The Complete Guide to Netball

What is Netball?

Netball is a ball sport played between two teams of 7 players each. The objective is to score goals by passing the ball down the court and shooting it through a raised goal ring.

It originated in England in the late 19th century as a variant of basketball and was originally called “women’s basketball”. Netball became immensely popular in countries of the British Commonwealth during the 20th century. Today, it is a major women’s sport in Commonwealth nations and is growing in popularity elsewhere around the world.

Some key facts about netball:

  • Played between 2 teams of 7 players each
  • Played on a rectangular court divided into thirds
  • Each team attempts to score goals by passing the ball down the court and shooting it through a raised goal ring.
  • Players have designated positions and roles such as Goal Shooter, Goal Attack, Wing Attack, Center, Wing Defense, Goal Defense and Goal Keeper.
  • Games consist of 4 quarters of 15 minutes each
  • Contact is not permitted – players may only intercept passes or block shots

Netball Positions and Roles

Netball teams consist of 7 players in designated positions and roles:

Goal Shooter (GS)

  • Main role is to shoot goals and score for the team
  • Works in and around the goal circle to receive passes and attempt shots at goal
  • Pivots on one foot while shooting to avoid stepping in the circle
  • Usually the tallest player on the team due to the raised goal ring

Goal Attack (GA)

  • Supports the Goal Shooter by feeding them the ball in good positions to shoot
  • Can also shoot at goal if well positioned
  • Moves around the goal third to provide a passing option

Wing Attack (WA)

  • Plays in the center third of the court
  • Helps transfer the ball from the defensive third into the attacking goal third
  • Uses speed and agility to evade defenders and make attacking plays

Center (C)

  • Starts in the center of the court for each quarter/center pass
  • Large amount of running to cover the entire court
  • Links the defense and the attack through the center third
  • Usually very fit, speedy and a good ball handler

Wing Defense (WD)

  • Covers the opposing Wing Attack in the center third
  • Tries to win the ball through intercepting opposition passes
  • Works with the Center and Goal Defense to gain possessions

Goal Defense (GD)

  • Defends in and around the goal circle to prevent opposition shots
  • Marks the opposing Goal Attack closely
  • Works with the Goal Keeper to win back possession in the defensive third

Goal Keeper (GK)

  • Last line of defense directly under the goal ring
  • Blocks, deflects and rebounds shots at goal
  • Takes passes from the Goal Defense and drives the ball back into attack

Netball Rules and Regulations

Netball has a unique set of rules and regulations that govern play:

  • The ball can only be passed or shot, players cannot run with it
  • Players have to stay within designated areas – they cannot cross zones
  • Strict footwork rule – players must land on one foot while catching the ball, then step with the other foot to pass
  • No physical contact is allowed between players
  • Goals are scored by shooting the ball through a 3.05m (10ft) high goal ring
  • A goal is worth 1 point, or 2 points if shot from the 3 point arc
  • Teams switch sides each quarter to account for any advantage with wind or lighting

Common infringements include stepping, obstruction, contact and breaking the footwork rule. These are penalized by a free pass or penalty pass to the opposition.

Netball Skills and Techniques

To excel at netball, players require a combination of athletic abilities and technical skills:

Footwork – The unique footwork rule in netball requires players to master pivoting, landing and stepping correctly. Quick footwork allows players to open up space from defenders.

Catching – Safely catching passes from teammates is crucial. Players use chest passes and bounce passes to make it easier to catch and handle the ball.

Passing – Accuracy and precision is vital to maintain possession and advance the ball. Passes must be swift but controlled. Shoulder, chest, bounce and lob passes are used.

Movement – Players need speed, agility and coordination to evade defenders and get into good passing positions. Change of direction, give-and-go runs and roll-off passes are common attacking movements.

Shooting – Goal shooters require excellent technique to consistently net goals. Balance, footwork, hand placement and trajectory are key factors when shooting for goal.

