While Australia is certainly associated with Rugby and Cricket, it is less well known for its enthusiasm for a sport called Netball. This game is popular in many of the Commonwealth Nations and there are over 70 national teams in the International Federation of Netball Associations.
When I was in Australia, I was offered the opportunity to play a game in a Brisbane Netball league. I agreed because I was told that Netball is like “a women’s version of Basketball”, which I later learned refers to Mr. Naismith’s school developing a version of Basketball for its female students who couldn’t run around in their restrictive 1890s corsets.
I am not an athletically gifted person, but I had played in a pick-up Basketball league all through high school. I had felt confident that I could manage a 60 minute game of Netball without embarrassing myself.
Oh, how wrong I was…
Ways in which Netball and Basketball are the same:
1) The Layout: there is a ball and a court with lines on the ground and hoops on posts at both ends.
2) The Goal: get the ball through the hoops.
Ways in which Netball and Basketball are not the same:
1) The Equipment: The ball was smaller, lighter and softer than a basketball. Also, there are no backboards on the hoops.
2) The Teams: There are 7 players per team instead of 5. Basketball has 3 positions: Center, Forward and Guard. Netball has 7: Goal Shooter, Goal Attack, Wing Attack, Center, Wing Defense, Goal Defense, and Goal Keeper.
3) The Rules: Based on how many whistles that were directed my way during the game, all of them. You can’t dribble the ball. You can’t move when you have the ball. You can’t hold the ball for more than 3 seconds. You can’t pass across an entire third of the court or more. You can’t leave your territory on the court (based on which position you play). You can’t wave your arms in front of someone unless you’re more than 1 metre away from them. Basically, you’re not allowed to do anything.
Unfortunately, no one thought of giving me a quick lesson on Netball rules before the game started. I had 7 whistles on me in the 1st quarter alone. The only reason that I wasn’t benched by my team is that we had zero substitute players available. It was decided in the 2nd quarter that I should probably just stand in the other team’s way and to try not to move too much. If this had been little league baseball, I was the kid picked last for the team and told to stay out of people’s way in left field.
Our opponents could not have been so great at Netball, by the way. We only lost by 1 point at 21-20 in the last few minutes of the game.
And they did not have to overcome what my team referred to as “the Canadian handicap”.