On 7th October 2021, Woodford County took part in their first netball tournament of the academic year, with their under-18s team making it to the finals against Bancroft’s School. The game took place at Bancroft's Sports Centre, in Woodford Green.

The team consisted of both year 12s as well as year 13s: Leya S (team captain), Jessica O, Mia M, Shakira I, Hannah S, Katelynn C, Anjola A, Mia H, Mayling B, Phoebe D, and Zara C. With this being a new team for the year, and despite saying that they were perhaps too attacking and shooter heavy, the members remarked that the team gelled especially well, even after having only 2 training sessions.  For the year 12s, this was their first time since year 9 playing in a tournament again, given that their year 10 season was disrupted and there were no matches last year. Before the game, the girls were very excited to just play, especially after the complications that came with the pandemic.

Katelynn Chong, who also plays for the Aeonian netball club, stated she was “glad to be here, ready to play, feeling confident with my position and feeling confident with the team”. Katelynn has been playing netball competitively since year 5, joining the Woodford County netball team from year 7. As an experienced player, she was able to explain how a tournament works. Of course, basic rules - such as footwork and where certain players can and cannot go – were followed. However, from looking at the game, some rules, even though seeming very minor and possibly silly, are taken very seriously. For example, the players must have short nails in order to avoid injury. If not, they risk their chance of being able to play.

Although netball players love it, as any sport played at a competitive stage, netball can be quite unforgiving. Unless being affected severely, a small injury (for example, bumping into a player and tripping up) will be dismissed by the umpire, and the player has to brush it off and continue to play with the same stamina and drive to score.

Katelynn additionally added that “In core PE lessons (which every student must do regardless of their GCSEs), people probably thought that the P.E GCSE students took the games way too seriously. But we don’t really know how to switch that competitiveness off because that is how we have been taught to play.” A similar comparison can be drawn with musicians – in that they would not just forget how to play their instrument when playing in front of non-musicians because it is part of muscle memory. Netballers do not have this mindset of slacking in any situation.

The sport can also get quite expensive when played outside of school, for a club. These clubs invest a lot of time into running trials to find their players, training them, as well as providing them with specialised coaches, which in return, results in getting a lot of money. Arguably, most players who get on the team have the privilege of being able to pay this money, whereas most children from state schools cannot. It is not just competitive with other teams but in the clubs themselves. Even the environment around your own team can sometimes feel ‘off’, particularly when coming from different schools, and potentially different backgrounds. Unfortunately, this feeling of not belonging “can drive out many very talented netballers who will never get the chance to reach their full potential by reaching a professional league or national team level’, said one of the players.

Of course, there is the added pressure of the players having to stay fit. That being said, a lot of fear is built for the structure of the other team. For example, how fit they are, will they have more stamina, are they taller and how much taller, and so on. Some of the Woodford players were astounded by how tall some of the Bancroft players were, as well as how physically fit, they were. Of course, with more stamina, they have more time to play at their best before getting tired. Moreover, being taller and having longer arms allows them to intercept the balls and score without really having to move too much. Although not a guarantee to win, this is definitely a factor in how they will play.  

With a competitive mindset and hours of training, athletes are bound to get exhausted, both physically and mentally.  And this does not only go for netballers. It was only this Summer that Simone Biles decided to pull out of the Tokyo 2021 Olympics in order to choose her mental health over a place on the podium.

Pursuing a long-awaited goal in life will always be difficult because there will be the harsh truth that people need to fight for what they want. There is a lot of hard work that goes into dreams and aspirations, and so one needs to commit to what they do. Netball is no different. However, recreational teams in school are able to help young athletes play netball for the sake of playing netball, rather than being stressed over winning and losing. They can work with their friends on their team and have their teachers as their coaches, who also create a strong bond with their students. It reminds them that, win or lose, the feeling of playing the sport itself is what makes it so exhilarating and so enjoyable.

Although in the end, Woodford’s U18 team came to a loss against Bancroft, they played very well and finished second in the league. Ms. Brosnan, head of P.E and coach at Woodford, and Ms. James, also a P.E teacher and coach at Woodford, were very pleased for the team making it so far.  Woodford’s U16 and U14 teams both also came in third place. The school is tremendously proud of all teams.