Intercepting – Defenders anticipate passes and move quickly to cut them off. They time their jump to grab the ball mid-air without causing contact.

Rebounding – The Goal Keeper must be athletic to jump up and grab any shots at goal that hit the ring or backboard. This prevents second chances for the attack.

History and Origins

Netball emerged from early versions of basketball developed in the United States in the late 1800s. The sport was modified for women’s play by removing physical contact and dribbling.

The first codified rules for women’s basketball were established at Madame Österberg’s College in England in 1892. The first game using these rules was played in 1893 between teams from Madame Österberg’s College and Linden School.

The sport continued to evolve with the establishment of women’s basketball leagues and national governing bodies. The International Federation of Netball Associations was formed in 1960 to administer and promote the sport globally.

Netball became extensively popular throughout the British Empire. It was played internationally as early as 1947 between Australia and New Zealand. Today, netball is most popular within Commonwealth nations, but is growing in other areas such as Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Some key milestones in the history of netball include:

  • 1891 – James Naismith invents basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts
  • 1892 – First codified rules for women’s basketball created in England
  • 1893 – First recorded netball match between Madame Österberg’s & Linden School
  • 1897 – First set of netball rules published by Ling Association
  • 1926 – First national governing body formed in New Zealand
  • 1960 – International Federation of Netball Associations established
  • 1963 – First Netball World Championships held in England
  • 1995 – Netball introduced to the World Games
  • 2003 – Netball World Cup televised internationally

Netball Around the World

Today netball is played competitively in over 80 countries. The major hotbeds of netball are in Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand, England, Jamaica and South Africa where it is hugely popular.

Australia – Australia has the best national netball team in the world, the Australian Diamonds. They have won 11 out of 15 Netball World Cups. Netball is the top participation sport for women in Australia.

New Zealand – Netball is the most popular women’s sport in New Zealand. Their national team, the Silver Ferns, are the second ranked netball team behind the Diamonds. Auckland hosts the annual Constellation Cup between the teams.

Jamaica – Netball is the second most popular sport in Jamaica after association football. Jamaica has excellent youth development programs and their national team, the Sunshine Girls, are ranked 4th in the world.

England – As netball’s birthplace, England has a strong domestic competition called the Netball Superleague. England’s national team, the Vitality Roses, are currently ranked 3rd.

South Africa – Introduced during apartheid, netball became popular across all ethnic groups in South Africa. Their national team, the Proteas, rank 5th and have won bronze medals at World Championships.

Beyond traditional netball strongholds, the sport is growing rapidly in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America, helped by development programs and inclusion in the Olympics.

Major Netball Competitions

The most prestigious netball tournaments are:

Netball World Cup – Held every 4 years, this is the pinnacle of international netball. The 2023 tournament will be held in Cape Town, South Africa.

Commonwealth Games – Netball is a core sport at the quadrennial Commonwealth Games. Regional rivals Australia, New Zealand and England battle for gold.

Netball Quad Series – An annual competition between the top 4 ranked netball teams held in England in January. Features Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa.

Constellation Cup – Yearly series between rivals Australia and New Zealand, alternating host cities between the two nations. Named after the Southern Cross constellation.

Diamond Challenge – Held in Australia, this involves 3 Tests each year between the Australian Diamonds and the New Zealand Silver Ferns.

Vitality Nations Cup – New competition starting in 2022 involving England, Jamaica, South Africa and New Zealand, held annually in England.

Suncorp Super Netball – Australia’s premier domestic league with 8 franchises drawing world class players. Runs from March to July.

Youth and Grassroots Netball

Netball is hugely popular at school, club and community levels in netball-playing nations. It is commonly used in schools to teach teamwork, movement skills, coordination and ball handling to girls.

Youth players begin playing netball from around age 7-8 in modified formats that are tailored to their age and ability. Some common modified formats are:

  • Netta – Entry level for 5-7 year olds using lower goals and soft balls.
  • Mini – Half court games for ages 8-11 years old. Teams of 5-6 players.
  • Junior – 10-12 year olds. Transition to full rules and court sizes.
  • Sub-junior – 12-15 years. Full netball rules and positions.
  • Divisional – Lower grades for developing players before open grades.

