The Underbelly of Junior Netball
Shirt-fronting, on-court sledging, tanking and off the books player trades. It reads like a scandal straight out of the sports pages. In reality this could be happening within your local netball association, and I am about to blow this shit wide open. For those of you not familiar with netball you are probably not part of the English Commonwealth where this sport is mostly played and therefore not likely to become an Olympic sport.
The heartland of suburban Saturday netball may seduce you into thinking that the at-capacity car park of black luxury SUVs, safeguards against ‘unsavoury’ behaviour, but let me tell you, just because the Tuppaware containers are nutritionally well-balanced, doesn’t mean the parents are.
I cast my mind back to the 1970s. If either of my parents came to a game of anything, it would have been a miracle. I remember waiting out the front of our brick veneer in my softball culottes and mitt waiting for a lift. If I couldn’t ride my bike, or go with another family to Saturday sport, then tough titties. My parents would not have known if they were rostered on for fruit and scoring duty or if it was their turn to take the team kit home after the game. I suspect I am not the only one of us over 40 who can relate?
To compensate, in one short generation we have gone from widespread parental sporting apathy to a densely populated parent presence. On paper this is all lovely stuff. Families spending time together on the weekend supporting their kids, getting involved with the local community, car pooling, handing out the lolly snakes and generally buying into the luxury SUV car advertising. We all do it, myself included.
However, there is a reality in putting several hundred parents together who fit somewhere on the sporting ability scale (ten equals ‘Navy Seal’ and one equals ‘built for comfort, not for speed’). That reality is similar to that of general population in a maximum security facility! It is also a delicious melting pot of behaviour that keeps on giving to people like moi.
It all starts off so nicely at the beginning of the year. The bibs are laundered and crisply ironed. Everyone is happy to share court positions so each girl can have a turn at playing goal shooter and the netball association president makes her rounds introducing herself to all the new parents. But within weeks there are plots to run a ‘Tanya Harding’ campaign on the wing defence who can’t run, catch or throw, parents are threatening to call CNN because their daughter is not getting enough court time, there is a burning effigy of the association president hanging in the car park and Ernst and Young are being brought in over suspicious kiosk takings.
It has created a new demographic, which in years to come may be featured in a diorama in the Natural History Museum. There are some parallels with other sporting derivatives but there are behaviours only specific to the netball of the species.
1: Extraordinary knife skills. A plastic container of cut up oranges is well below par. You must prepare a full organic fruit platter. If you need help, please type into Google images, ‘cruise ship buffet’.
2: Professional indemnity insurance for coaches, managers and club committee members. You must protect one’s reputation against accusations of aggressive coaching (encouragement), human rights abuses (player grading) and bullying (pulling only one quarter of rostered play).
3: Mixed spirits in a can. Compulsory at district association committee meetings.
4: Catering gloves. Not compulsory to serve hot dogs at the kiosk.
5: BBQ etiquette. Egg and bacon rolls must be sold between the hours of 9am and 10.30am as a duty of care to hung-over parents.
6: ASICS Netburners. A form of extortion that must be purchased every six months for the bargain basement price of AUD$172.50. A photo must be posted on Instagram to ensure the rest of the team doesn’t buy the same colour.
7: Must be pumped up and of a particular grip at all times.
8: Dad Bromances (triggered by the previous point). The intimacy shared at the netball court on a Saturday between men may spill out into real life, resulting in mid-week coffees, running groups or think tanks.
9: Entering and exiting car parks runs in a clockwise direction. Owners of Mercedes GLC’s and Porche Cayenne’s can do whatever they like, as the rules do not apply to them.
10: Physical expenditure. Netball doesn’t require any; it should be enough that your daughter turns up and stands on the court. Training and warms-ups are optional (apparently).
11: Netball courts are also dog parks. If you don’t want your Spoodle eaten by the association president’s Staffie Kujo, then leave it at home.
12: Best and Fairest awards. These have nothing to do with being the best and fairest player. This award must be equally shared around to players that are Average and Complacent, Underwhelming and Temperamental or related to the parent that pulls the most shifts in the uniform shop.
There is so much more that I could add but I am leaving those for the screenplay. I am fascinated to find out if there are specific behaviours in other kids’ sports. Is there only one type of Riesling allowable at rowing carnivals? I would love to hear.