Pippa Allerton tells us about her experience of walking netball for the first time – and why she’ll be back for more!
"'I come to the University’s Sports Hall on Monday, the session lasts from 11am until 12 noon. It costs £3 and it’s brilliant fun!' promised a friend of mine. Actually, several friends had been trying to persuade me to join their group of walking netballers for ages, and having finally capitulated, I found myself getting ready to go and see for myself just what it was that was causing so much enthusiasm in otherwise (relatively) sensible people!
"I obviously knew what netball was about and had memories from school days of shivery wintery playgrounds wearing an unflattering PE skirt and ghastly ankle socks, and wincing whenever I chanced to catch the ball with my frozen fingers. I really enjoyed the lessons, even if it sounds as if I didn’t.
"Intrigued by the concept of walking netball, I had already looked online to try and get some idea of what was ahead of me. It seemed that the positions for players were the same as the traditional game I remembered from long ago. I recognised the initials WD, GS and C (wing defence, goal shooter and centre) on players’ bibs, and of course, the idea to shoot as many goals as possible, remains the way to win the game. So that was all comfortingly familiar. The main difference, and I suppose the clue is in the title, is that everybody must walk! In fact the England Netball Association states 'the player must have at least part of one foot in contact with the court at all times'. Right... got it!
"With slight trepidation, I entered the university sports hall, feeling every bit the new girl. This didn’t last long as I was immediately greeted by several of the ladies who took me to their coach, Di Gerard, who warmly welcomed me. Sixteen ladies were already throwing and catching netballs around the hall until Di blew her whistle as a signal that the session was about to begin.
"Then followed a number of warm up activities, practising fast walking (not running!), with rapid changes of direction, a range of different ways of passing the ball, twisting and turning, remembering passing sequences and balances... all of which are important to encourage physical and mental strength and agility.
"One activity in particular, I think it was called the caterpillar walk, passing the ball over a partner’s head and then moving into a new position, so progressing across the hall. took place with much hilarity. In fact, the main aspect of the morning that has really stuck in my mind, is the amount of laughter and good nature the participants were all enjoying throughout the session.
"Several of ladies had been playing since the group was set up, 2 ½ years ago. That in itself speaks volumes, and is a real testament to the fun and exercise that they had been enjoying in that time. You can be any age or ability and this is really a sport for all! Everyone I spoke to expressed their enthusiasm for the game and were so appreciative of their coach, Di.
"A number of ladies were wearing red sweatshirts with their names professionally printed on the back, others were sporting black T-shirts with their initials on the front and their team name on the back, printed in glittery, silver print.
"Then it was time for a game! Everyone got into two groups according to what position they preferred, goal shooter, defence, centre court, and black or pink place bibs were distributed. There was none of the embarrassing and anxiety-producing waiting to be picked that I remember only too well from school days.
"It was a chance to practice all the skills in a real game, and I was astonished with the speed with which the ball travelled from one end of the hall to the other, considering nobody was running!
"Competition was evident, but everything was done in a very good-natured and supportive manner, and all too soon the game ended. Everyone was happy and smiling and looked as if they had had a great work out.
"The final part of the morning was to cool down and gently stretch muscles that had been exercised, and this took place to music.
"Many thanks to Di and to all the ladies for making me feel so welcome. Next week I shall go again, but then I am going to dust off my trainers and take part. I am already excited, in fact I can hardly wait... especially as I won’t be made to wear hideous ankle socks!"
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