Programs like NetSetGO in Australia and KiwiNetball in New Zealand help girls and boys learn netball basics in an inclusive and engaging environment. Talent identification programs cater to emerging elite players.

Top netball nations invest heavily in development pathways, high performance systems and academies to produce the next generation of international quality players.

Men’s and Mixed Netball

Historically netball has been a predominantly female sport. However, mixed netball and all-male competitions are becoming more popular.

Mixed netball has men and women playing together in the same teams. Positions and rules are usually adapted to account for physiological differences. Fast5 mixed netball is a popular social format.

Men’s netball is gaining traction in several countries. It is played under full international rules by all-male teams. There are now national men’s competitions and campaigns to include men’s netball in multi-sport events.

While not yet in the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, advocates argue that netball has strong gender inclusivity credentials and can enhance opportunities for both males and females in sport.

Health and Fitness Benefits

Netball is an excellent sport for improving your cardiovascular health, fitness and coordination. Running the court develops endurance and aerobic fitness. The intermittent bursts of activity increase speed, power and agility.

The gameplay and stop-start nature provides opportunities for interval training by going hard then recovering while play is reset. The dynamic movements enhance balance, reaction time and mobility.

Netball training will help build stronger muscles particularly in the core and lower body which are engaged when running, pivoting and jumping. Playing different positions also develops full body coordination.

Being a team sport, netball is highly social and great for mental health. The camaraderie and shared goals provide a sense of belonging. It teaches teamwork, communication and discipline. The recreational and inclusive forms of netball are fun, engaging ways to be physically active.

Risks and Injuries

As a non-contact sport, the injury risks associated with netball are relatively low compared to contact football codes. However, accidents and injuries can still occur.

The repetitive jumping, landing and sudden changes in speed and direction required in netball puts strain on joints, especially ankles and knees.

Some common netball related injuries include:

  • Ankle sprains due to landing on another player’s foot or rolling the ankle
  • ACL knee injuries from sudden stops, jumps and changes of direction
  • Lower leg strains from pushing off repeatedly
  • Foot and heel pain or plantar fasciitis due to the hard indoor playing surface
  • Finger/thumb/wrist sprains from catching passes and deflecting shots
  • Concussions from collisions with the ground or other players

Wearing appropriate footwear and warming up properly helps prevent injury as does developing strength, balance and proprioception through targeted training programs. Recovery and rehabilitation is vital for injured players.

Coaching Tips

Good coaches can help netball players improve their technical abilities, game understanding and teamwork. Here are some top coaching tips:

Master the Basics – Ensure players have solid fundamentals – footwork, catching, passing, shooting form. Build skills through repetition.

Encourage Communication – On court communication creates a coordinated team. Teach positional terminology.

Emphasize Movement – Dynamic moves like roll-offs, leads and crossovers create space and opportunities.

Read the Play – Help players learn to read the game by anticipating passes and defending space.

Make Adjustments – Rotate defenders and alter strategies if something isn’t working against the opposition.

Facilitate Decision-making – Empower players to make tactical choices and solve problems on court.

Motivate Intrinsically – Set challenges suited to individuals. Praise effort, improvement and teamwork.

Focus on Fun – Keep sessions varied, energetic and enjoyable, especially at junior levels.

Promote Respect – Insist on fair play, discipline and good sporting conduct.


Netball is an exciting team sport that requires athleticism, skill and tactics. Originating from early basketball, it has evolved into a global game popular among women in Commonwealth nations and beyond.

From grassroots participation through to elite international competition, netball instills key values of teamwork, inclusion, integrity and sportsmanship. It empowers women and girls and enhances their physical abilities.

With rising participation worldwide, netball has a bright future. Continued development and promotion of the sport will ensure netball retains its status as a much-loved athletic and recreational pursuit for generations to come.

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