#HereIfYouNeed: Pledge to support women and girls to get active as the grassroots game returns 

Photo credit: Millie Noble

We’re pledging to improve female activity levels across the country and support women and girls in their journey back to court following the impact on the grassroots game caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In 2019, more than 685,000  women and girls were playing netball each week, with numbers growing year on year, and the sport was proudly the number one female team sport in England.  Participation, viewing and attendance figures were at all-time highs following a home Netball World Cup and the launch of many popular participation programmes to inspire and enable people of all ages take to the court and get active.

However, in March 2020, as the pandemic hit, courts across the country fell silent and the grassroots game was paused. One year later, outdoor sport was able to return on 29 March 2021 and since then we’ve successfully helped to reopen a large number of courts across the country, with a focus on driving participation like never before. Thousands of volunteers, coaches, officials and players have been reunited nationwide, with over 2000 member clubs and leagues planning to reopen facilities during this restart period.

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Prior to the Government restrictions lifting, we conducted an important survey to help understand how the Netball Family are feeling and the barriers that might exist for some to get back on court, to ensure we can support the entire community in their restart journey.

The survey results included:

  • 61% of the Netball Family were concerned they have lost their fitness due to the national lockdowns
  • 50% of respondents stated they feel less connected to friends due to not being able to participate in netball
  • 25% of people say their confidence and self-esteem has reduced throughout the pandemic
  • A strong theme was shared around concern of injury in training and competitive play as restart approached

Added to this, reports from Women in Sport focused on the impact of COVID-19 on teenage girls and women’s lives and physical activity over the last year, found that 57% of teenage girls said they felt self-conscious and judged when exercising outdoors and 45% of women said they were struggling to keep their spirits up and feel positive at this time.

In response, we’ve teamed up with The Well HQ, a community and learning hub for active women, practitioners, academics and sport professionals. The company was founded in early 2021 when former GB rower turned international coach Baz Moffat, The Digital GP Dr Bella Smith, and former English Institute of Sport scientist Dr Emma Ross joined forces to usher in a new era of best-practice for active women. The Well ensure active females of all ages know and work with – not against – their physiology, biology and psychology.

The Well will support the Netball Family (coaches, volunteers, officials and players) through a unique series of webinars, blending up-to-date scientific and medical research with experience on the front lines of elite sport. The series will cover a range of issues facing women on court and through life, spanning puberty to menopause.

The Webinars, which run from April until August, with support from England Netball partners including Vitality, Nike and Physique, will include sessions on mental health, mindset coaching, injury prevention and rehabilitation, confidence and body image, puberty, menstruation, menopause, female health, sleep, nutrition and breast support. They are available to any England Netball member.

In addition, we’ve continued to put extensive resource behind the innovative Virtual Netball Club offering, which provides members with online netball fitness sessions for juniors and adults, tips on returning to court, coaching and expert guidance on preventing injury, plus much more. The Virtual Netball Club continues to support women and girls who are getting ready to step back on court and members will continue to receive a range of exciting and exclusive content directly to their inbox each week.

England Netball CEO, Fran Connolly, commented: “We were delighted to see our grassroots game return outdoors last month and it is hugely rewarding after such a tough year to see the number of people getting back on court together again, playing the game we all love.

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“It is critical that we rebuild our game to surpass participation levels pre-COVID and it is our priority for this year and beyond. To have over 2000 member clubs and leagues planning to reopen facilities during this restart period is down to the hard work and commitment of thousands of volunteers up and down the country and the team at England Netball.

“Whilst the momentum in our game as we begin to rebuild is clear, it is also important that we listen to our members and help support those players that might be a little more apprehensive about returning to court.

“Our webinar series with The Well HQ and the Virtual Netball Club will directly support these players to ensure we are ‘here if you need’ for the whole Netball Family during this time.  Netball is more than a sport for everyone involved in our game.  It has such a positive impact on people’s lives and it is more important than ever that the wellbeing of our Netball Family remains at the heart of our restart efforts.”

Dr Emma Rossfrom The Well HQ added: “England Netball is one of only a small handful of professional organisations prepared to think bigger in the aftermath of the pandemic. Not only is the organisation being proactive in supporting members in the transition back to normal, but they have seen an opportunity to refresh and establish new training and education norms that will help the sport to level up, and help individuals reach new peaks in performance, health and happiness for the long term.

“The tide is turning for women in sport. What we now know about the female mind and body needs to reach women at all levels so we can see in a new era of success. It’s so encouraging that England Netball is primed and ready for that new era, and to support a generation’s worth of talent on their journeys in their sport and beyond.”

To find an England Netball participation programme that suits you, from Back to Netball to Netball Now, as well as your local club or league sessions, head to the England Netball Session Finder here.

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