THE complaint that football is becoming too much like netball just isn’t true. Netball is becoming like football — rough.
Netball, by definition, is a non-contact sport, hence the common cry from umpires “contact” and a free pass to the opposition. That’s the theory, anyway. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Netball has become more of a game of push and shove than skill and speed.
How can I say that? Just go and watch any senior match on a Saturday. Just ask the participants.
Every weekend, coaches are quick to describe a match as physical, “really physical”. That’s code for brutal. Others complain about how sore their battered bodies are after a match. But sadly, like football, it is a sign of weakness to say it publicly.
One told me this week “it’s definitely been rougher” this season.
“Players seem to be getting away with stuff off the ball more as well,” she said.
Sound like footy?
Netball is not supposed to be a “physical” showdown. It is supposed to be a game of athleticism and skill, not a matter of last-player standing.
The physical element that has been allowed to creep into netball is now dominating matches. Over time, the slightest touch of an opponent has been allowed to become a push. The old-fashioned hip-and-shoulder from the footy field is now commonplace — one A grader in a final last weekend found herself being shunted into a goal post, while another face-planted on the tarmac. This is nothing. A couple of weeks ago one player, frustrated with her opponent’s physicality, slammed the ball into her midriff. The umpires let it pass. It is not a good look.
Umpires would be well within their rights to blow their whistle after every pass these days, but then they would be accused of ruining the flow of the match. If changes are made now in the finals, players and teams will howl the rules have only been policed this way at the business-end of the season, which is unfair.
But one player told me this week: “It’s at the point where it’s a bit of a joke.”
It might seem funny, but it’s not. The rules regarding contact are there for a reason.
The pace, strength and determination of players have increased in recent years. That’s even more reason to cut back on the physical approach because there are safety issues at play here. Serious knee and ankle injuries are an accepted part of the game but, as one source said this week, players are getting injured because they are going outside the rules. Several times this season paramedics have been called to netball courts after players hit their heads on the ground. The alarm bells should be ringing loudly.
Officials have to be strong — they have to back umpires to make the hard calls, give warnings and advance penalties and the players will soon catch on.
Netball is supposed to be a game of skill and is judged on which sides score the most goals, not the team that finishes with more skin.