home Community Sport, Netball “It’s for every player”: how walking netball fosters a lifelong love of the game

“It’s for every player”: how walking netball fosters a lifelong love of the game

Start with netball—fast and physical and loved by millions. Then tweak the rules so there’s no running and no jumping. Intrigued? You should be.

Walking netball launched at Waverley in 2020. Image: The Waverley Night Netball Association
Walking netball launched at Waverley in 2020. Image: The Waverley Night Netball Association

Di Hodgson laughs when asked how long she’s played netball for. “Probably 100 years,” she says. The 47-year-old from Knox has been playing running netball since she was a teenager. She describes netball as “absolutely my passion”.

“It’s the only time really that I get to be me,” she says. “I’m not at work. So, I’m not working. I don’t have kids. I’m not a wife. I’m just someone who enjoys playing netball, who enjoys playing sport with my friends and I can get out on court for an hour and go for a run.”

That passion made it all the more challenging when injuries meant she was faced with having to give the game away. She started searching for an alternative, something that would fill the netball sized gap in her world. Then she discovered walking netball. But, she wasn’t convinced when she first saw a video of the modified version of her favourite sport.

“I thought that’s not really me. I’m not really sure that I want to do that.”

While at first sceptical, Di is now an enthusiastic convert to the game and a passionate advocate for the modified version of one of Australia’s most popular sports.

“It’s fantastic. It’s amazing. You can make it as fast or as slow as you want. You can make it as competitive as you want. Obviously, there’s some tweaks and so that takes a little bit of getting used to. But gosh, it’s fun. It’s absolutely fun.”

There are no teams at Waverley, bibs are handed out to whoever joins the Tuesday morning sessions. Image: The Waverley Night Netball Association
There are no teams at Waverley, bibs are handed out to whoever joins the Tuesday morning sessions. Image: The Waverley Night Netball Association

A game for all ages

While still relatively new to Australia, walking netball is fast gathering fans. With running, jumping and those knee and ankle ruining quick stops off the menu, it’s a flexible and accessible modified version of the game—one which does double duty keeping long-time players involved in the game while welcoming new players too.

On a Tuesday morning at the Waverley Netball Association, the walking netballers have the court. Angela Jeffrey, who runs the program for the Waverley Night Netball Association, says while they only started offering walking netball this year, they’ve been pleasantly surprised by the growing interest.

“I think the first week we started off with about seven players. And then nearly every week after that, we’ve had more than 14.”

There’s no designated teams at Waverley, at least for now. “It’s totally rock up,” Angela says. “And we just hand out the bibs.” Players can be anywhere from 16 to 84, and while most have pulled on a bib before, not all of them have.

“We’ve had a few women that have rocked up because their friends are doing it, and have never played netball before. So, we had one lady who was 84 playing her first game of netball, which was pretty cool.

“It’s really just a fun and social way to get out there and play netball when you probably can’t move as well as you used to.”

For Angela, no stranger to a netball court herself as a player, coach and umpire, running the walking netball session has become a highlight of her week.

“I love it. Like it’s one of the best things that I do in my week.”

Walking netball had been on MENA's to do list for some time. Image: Melbourne East Netball Association (MENA)
Walking netball had been on MENA’s to do list for some time. Image: Melbourne East Netball Association (MENA)

Supporting a lifelong love of the game

Angela Banbury, Netball Victoria’s General Manager of Netball Development says the potential for walking netball to keep people engaged with the sport is “huge”.

“We all know the benefits of sport, in terms of mental health and well-being and the social connection that walking netball can still offer. So, whether it’s coming back from injury or pregnancy or you’ve retired 10 years ago, and you still sort of know the sport, love the sport, it offers so much.”

State organisations like Netball Victoria and Netball NSW offer resources to support associations or clubs getting a walking netball comp up and running. But while there are guidelines offered, there is also plenty of flexibility. There’s no requirements for players to wear traditional netball uniforms and associations and umpires are free to shape the game to suit the players, relaxing rules where useful.

This flexibility is something the Waverley Night Netball Association embraces. Angela also umpires the weekly games alongside running the program and she describes her approach as “pretty casual”.

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“I’m kind of quite lenient on the rules. Like, if someone goes offside, I just tell them, tell them to go back and to play on,” she says.

“You follow the rules, most of it, but then you are lenient. And if someone can’t pick up the ball, I’ve kept the ball in play and given it to them.”

For Netball Victoria, walking netball fits neatly into their strategic plan, specifically the ‘lifelong love of netball’ pillar. Angela says they’re keen to see more affiliate associations add walking netball to their offering.

“You can’t play forever, although I know I’m trying but it’s not going to happen. So, something like walking netball will either bring people back or allow people to extend playing the game.”

“It’s not huge at the moment, but we would certainly love to see, especially the bigger stadiums who we know have paid administrators who can deliver these [programs] whether or not it’s just a four-week come and try program to a fully-fledged 10-week competition.”

