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Growing the grassroots: Netball for all

This much-loved sport is going from strength to strength, particularly following the success of the England team at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Netball England’s Helen Wynn spoke to Steph Eaves about how the body continues to grow the grassroots

by Steph Eaves, Health Club Management and Sports Management | Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 1
Work with the Women’s Institute (WI) has attracted high levels of interest from its members
Work with the Women’s Institute (WI) has attracted high levels of interest from its members

What’s the background of netball in England?
England Netball celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2016. Since its inception, levels of participation are growing fast. We know that more than one million women and girls play netball during a typical week in the netball season.

While the sport is continually growing, many women still think of it as an old-fashioned, slow-paced game only played at school. However, the sport has changed massively and has been thrust into the limelight since the Vitality Roses won the Commonwealth Games in April 2018.

Thanks to our partnership with Sky Sports, netball is now one of few women’s team sports which enjoys weekly television coverage during the Superleague season.

How do people usually come into the sport?
Our Back to Netball and Walking Netball programmes are the biggest way that adults engage with the sport. We find that many women have fond memories of playing netball at school but may not have played since leaving.

These programmes are extremely popular as they offer a fun and accessible way for people to re-engage with the sport they enjoyed so much at a young age. For example, our Back to Netball programme was introduced 10 years ago, and in 2018 it welcomed its 100,000th member.

Netball is still a sport that is played in lots of schools, so this is how many children and young people engage with it for the first time.

People can use our Session Finder on the England Netball website to find their nearest session, which also helps to increase participation.

Which groups are you targeting to join the sport?
We want there to be a way for all women and girls to enjoy the sport, in a way that works for them. It’s about creating their own game – no matter what your age or fitness level, there’s a way to get involved with this sport in a manner that suits you and we want to share that message as far and wide as possible.

Whether someone wants to simply watch netball, try Walking Netball as a soft introduction to the sport, or have a go at Back to Netball – there’s a way for everyone to take part, so we’re not targeting one specific age group, we are targeting everyone.

How are you engaging people?
Locally there are lots of plans tailored to meet the needs of local communities, but nationally a couple stand out; in particular our current work with the Women’s Institute (WI) to get their members involved in Walking Netball is proving successful, with an unprecedented amount of interest received from them.

As we approach the Vitality Netball World Cup, which takes place in Liverpool this July, we have some great plans and activities that will be launched soon to inspire even more people to get involved with the sport and make 2019 the biggest summer of netball England has ever seen!

What are you doing to retain participants?
Our clubs and leagues do a fantastic job of providing opportunities week after week for people to play netball regularly and locally. A key part of our Back to Netball initiative is to support as many groups as possible to establish themselves as a club or a team beyond the programme – last year nearly 100 brand new clubs purely from Back to Netball were created.

Do you have any partnerships that help you to grow the grassroots?
All of our partnerships provide support from a grassroots to an elite level. Our partnerships are key to helping us to grow the sport at all levels. We’ve recently announced a number of new partnerships including Nike, Red Bull, the British Army and Jaffa. Vitality also renewed its existing title partnership with England Netball for a further three years.

How do major events affect participation in netball?
Since the Vitality Roses made history at the Commonwealth Games in April 2018, more than 130,700 women have started playing netball or playing more netball as a result. Following major international games we often see an increase in participation as women are more inspired to give it a go. With the Vitality Netball World Cup just around the corner we expect that we will see a significant growth in participation once again.

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