25 June 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Have your Say: Why Women Should Play Team Sports

December 10, 2014
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Natalie Morris states the case for team sports:

This autumn I travelled to India with the Netball Development Trust [www.netballtrust.co.uk] coaching grassroots netball to some of the most underdeveloped communities in Kolkata and Darjeeling. India is a stunning country with an unrivalled vibrancy, picturesque landscapes and a contagious energy – but there is an unavoidable undercurrent of poverty, desperation and struggle.

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Amidst the widespread destitution, stifling pollution and overwhelming filth, netball provided a glimmer of hope for some of the cities’ poorest children. Some of the young girls we were teaching had nothing – no family, no education, not even any shoes to play in – but they were a resilient bunch and their desire to learn was insatiable. An hour on the netball court (I say court… I mean dusty field populated with wild cows) saw their confidence and communication skills skyrocket.

Netball proved a fantastic tool for all the young women we encountered in India – not just the orphaned or homeless girls. The culture in India completely marginalises sport for women. The priorities for girls lie with academia and, for the more traditional communities, preparing themselves for marriage. The potential benefits of sport for girls are not considered to have much value. But this simply isn’t true. 12 year old Ishrat from Kolkata told me: ‘My parents didn’t want me to play sport – but now that I’ve been training with the Netball Development Trust I know what I want to do with my life. I want to travel the world and be a professional netball player. Sport is a way for me to make friends, have fun, and if I train really hard I could achieve so much.’

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The Women’s Sport Foundation found that ‘women and girls who play sport have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem.’ [Click here for the report]. This is undoubtedly vital for the girls living in the traditionally patriarchal culture of India – but the same can be said for women everywhere. Watching the incredible progression of the children during my coaching tour emphasised just how vital sport is for the development of young women in Britain, and just how much could be gained if more women opted to join a team.

Team sport still gets a bad wrap from many women in the UK. With the fitness culture booming, more and more women are self-proclaimed gym-obsessives and health-freaks – so why aren’t more girls joining sports teams? It partially stems from a misconceived perception that team sports are ‘unfeminine’. Not only does this view represent an archaically rigid definition of what it means to be feminine, but also it’s simply inaccurate. It’s impossible to arbitrarily categorise every woman who plays sport in the same way – and ultimately, why should it matter? Traditional gender roles are, thankfully, becoming less and less relevant to modern life – so lets stop generalising shall we?

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Maybe women are put off by the fear of team sports being too rough, and it’s true that injury is a real risk. In my 17 years playing netball I have dislocated my shoulder three times, broken my wrist and most of my fingers, and had countless ankle injuries. But I have also fallen off a treadmill, tripped over a cat whilst jogging and been punched in the face at a boxercise class – injury is a risk with any form of physical activity. Personally I’d much rather acquire a battle wound or comedy limp from an epic struggle with my team rather than a half-hearted solitary gym session.

Maybe you love the gym, you have Zumbalates every Monday, and you jog home from work whenever it’s not raining – you don’t need sport as well right? But team sports give you so much more than just pure fitness. How about loyalty, bravery and learning how to lose? They don’t teach you that in Zumbalates. Regardless of what level you play at, when you join a sports team you are dedicating yourself to a bigger cause – when your teammates are waiting you can’t drop out at the last minute because you’re ‘not feeling it’. Being part of a team enables you to push yourself more than you ever would alone, you can tap into a reservoir of stamina and strength you never knew you had – it’s easy to see how these critical skills can translate into your professional life and even your aptitude for maintaining relationships.

In Kolkata, delivering regular sport for girls is like a military operation. It takes weeks of planning, volunteers, kit and equipment shipped from the UK and a huge amount of donated funding. Here, there are women’s sports teams in every town. Hockey, rugby, football, netball… even Ultimate Frisbee if that’s your vibe. It’s affordable and it’s on your doorstep.

Natalie Morris, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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