Netball is not for the faint hearted

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In re-discovering Netball NZ fitness testing protocols from 2011, it reminds one that netball at its highest level is most definitely not for the faint hearted.

One of the fitness testing protocols in said guidelines is a seated box jump – start from a seated position with your hands behind your head (keeping them there, mind you) and then jump with two feet and land on another higher box in front of you.

Your score is the distance between the box you sit on and the one you jump onto, and basically you keep going until you miss. As it notes; “Padding may be added to the edge of a box to ensure the athlete does not scrape or cut their shins if they miss the box”. Nice.

And prone bridges, which you will most likely know as planking, require a minimum standard of two minutes 30 seconds without moving a muscle to make it to the big time. Box squats, chin ups, press ups and repeated jumping and sprints, round out the battery of tests.

So as with all sports, supplementary training outside of playing the actual sport itself can help smash these tests and create on-court/field improvements.

As trainers, when we look at how to enhance sports performance, the injury profile of the sport is always the first port of call.  A two week layoff with illness or injury can arguably cost an athlete two months of progress, and it will come as no surprise that the most prevalent injuries in netball are to the ankles and knees, with the higher incidence of ACL injuries to women appearing to be some kind of unfortunate gender-related deficiency.

Former strength and conditioning coach to the Silver Ferns, Matt Kritz, developed a movement competency screen that highlighted foundational deficiencies in players, which ultimately affected their potential to improve speed and power.  ‘Naturally talented’ players were at the mercy of their own early talent by not in fact ensuring fundamental movement patterns were in place.

Speed in getting to a position on the court in order to play the ball, as in tennis, is an important skill, and so explosive speed can be worked off the court to help on-court performance.

Studies in sports performance theorise that an athlete’s ability to read a game is a skill that can only be learned on the field of play – years and years of experience create anticipatory skills as the brain comprehends the smallest details in déjà vu-type situations. This development of athletic sensory perception reads the positions of the players, the speed of play and likely outcome, and before they consciously realise it, the athlete is in the right spot to positively influence that outcome.

So the answer to improved netball performance?

Designing and prescribing individual and specific exercises, accounting for strengths and challenges is a key.  Also including exercises for sport specific injury prevention need to be made a regular part of training.  And there is no substitute for game play, bearing in mind the experience based improvement in sensory perception.

So as a sports trainer on a soap box it must be highlighted that not doing sport specific strength and conditioning outside of the game means any improvement in sports performance will be limited – which is why global high performance sport is overflowing with strength and conditioning coaches, and netballers do box jumps that take out their shins.

Alison Storey is a personal trainer who has represented New Zealand in three different sports (beach volleyball, rowing and rhythmic gymnastics).  She has been awarded New Zealand Personal Trainer of the Year twice and runs Storey Sport, a mobile personal and sports training business which provides a range of services that optimise the fitness and wellbeing of its clients. www.storeysport.co.nz

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