When Derby’s Afsana Afsar had the desire to play netball again, she decided to set up female-only sessions to create an inclusive and comfortable environment for women of all backgrounds to play the sport.

The clinical pharmacist and mother-of-four, 47, dropped out of netball after finishing school when dress requirements did not support her Islamic beliefs, but has since fallen back in love with the game and helped many women do the same.

And she said: “I’ve been playing netball since the age of 11 and then continued throughout secondary school where I was captain of the school netball team. I absolutely loved it.

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“When I left school, netballers had to wear short skirts to play, so I decided to stop because of my religious belief. I got back into it almost 30 years later when my sister, who is a netball coach in Dubai, persuaded me to attend female-only sessions in Nottingham during one of her visits back to the UK.

“The session pleasantly took me back to my childhood and I realised how much I had missed playing netball. I quickly fell in love with the sport again!

“I knew travelling to Nottingham every week to play netball for an hour would not be practical as I have four children. I tried to find similar sessions in Derby where I live but couldn’t find anywhere that was a female-only environment, so I thought: why not create one?

“I got in contact with Active Derbyshire, who put me in contact with Rachel Gregg from England Netball and our sessions started within a few weeks of our first meeting!”

Afsar is now helping launch the new 10-year Adventure Strategy for the game, taking part in an exciting photoshoot with other members of the Netball Family community who each reflect that netball is a sport for all.

And she explained why allowing women to play in a female-only environment is important to her.

She said: “As a Muslim, I am required to wear loose clothing, so the shape of the body is not seen when in public. When playing netball, it is important my movement is not restricted by my clothing and that I can dress how I want to when on court.

“Playing in a female-only environment enables myself and others with similar preferences either due to their beliefs, or simply personal choice, to play our netball game our way!

“I think it is great that netball clothing is no longer to be defined as a particular outfit and instead can be that which is comfortable for the individual player. This will enable far more women who have similar needs to me to attend more available sessions in netball. Being able to play on court in appropriate clothing helps to ensure clothing is no longer a barrier to playing.

“It opens so many more avenues and so many more sessions for more women. Creating an environment which values your comfort when playing the game promotes inclusivity and that’s quite amazing. It just gives me the same opportunity as the next person and opens up many more opportunities.”

Through running her weekly sessions, which are already over-subscribed, Afsar has become a Level 2 coach and has seen herself develop on and off the court.

“I have developed and improved on various skills whilst coaching including motivating and developing others to optimise their potential as well as improving performance through positive feedback,” she added.

“I have used many of these transferrable skills in my personal life and can confidently say being a coach has contributed to understanding the needs of growing children better!

“I look forward to netball every week and I enjoy the social aspect, the physical aspects and I absolutely love meeting the people that come.”

Whether you’re interested in taking your first steps in coaching or looking to progress your coaching journey onwards, find out more here.

You can view the full ‘Adventure Strategy’ here and read more about England Netball’s new brand identity here.

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