How to keep Australia’s youth active through their teenage years is a question that continues to be explored by health and sporting organisations across the country.
As for how to engage 12-17-year-olds with netball, specifically? Rock up and you’ll see.
The Rock Up Netball program was launched four years ago, powered by a research-driven VicHealth grant, and fuelled by the desire to increase activity levels for women aged 14 and over.
More recently, Rock Up Netball Youth (or RUN Youth) was introduced in addition to the RUN program, focusing on the younger age group through another funding opportunity from VicHealth.
“Through Netball Victoria and our affiliates we’re offering a different way – a non-traditional way – for 12-17-year-olds to stay engaged in the sport,’’ says Netball Victoria’s General Manager – Netball Development, Angela Banbury.
“If the competitive environment isn’t for you, which it isn’t for a lot of people, or if you get a part-time job and things change so that you can’t be there on Saturdays, then there is something else available.’’
That something, which targets and caters for the younger demographic, has three parts:
- a training session with a qualified coach to help build skills, confidence and fitness.
- Social Sessions that provide an element of match play for those with the time, inclination or opportunity, with registration opens to teams and/or individuals.
- the annual beach festival in January, complete with modified rules and music, and currently held in Lakes Entrance, but with additional venues planned..
Fun and flexibility are key, along with a relaxed, inclusive environment. Exercise gear is preferred to netball uniforms. A Netball Victoria membership is not required. And the social element is far more important than the competition.
“The churn rate for members around that age at Netball Vic is really quite high,’’ says NV’s Netball Products Development Manager Tim Marshall. “So within RUN Youth we’re re-focusing on trying to retain those members in the sport but just in a different light.
“Often you get to that age and all this other stuff comes up – with school, your first job, social activities with friends, those kinds of things, so we’re just offering something a little bit different that appeals to that age group.’’
Marshall acknowledges, too, that it can take just one or two bad experiences at club level to sour the player-sport relationship for good. RUN Youth provides another option that might re-open doors.
“It can help to bridge that gap and bring those people back to the sport, but then bring some new people in who didn’t want to play as competitively as they would in weekend netball,’’ Marshall says.
With the program currently being rolled out among various associations, the goal is for approximately 25% of Netball Victoria’s affiliates to become licensees for both RUN and RUN Youth.
The concept’s appeal is based on innovative research commissioned by Netball Victoria through The Kinetica Group. It revealed a desire for something casual but inclusive; still welcoming for those who felt they were below the standard expected or required to play the sport competitively.
Thus, those delivering the product are being selected carefully to help ensure they understand the particular needs of the age group and demographic, while a working group is being established so that details can be tweaked if necessary.
A fun twist on netball is all about being the right fit to encourage young Australians to keep fit.
Something to, well, rock up and try.
Written by Linda Pearce