Getting back into the community spirit
Tuesday 10th February 2015 @ 10:53 by Mark Phillip
Ashton Denton & Audenshaw Droylsden Dukinfield Hyde Mossley & Saddleworth Sports

‘I really don’t know where I’d be right now without netball’ explained Rebecca Smith, who spared some time out of her busy schedule to offer me an insight into the sport that captured her heart at seven years old.

A group of the back2netball girls

A group of the back2netball girls

15 years have passed by since Rebecca first sampled the taste of what Netball has to offer, but despite the lengthy and fruitful relationship, there doesn’t appear to be any cracks emerging just yet.

And it’s all thanks to the job of a lifetime that enables her to recruit lost souls back to the sport they once adored.

“I’m the Tameside and Rochdale netball community coach” Rebecca said “so I work in the community areas, offering back 2 netball sessions for children and adults over 16 in the area.”

The netball sessions do what they say on the tin.

Taking place on Monday’s and Wednesday’s at Copley Leisure Centre, Ashton Sixth Form College and Hyde Clarendon Sixth Form College, the 90 minute gatherings provide a comfortable environment for women to reintroduce themselves to the sport that somehow escaped them.

A blatantly obvious question would be ‘why offer the sessions?’, but the answer is a little more complex than one would suspect.
Rebecca added “There’s so many distractions these days and a lot of ladies have children, so we’re trying to open up mother and daughter sessions.

“Parents go on one side of the court whilst their children go on the other, and it gives them a chance to exercise instead of looking for child minding services.”

The idea is laudable given the contemporary issues that face parents across the country on a daily basis.

Jessica Gordon-Smith, who accompanied Rebecca on the day, disclosed her views on how important the sport has become in her own life.

The 28 year old, who inhabits the same role as Rebecca but in the Manchester and Salford areas, owes a debt of gratitude to the rapidly growing sessions.

She said “I do exactly the same thing as Rebecca, offering netball opportunities for all women.

“I started playing the sport in school, but I also went to a back 2 netball session and pretty much fell in love with it.”

Was it a case of love at first sight? The question doesn’t seem too implausible, given Jessica’s fondness for the physical, mental and communal aspects that accompany the sport.

She detailed her reasoning behind the affection and stated “I think it’s a brilliant way to keep fit because you don’t realise how much exercise you’re doing.

“The sport involves sprints, jumping, turning and twisting, plus, some people might never go to the weights department in a gym, so you’re working your muscles too.”

Despite embracing the games high intensity, Rebecca insists that it’s not all serious. She said “We don’t expect anything from anyone, and you can go at your own pace within the sessions.

“If you can’t do it, we make it easier, and if it’s too easy then we make it harder.”

A by-product of the hour long sessions are long lasting friendships, and with this in mind, Rebecca emphasised the social significance of such gatherings.

“We usually get there and have nice five minute chit chat before we start anything, then we go into a warm up, introduce new rules and skills, before we go into a game situation at the end.

“We’re nothing like the gym, so you can come along and pay as you play.

“You can come to every session, or you can come to one session every two weeks. It’s entirely up to the individual.”

Those thinking that one session a week won’t suffice, needn’t worry, as Rebecca currently coaches a group of ladies that can only spare one evening a fortnight. “A lot of the ladies in my group work nightshifts so they come every other week, but it’s completely up to you as a person.”

Although the girl’s priority is to bring women back to the sport, I was interested to find out about male participation rates.

The sport is currently polluted with gender stereotyping, but Jessica reassured me that it’s about to be remedied.

Having taken part in mixed gender competitions before, the Manchester City fan, who celebrated her birthday last weekend, is well aware of unearthed talent.

She flippantly explained “Men tend to want to play just because they see girls playing and they want to show that they’re better than girls.

“We have run girls v boys tournaments and our mixed tournaments are really successful and the men seem to enjoy it.

“Boys really are coming into the game more and more and there’s not so much a distinction within the sport now.”

So, with a crop of male talent bursting at the seams, I naturally posed the following question: Are there any male focused sessions in the pipeline?

Rebecca, emphasising the importance of social inclusivity, said “There’s no male specific tournaments at the moment because we try to be as inclusive as possible, but obviously there’s a lot of ladies tournaments because it is essentially a female focused sport.”

The absence of male league’s in Manchester is a void Rebecca is more than willing to fill. She added “There are men’s leagues around the country, not so much in the Manchester area, but if that’s something people want then I’m sure that’s something we can set up for them.”

Jessica, harnessing the same positive views, promoted an event that is scheduled to take place in the forthcoming year.

She explained “Our next big competition is the corporate games in event city and it’s a mixed tournament so you’re very welcome to come down and join us.”

I have no reservations about accepting that invitation, but before I do, I think a trip to watch Manchester Thunder beckons.

And it seems the girls have the same idea too, with the pair greatly excited about the forthcoming season.

Jessica beamed “I’m really excited about Thunder’s season and can’t wait to see how all the players have come through and hopefully some of the younger players will get more court time this year.”

Rebecca echoed her partner’s sentiments and detailed her optimism surrounding the youthful prospects. “It’s great to see the young ones coming through, especially given that I used to go to the same club as them and they’re playing netball like you wouldn’t believe.

“Amy Carter and Leia Griffin are really good players, and with the support of Tameside, the club and the community, I’m sure they have a great future within the sport.”

For now though, Rebecca and Jessica’s attention turns from elite to novice standard.

If they can uphold the infectious enthusiasm displayed in the studio, then there is absolutely no doubt that they’ll succeed in their mission.