Guest Contribution: Anna Harrison – New Zealand Netballer.
Another big year of Northern Mystics and New Zealand Silver Fern Netball commitments has come to an end and there is much to reflect on. But here I’d like to focus on two things I’ve experienced firsthand during my time in the game that, hopefully, a young athlete or parent of an aspiring sporting child can relate to.
The first, is the physical nature of the game today. And secondly, the off the court training demands of the modern netballer.
A Faster, More Demanding Game.
I started playing netball when I was 8. And made the Silver Ferns 11 years later when I was 19. Over that time the game changed a lot. Most notably, it’s more physically demanding both on and off the court.
The pace is faster, work off the ball has increased, there’s more contesting of the ball, and regardless of your position, you’re expected to attack and defend relentlessly (gone are the days of the GD resting once the ball heads down the other end of the court).
Not only is the game itself more intense, but there’s more games each season. When I started out, the ferns played 8 tests a year. Now, we play 15. Add that to an ANZ Championships competition that saw more teams, more games, more netball.
Next year, when the format reverts back to a domestic league, there’s going to be triple rounds in the same time frame. That’s a lot of netball, with every game demanding your best performance.
I spent my secondary years boarding in Christchurch. I played for school, and at one point, a rep team. I had the time to experiment and enjoy other sports, which looking back I believe was extremely valuable to my success.
Now, I often hear young players being told to commit to netball from a young age. They play for school, club (sometimes more than one), rep teams, development squads, and academies all at the same time. That’s a lot of playing! And it leaves very little room for training – training that’s essential to prepare the body for the physical demands of the game.
Build a Strong Body.
“You won’t become a top domestic player, let alone a Silver Fern, if you don’t put the work in. Instead, you’ll just keep getting injured.”
It worries me to see the number of injuries happening to promising young netball players. Ironically, it’s precisely that promise that’s causing players the problem in the first place. Any sight of some ‘talent’, and a young player is thrusted into more time playing and less training to get better.
The other thing that you can’t neglect now is your recovery. Starting out, I was guilty of not doing my recovery (if there was even a thing). I could bounce back. I had the time. But as the physical demands of the game have increased over the years, so has my dependence on good recovery. Sleep is a massive! Treasure it.
It’s not until to have 2 kids under the age of 3, while still playing at the highest level, that you realise just how important it is. Don’t waste a minute of it.
The Little Things Matter.
I also learnt to appreciate the importance of doing the small things well, such as your prehabilitation exercises (i.e., those annoying little exercises that strengthen your weak muscles to prevent injury). They’re so easy to ignore until it’s too late.
A niggle can very quickly become a tear, or strain, that puts you on the sideline for weeks.
Then, your prehab work becomes your rehab (i.e., exercises you do to recover from an injury), which is a place no player wants to be.
One of the things I spend hours working on is my core strength (and there’s much more to it than just ‘ab’ exercises). I’ve found that so many injuries come from having a weak ‘middle’.
I’ve had a long netball career, which I put down to the work I’ve put in off the court. It’s allowed me to keep playing the game that I love, pushing my limits and those around me.
I like to train. I like the grind. I love the challenge to be better.