Netball for Newcomers

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Netball is yet another piece of evidence that Australians and New Zealanders just do things a little different than the rest of the world. If you’re from the U.S. or a non-U.K. European country, don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of netball. It happens to be extremely popular in the Commonwealth nations, and it’s also gaining steam throughout Asia, but it has yet to catch on elsewhere.

If you’re familiar with basketball, that’s a starting point. Netball has its origins as an early, female-oriented version of basketball. While basketball continued to develop through the early 20th century into the sport that we know now, netball took a separate trajectory, developing a whole different set of rules.

The first differences come out in the playing field, which is slightly larger than a basketball court. Netball hoops don’t officially have backboards, although the game is often played on basketball courts, meaning that backboards inevitably become a factor. There are different ways to handle this, but many leagues simply consider the ball to be out of play if it touches the backboard.

Each team has seven players on the field at a time. Every player is assigned a position that confines her to certain areas of the playing field. Players wear bibs indicating which positions they’re playing, and venturing into other areas of the court results in an offside call.

Players are permitted to take 1.5 steps while holding the ball; after that, they’re required to pass the ball to another player. This system of play ensures that everyone on the team plays an active role, and it also makes it so that netball is a highly passing-oriented game, in contrast to basketball, which allows players to dribble the ball up and down the court and make fast breaks for the hoop.

Scoring is simple: There are two positions—the goal shooters and the goal attackers—who are permitted to score, and each team has a goal keeper whose designated role is to keep goals from being scored. Goals can only be scored from inside the shooting circle, and a goal keeper must stay a meter or more back from the shooter. Otherwise, obstruction is called.

Games are made up of four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes. There are stoppages when a goal is scored or when the ball touches the ground out of bounds. Amateur netball games tend to be relatively low-scoring, but at the higher levels, games frequently have over 100 points.

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