball is still developing its fan experience and needs to drive it on a regular basis, not just at major tournaments

In England, we have started to do it with one-off games and big matches. I know that a lot of this does come with a cost and is potentially impacted by franchises not owning their own venues or having big commercial teams, but it will make a significant difference.

I’ve likened it before to American sports, it’s an experience from start to finish and we’re certainly not there yet.

Another major element of a greater engagement is the sharing of players’ personalities and how they’re spoken about. In previous columns, I’ve talked about netball’s tone; it has to be performance-based and professional. I want us to talk about all aspects and want us to focus on the heroes and villains on court; the cheeky players, the loud players or those with that incredible confidence.

Greenway believes that players' personalities and athletic qualities need to be discussed more widely Greenway believes that players' personalities and athletic qualities need to be discussed more widely

Greenway believes that players’ personalities and athletic qualities need to be discussed more widely

I love the fact that Rachel Dunn works for the NHS, her job alongside her netball, but I want to hear more about what makes her the shooter that she is and what makes her the athlete that she is.

We need to talk about players’ game smarts, their tricks and their abilities when they hit the court. When a shooter rolls her eyes at an umpire, or there’s a big hit, a miss under the post, or a delay in play let’s discuss it properly and not brush it off with niceties.

Netball is an elite sport in England, it’s professional in Australia and New Zealand, and a ‘nice’ conversation alongside it just doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s about winning and losing, criticism and praise – our language and rhetoric needs to be sport and athlete focused, something I think we’re all striving towards but perhaps don’t always follow through on.

We need to drive an honest conversation. We need to discuss tactics more, selection choices, in both good and bad light. Trolling, no. But, talking about athletes as athletes and analysing all aspects of the game is needed to inform those who don’t know our sport like we do.

Moving forwards, personally I don’t think that netball can be closed to anything when it comes to developing and enhancing the product. I’m not talking huge changes I’m talking about stamping out the ‘school girl’ tags once and for all and not replacing it with ‘glamour’.

To grow the game, to gain more investment and to enhance its place in the sporting landscape, we need to keep being proactive. Get frustrated yes, but to break that old-school opinion like the review in Australia, we need to understand it. We need to understand who wrote it and realise that we have some work to do in educating those who don’t live and breathe our game.