Everyone knows that New Zealand have a tendency to beat England at netball (and rugby but we will stick to the round ball for now). This isn’t a new thing, it has been happening for a while now and given the performances in the recent Quad series, it looks like it will be continuing for the foreseeable future.
I decided to try and figure out why a country with a population of 4.5 million can continuously beat England with an approximate population of 65 million people. It shouldn’t happen given the disparity between the two populations with players to choose from but it does continuously. Just to prove I like a good stat, England Netball posted participation numbers in 2015 at 164,100 playing once a week (not including school players). NZ Netball have an approximate 300,000 players participating annually. In terms of % of population that is a huge difference between our two countries, but the thing I am most interested in is why there are more regular netball players in NZ than in the UK, and therefore a larger pool of players and infrastructure for the national team to thrive on.
I could have started anywhere, but given a recent move to Auckland and an amazing introduction to NZ netball by Michele Wallace, I will begin with facilities.
Michele Wallace is one of those netballing gurus who knows everyone there is to know in the netball network in Auckland. She runs the North Harbour Netball Centre based on the North Shore of Auckland. Michele is also heavily involved in Westlake Netball Club, one of the longest standing on the North Shore.
So to put this in context; imagine every team you play against, those you know from different tournaments, the friends that play for different teams from Regional/Prem to Surrey Div 8, all of these teams playing at one central venue. 23 (yes 23) all weather courts, floodlit with an arena court indoors with seating, which can be split into two courts. Now imagine the league is run by the Netball centre; all the leagues, affiliation, umpires, all costs, fixtures etc. No outside body, no volunteer committees (accepting that these do a grand job in the UK), no annual committee meetings to attend. Whether home or away, everyone plays at this venue. How much easier to organise lifts, players, availability without having to travel from Chertsey to Shirley for a Met League match?!
Schools also use the netball centre for league matches; again which are run by the centre so no additional time burden on teaching staff.
I know the UK does have lots of netball courts but these are spread out, usually at schools or dodgy recreation grounds where the courts surfaces and facilities can leave a lot to be desired at times. The schools here also have their own netball courts; one local school (state not independent) has 6 courts which are all undercover (protection from rain and sun), but still play their league games at the netball centre.
North Harbour Netball Centre is funded by sponsorship, some central funding and with the clubs affiliation fees. They also run kids coaching camps over the holidays to raise additional funding, using players from the collegiate teams who have been taught how to coach as the coaches. The centre develops coaching programmes for players in the teenage age groups so that they can give back to the junior age groups as coaches. The centre also runs a coaching programme for parent volunteers who want to help coach their own kids age groups, giving them basic knowledge of the principles of netball, alongside umpiring courses for younger players to give them a qualification (more of that to come in future weeks).
The biggest bonus of all you wonder? An onsite medical centre staffed at all times by a physio plus an emergency doctor when the centre is at its busiest. Any player who pays affiliation fees can book an appointment with the physio as part of their membership package. Twist an ankle in a game? No hopping to the side of the court to sit for an hour freezing cold whilst the game finishes before the team trying to figure out how to get you and your car to A&E. Over comes the wheel chair, takes you to the medical centre where you are assessed and given emergency treatment. Looking after your ongoing rehab as a matter of course.
The weekly junior camps start at Year 5 on Monday after school. Giving the kids a place to come and play, and one set of facilities which will be their netball hub until they are much older. I spoke to players who had first started being coached by Michele when they were in Primary school, and were now in their 30s and still playing at North Harbour for the same club at the same place.
The netball centres gives a sense of community, belonging to more than just one kick off time on a Saturday on a dodgy Primary school court in the middle of nowhere. The court surface is safe regardless of weather conditions plus there is a fantastic cafe on site doing the most amazing potato wedges with bacon and sour cream!
What is most astonishing to me about this place is that there are 4 netball centres like this in Auckland alone. Now Auckland isn’t a big city by London standards; imagine Kingston or Croydon, that is the size of the main city with the suburbs sprawling out into the countryside. Meaning that no matter where you live in Auckland, there is a netball centre within 15 minutes of you. Surely that must have an impact of players committing to playing more often? Plus if you have a single venue that you have been visiting for years on end to play with your club and with school, then you are surely more likely to continue playing.
Now I am not saying it would solve every problem to suddenly construct these netball temples, but you have to admit it would certainly make it a damn sight easier to attract and keep players playing.
Any suggestions on how to build our very own netball centre in Surrey/London please go ahead and suggest away, we can start a petition!