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.
Anna i,d like to commend you on the comments you made regarding the physical aspects of netball today. As an ex silver fern and like yourself former track and field athlete the rigors of sport today are so demanding unless your fully focused and highly disciplined in terms of training to get your body to peak condition it,s inevitable injuries will occur. Some one asked me one day at a seminar i had attended what would be my advice to an up and coming young player who obviously had the potential to take her netball further. My response was, has she had the opportunity to participate in other disciplines. You can probably see where i,m leading Anna. Athletics in my opinion is the only sport that can complement netball in a highly productive way by providing a player with an alround base in terms of skill, stamina endurance and most importantly discipline. The add ons would be other disciplines of course. Finally it has to start at primary level not intermediate or secondary, the latter two would in my opinion be far to late to fully realize a young players development for what ever sport she wishes to participate in. At the end of 1974 when i left our shores for Queensland Australia my whole netball career changed, their training regime was like a culture shock although i did have my athletic experience to fall back on your whole perspective of the sport we all grew up to love suddenly took on a whole new meaning and endeavor. Pardon me for even saying this but during that era their fitness and training programs were designed from an athletic perspective. Which i have to say suited me because of my background in athletics. I want to end by saying the over arching problem that our country is facing regarding injuries to many of our young netball players is 1. late development, imbalanced /overloading e.g. prioritizing more game play over fitness and finally alternative preventative measures e.g. sacrifices even if your life has to change that,s how you get to the top. A decision i personally had to make. Anna all the best for the future to you and your family you never know our paths may cross one day, oh and by the way you served your country admirably god bless cheers.