The rules of netball offer lessons for life … just mind your pees and cues

Keeping your eye on the goal, being a team player and offering help to those in need will help ensure you don’t break under the strain of life, writes Rebecca Levingston

Aug 05, 2020, updated Aug 05, 2020
(Photo: NSW Swifts)

(Photo: NSW Swifts)

If you pee on it, it’s supposed to help. Teenage netballer logic.

Growing up in Townsville, we played netball carnivals that were whole weekends of games for hours on end and inevitably you got blisters on the balls of your feet. Too much pushing off, breaking and defending, stopping and starting.

I remember we huddled around Julia, who always played Centre, and her foot was red raw. Someone had heard that if you pee on your foot, it makes the skin stronger. I think Julia settled on putting an orange skin inside her shoe instead. Also solid teenage logic.

I’ve been thinking about netball this week because Queensland is now home to Super Netball. All teams have flown north. One of the Melbourne Magpies even penned a song of thanks to the Premier.

Netball is the perfect sport to illustrate the rules of life during this pandemic. Firstly, if you catch the ball, like the virus, you stop.

Obstruction = social distancing: you have to be three feet away from the person with the ball.

Offside = border control: you can’t go to certain areas of the court depending on your position.

Goal = vaccine: shoot to win.

“Here if you need” was what we’d yell out during games. A catch cry that seems so right for these unsettled days.

Friendships and memories made in netball teams remind me of life lessons that stay with me today. Here are a few:

The game starts with a tossed coin that determines the direction you go in. Life is always one part luck and you’ve got to make the best of it, even it means having the sun in your eyes. Eventually, you’ll change ends and have the sun on your back.

Trine and Moo were sisters I played with and their family was wildly exciting to me because they had airconditioning in the bedrooms of their house. Sometimes when their mum picked us up for training we went through the drive-through at McDonald’s after school – a treat so thrilling I could barely believe the first time it happened.

Their dad owned a rubbish skip business and one day they filmed a video for a TV commercial where a bunch of us stood inside the bins and sang an advertising jingle. I can still remember the song and the phone number we chanted feeling so giddy at the thought that we’d be on television. Sometimes in life you can find yourself in a bin and it’s still a wonderful day.

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I dislocated my little finger one Saturday morning after catching a ball awkwardly. My left pinky was smashed hard and the pain was unbearable. I remember thinking my season was over as I tearfully waited for the ambulance to arrive. I was convinced it was broken. The paramedic took one look at my trembling, wonky pinky and pulled it. Pop! Fixed. I played on. Things usually aren’t as bad as you first think. You can play on.

Ironing pleated skirts was a crucial part of netball life that required precision and heat. I’d stand at a steaming ironing board carefully pressing pleats until eventually, the creases cracked. The material literally split. If you seek perfection for too long, you might break under the strain.

We trained under tamarind trees and it was in the days before everyone carried a water bottle. After a tough training session with our coach Jane, we’d queue up to drink out of a wall tap on the corner of the clubhouse. The first person to drink would twist the handle and the water would blast out at a strange angle. We’d cup our hands and gulp. We were sweaty and it was deliciously thirst-quenching. Everything tastes better when you’ve worked hard.

The same coach wrapped her arms around us on our trophy night and together we sang ‘We Are the Champions’ by Queen. I can’t even remember if we won the grand final that year or not. It didn’t matter. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you celebrate that makes the memory.

There’s one other netball teammate whose face I’ve remembered in recent years. Nicole Nyholt. You might know her name from the tragic accident in Ravenshoe in 2015. Nicole was killed when a ute drove into the cafe where she worked.

I remember reporting on the accident as the news was breaking on air. A mother of two young children described by her friends as beautiful, tall and golden-haired. She was so strong and talented. Gentle and graceful off the court.

I sat next to her on a bus trip to Brisbane heading to a netball carnival where we had Dirty Dancing playing on repeat via VHS and a tiny TV. Nicole and I joked that we must be driving the bus driver crazy playing the same movie over and over.

I didn’t know Nicole Nyholt after the time I knew her as Goal Keeper. I don’t know what the lesson is from her senseless death. I don’t know.

I do know that the rules of life are strange and sad right now and netball reminds me of a simpler game than life in 2020. Maybe we could do with a few more netball umpires, whistles on lips, to gently guide us through this game… and hopefully at the end we can shake hands and hug our teammates again.

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