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Netball is nowadays a sport people worldwide play, but what many of us don’t know is that it has humble roots and it took a while until it reached the fame it has today. The netball played in the past was different from what we see on playfields now that it’s more tactical, tougher and faster. Some say that it’s the result of technology advancements, others say that people adapted it to their style of life. 

How it all started?

It all started in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, when a Canadian immigrant to the USA named James Naismith invented an indoor game for men who wanted to spend their time actively. It was first introduced at the School for Christian Workers, later known as YMCA.

But at that time many games ended with injuries, and their complexity was staggering. Bearing this in mine, Naismith thought it was the perfect opportunity to introduce a game that would lower the injury rates. Netball implies lobbing a ball in a high peach basket so there’s no speed involved in the process and the probability someone to get hurt is low.

A version for women of the game was introduced in 1890 in England. It quickly became popular throughout the British empire because women considered it a great way to stay healthy and to socialize. But because the dress code in the 19th century required women to wear dresses, they couldn’t achieve the same results as men did. They found difficult to move, jump and dribble, so female teachers looked for a version that would allow them to perform at the same level as men. Naisman personalized the rules so women can also play it, and they lasted until nowadays. In the past netball was known under the name women basketball.

How it evolved?

At the start, basketball featured nine players, three forwards, three centres and three guards. The reason behind this team was simple, Naisman had only 18 youngsters to keep active, and he formed two teams.

The women version in the USA was introduced two days later when the female teachers saw the first game and they thought it’s an interesting way to help their pupils healthy. However, the rules changed during the following 5 years more than once, and the current game was shaped in 1895. Clara Baer, a sports teacher in New Orleans wrote Naisman to ask him for written rules and he sent her a drawing a of the court showing the areas where every player should sit. Because she misinterpreted the rules, she thought that the players cannot leave their areas. In 1899 this mistake was ratified into rules for netball as zones. In 1901 her rules were published and netball was declared an official competitive game.

The same version reached the British Empire and the three-bounce dribbling rule was also adopted by men games. Because the teachers didn’t consider that form of ball movement important and they didn’t stick to it in all their games, it ceased to exist.

In England, the game was first played in 1895 at Madam Ostenburg’s College. In the early 20th century this sport gained more popularity than ever being played in all British Commonwealth countries. At the moment the game didn’t have a set number of players, the teams had nine or five players. According to where the sport was played the rules were changed. So alongside the number of players who were in the court, other aspects also varied.

In 1957 England had a competitive tour in Australia and the representatives decided to standardize the rules of the sport. It took them 60 years to reach this point when the International Federation of Women’s Basketball and Netball Association was developed. An official conference was organized in 1960 in Sri Lanka, where representatives from England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia, and The West Indies established the official rules of the game.

Because the sport is famous worldwide, the international governing body was named the International Federation of Netball Associations, and at present, it’s known under the name International Netball Federation.

Netball is a sport with humble beginnings but it has all the characteristics to become one of the most popular games worldwide. Nowadays more than 20 million people are playing it, in more than 80 countries. Most of the countries have indoor and outdoor netball leagues. Players don’t need experience when they first step in a league, they need determination, to learn the sport.

Since the sport was introduced in Australia, it was the world’s best at this sport. Over history, they won numerous major tournaments and world titles, and few countries can compete with them.

Basics of netball

At first, netball was played with a 32 panel, hand-stitched leather ball. But as the game evolved the governing body decided to switch it for a waterproof one. They tried both rubber basketballs and soccer balls, and nowadays they have a white netball ball all leagues are using it worldwide. In Australia, Gilbert is the official supplier of the sport.

When it was first introduced the players had to wear a uniform including a woollen box pleat tunic and a stiff-collared shirt. In 1930 the rules changed, and now they can wear sports shoes and bloomers. Nowadays they are wearing uniforms that look more like high-tech bodysuits because they are made from light-weight lycra. Every team has a unique uniform to easily differentiate the players on the field.

Not only the ball and the uniform have evolved together with the game, but the footwear is also different from the initial pairs. If in the 1900s, people worn their everyday sandals to play on the field, in the mid-60s when the game moved to indoor fields, they adopted upper and white sole. At present, the footwear has heel counters, stability straps and gel layers. They are designed to keep the players safe during the game.

This sport continues to develop even nowadays and it’s expected to gain more exposure around the world, and more countries to adopt it.