The best lesson I ever learned from netball was this: Give something a second chance, and you might open yourself up to a new world.
(Things this may not apply to: Ex-boyfriends, consumables that have passed their expiry date, and pressing “snooze” on your morning alarm.)
I never considered myself as a sportswoman, and I still don’t. I lack the discipline. I tend to forget, or “forget”, to do warm-ups and stretches before sports. And I can never be arsed to get the right shoes.
Fine, I’m not a committed athlete. But to even call myself a sporty person still comes as a surprise to me. But there must be a grain of truth in that. I have sports or recreational activities 2-3 times a week. Within 3 months of joining my new workplace, I have joined a bowling competition and a netball tournament, and then there are regular aerobics sessions, and I always have an ultimate frisbee disc in my car.
To what do I owe this honour?
Firstly, I must thank my ‘A’ Levels school. They made us try everything, and I loved it.
Secondly, I must thank netball. Even though I held a grudge against it for ten years.
Why on earth would I hold grudges against netball? Well, sometimes young girls are silly. But also, sometimes schools are silly. There wasn’t much of an emphasis on sports when I was in secondary school. You were either an athlete or you weren’t, and this seemed to be set in stone from the age of 11. I joined one PE class where I was dumped in a netball court with no instructions, and got yelled at when I did something wrong. And after that, PE classes only fulfilled the “Physical Education” portion if you were a netball player. Otherwise it was board games, or messing about with the old piano at the storage area, or extra Malay classes.
There were a few classes in netball during ‘A’ Levels – different school, more encouraging approach to sports – but I was more of a basketball player when I reached university. Possibly, I had made that choice deliberately, turning away from netball. But now netball was relentless. It entered my life again.
In university, I joined a netball team. It was difficult not to; two of my housemates were netball enthusiasts. There was a tournament coming up. “You don’t have to play on team, but you could still come to practices with us! Please? puppy dog eyes” – such were the ways in which they persuaded me to join them. Warily, I turned up to practices.
…And to my surprise, liked it.
And to my surprise, picked it up rather well. I remember the glow I felt when a player first said to me, “Good defending”. And I remember when I found myself agreeing to play in a tournament instead of just supporting the team.
I remember the first time I played in a finals, and the rush of triumph as our team received our medals for second place.
I remember a semi-finals match, feeling frustrated by the speed and skill of my mark, but at one point I successfully knocked the ball away before she could receive it. And then I heard cheering from an audience that I had forgotten was there.
I played in a few more student tournaments. I came to netball practices. We did stretches and drills, we went jogging. When lacking players, we struck up cautious acquaintances with other teams practising in the same area.
At one point, when going out to yet another practice, my family commented on my sportiness. And thus I realized I was sporty.
Playing netball in such a committed way was very new to me. I had enjoyed the sports at my ‘A’ Levels school, but it had been more for the experience, ultimately filling up your report card. I had joined a basketball club, and I had done hiking and martial arts. But netball felt like a whole new level of sports to me. Playing as part of a team; playing with dedication and with a shared goal. I never felt as sporty as I did at that time in my life.
I am still a netball player.
Last weekend I played in a tournament for Government employees, and found myself thinking back to the many things I learnt as a university student, playing in student tournaments.
I don’t know if I will ever be that fit or skilled again. I don’t know if it convinced me to get a proper set of indoor sports shoes.
But I do know this: that I love netball, and it doesn’t matter if I hated it for silly reasons as an 11-year-old, because I gave it that second chance after ten years, and it was well worth it. I gained confidence and experience, and I forged bonds with some amazing people. It turned me into a sportswoman, not just in action, but in my head.