MENA added walking netball to their roster in 2020. Image: Melbourne East Netball Association (MENA)
MENA added walking netball to their roster in 2020. Image: Melbourne East Netball Association (MENA)

A path back into the sport

Walking netball had been on Melbourne East Netball Association’s (MENA) to do list since they first heard about the game. When their new stadium in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs opened in 2019, they quickly added it to their offering. They now offer two rock up sessions on Mondays and a competition on Monday nights.

Carly Kinsella, Programs Officer at MENA, says there are a diverse mix of people who play walking netball at the Association.

“It’s a real mix. We get people that have played netball when they were in primary school and you know, that’s 40 or 50 plus years, and they haven’t touched a netball since and they’ve come back.

“We’ve got teams that are a family team. So, you’ve got children, parents, and some teams even have grandparents. We’ve got just friends that used to play netball together and they wanted to go back to netball and physically couldn’t do a normal competition. So that’s why they chose to do walking netball… we’ve got a team that work together and they come. So, it’s just a range of people.”

Carly plays in the Monday rock up sessions and says not to be fooled into thinking walking netball is necessarily a gentler, easier version of the sport.

“It’s actually harder than you think it’s gonna be. So, you end up getting sweaty and you know, having a bit of a workout. It’s not as easy as people think it is.

“It’s just fun because it is different. And it is really challenging not jumping and not running. You find that you’ve got to keep telling yourself don’t run, don’t jump.”

MENA offers two rock up sessions on a Monday and one Monday night competition. Image: Melbourne East Netball Association (MENA)
MENA offers two rock up sessions on a Monday and one Monday night competition. Image: Melbourne East Netball Association (MENA)

Modified rules means play smart, not hard

With its modified rules and all welcome policy when it comes to gender, walking netball doesn’t have the same physicality as running netball. But Di, who plays in MENA’s Monday night competition, says walking netball forces you to think more strategically. 

“You need to play smart, not hard,” Di says.

“Because you don’t have the advantage of a jump, you’re not allowed to take two feet off the floor.

“So, it doesn’t matter if you’re faster or stronger. You just have to be smarter at it.”

The rules around running and jumping are no impediment to getting the ball quickly from one end of the court to the other and walking netball can still be a fast game.

“When you’re walking fast and you catch a ball and pass it on the fly, you’re really getting some movement,” Di says. “You can get some court area covered doing that.”

“I found that makes it a little bit harder in walking netball than it would be in running netball. You haven’t got time for an opponent to jump in front of you and try and defend you because you’re moving. You’re already gone. You’ve already let that ball go so I find that quite difficult and quite challenging. Which is why I like to play as well.”

While her initial introduction to the game saw her more sceptical than enamoured, Di has fast fallen in love with walking netball and sees it as an avenue for all sorts of people to get back into the game or continue playing.  

“All different ages play it. In our team alone at MENA we’ve got ladies who have just had a baby who have come back and aren’t quite ready for running netball yet. We have people that have just gotten over life threatening illness and are in remission and are playing. There’s people like me that just are nursing lifelong injuries.

“It’s fantastic. So much fun. Absolutely so much fun.”

It’s the fun that keeps drawing her back to the court and her walking netball team.

“There are still some people that get white line fever and still take it incredibly seriously. I feel that they’re playing for the Constellation Cup of walking netball. But there’s some of us that if we, if we throw a stupid pass then we don’t get cross, we just laugh.

“We laugh about the invisible player that every team has. It’s funny to watch people try and walk fast like Kath and Kim when they’re off walking. That’s what it looks like. It is actually hilarious. It’s just a fun funny game.”

For Angela Jeffrey, who runs walking netball at Waverley, the Tuesday mornings sessions are a highlight of her week. Image: The Waverley Night Netball Association
For Angela Jeffrey, who runs walking netball at Waverley, the Tuesday mornings sessions are a highlight of her week. Image: The Waverley Night Netball Association

“It’s for every player”

Testament to its growing popularity, Di says her team regularly receives emails from MENA about new players looking for a team to join.

“People are seeing it, can’t necessarily get a team together but still want to play so, you know, they’re putting their name down if anyone needs a player and that’s amazing. That really is because in [running] netball half your problem is trying to find players.

“But in walking netball people are banging down the door trying to get in.

“We actually have the issue in our team, particularly, of having to say no to players.”

What the future looks like for walking netball is anyone’s guess, but with enthusiastic take up from new and experienced players alike and support from associations and governing bodies, the possibilities are promising.

“I would love to see it grow,” Di says. “I’d like to see every association offer a walking netball comp.”

“I would just absolutely advocate for walking netball. It’s for all sorts of players, not just injured players or not just older players.

“It’s for every player.”

For more information about walking netball see:

Melbourne East Netball Association or MENA

Waverley Night Netball Association

Netball Victoria

Netball NSW

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