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Netball is a ball sport played between two teams of seven players. The sport shares many similarities with basketball, having been derived from early versions of women's basketball. It developed as a distinct sport in the 1890s in England, from where it spread to other countries. Netball is popular in Commonwealth nations and is predominantly played by women.

Games are played on a rectangular court divided into thirds, with a raised goal at each short end. The object of the game is for teams to score points by passing a ball and shooting it into the opposing team's goal. Players are assigned "positions" that define their role within the team and restrict their movement on court. During general play, a player with the ball can take no more than one step before passing it, and cannot hold the ball for longer than three seconds. Goals can only be scored by the assigned shooting players, and successful shots score one point each. Netball games are 60 minutes long, divided into 15-minute quarters, at the end of which the team with the most points scored wins.

The sport is administered globally by the International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA), and is reportedly played by over 20 million people in more than 70 countries. Local-level participation is widespread in Commonwealth nations, particularly in schools, although international competition and domestic leagues only receive substantial recognition in a few countries. The highest level of international netball includes the Netball World Championships, the netball event at the Commonwealth Games, and the World Netball Series.


Links to basketball

Netball traces its roots to basketball. Basketball was devised in 1891 by James Naismith for his students in the School for Christian Workers (later called the YMCA). Female teachers got curious and started to formulate a version for girls. The outfits of women at this time prohibited them from effectively executing important basketball moves such as running and dribbling, so the game had to be modified to accommodate these restrictions. Women’s basketball was thus born.

Zoning rules inadvertently added

In 1895, Clara Baer, a gym teacher from New Orleansmarker, asked Naismith for a copy of the basketball rules. Baer mistook Naismith's pencil markings showing the areas players should best patrol as the areas within which women players could move, and consequently introduced "zoning areas". This was the start of netball’s formalization. These zoning rules, along with many other provisions (such as elimination of the dribbling rule), were all included in the first draft of Rules for Women’s Basketball. In 1901, this set of rules was ratified and netball officially became a competitive sport. However, it was several years before regular competitions were held.

Introduction to the Commonwealth

Netball was first played in Englandmarker in 1895 at Madame Osterburg's College and soon spread throughout Australia, the then-British colonies of Jamaicamarker and Antiguamarker, and indeed most British Commonwealth territories. It did not yet have hard-and-fast rules. So loose were the regulations, in fact, that some games were played by nine players in each team, while some were played with only five players in each. The nets used were also ineffective—they were not open at both ends, so after each goal was scored, the umpire had to retrieve the ball from the top of the post. Netball has been played at the Commonwealth Games since 1998 after becoming a recognised Olympic sport in 1995.

World's oldest netball club

On the 6th June 1907 an exhibition of "Net Ball" was organised between the "Ladies" and "Gentlemen" of the Regent Street Polytechnicmarker as part of a garden party to celebrate the opening of their sports ground in Chiswick (West London). Poly Netball Club can trace an unbroken heritage back to this match and are therefore seen as the world's oldest netball club.

Netball rules standardised and the International Federation established

In 1960, representatives from England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies met to discuss standardising the rules of the sport. This led to the establishment of The International Federation of Women's Basketball and Netball (which later became the International Federation of Netball Associations). New Zealand was the last country to adopt netball as the name for the sport in 1970. Formal rules were established at this inaugural meeting and it was decided to hold World Championship tournaments every four years.

Establishment of the World Championships

The first Netball World Championship was held in 1963 and was hosted by England. Since then there have been eleven more tournaments. Australia has dominated the World Championships, winning 9 championships in 1963, 1971, 1975, 1979 (Joint Winner), 1983, 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2007. New Zealand has won 4 championships in 1967, 1979 (Joint Winner), 1987 and 2003. Trinidad & Tobago were joint winners of the 1979 Championships. Fijimarker was scheduled to host the 2007 World Netball Championship, but was stripped of its hosting privileges as a result of the December 2006 coup. The 2007 Netball World Championships were held in New Zealand instead.

Netball becomes a recognised Olympic sport

In 1995 netball became a recognised Olympic sport, making its inclusion in future Olympics possible, and in turn has been included in the Commonwealth Games since then.

Netball gains semi-professional status

With the introduction of the ANZ Championship in 2008, an elite netball competition contested between five teams each from both Australia and New Zealandmarker, netball became a semi-professional sport. This allowed players to focus on netball and work either part time or not at all.

Description and rules


The objective of a game of netball is for players to pass the ball to a teammate within the opposition's goal circle and score goals. The team with the most goals at the end of a game is the winner.

Court and its dimensions

A netball court is divided into thirds.
A netball court.
Like basketball, netball is played on either a hard or soft court with scoring hoops or "rings" at both ends. The court is slightly larger than a basketball court, being 30.5 m long and 15.25 m wide. The longer sides are called "side lines" and the shorter sides are called "goal lines"or "back lines". Court markings are no more than 50 mm wide. The court is divided into thirds which regulate where individuals of each position are allowed to move. A 90 cm-diameter "centre circle" is located in the centre of the court. At each end of the court there is a 4.9 m-radius semi-circular "shooting circle" or "goal circle" from within which all scoring shots must be taken. The goal posts are 3.05 m high from the top of the ring to the ground and have no backboards. The rings have an internal diameter of 380 mm and are located 150 mm forward from the post and are made of 15 mm diameter steel. Both the height and diameter of the rings are smaller than basketball hoops. It is possible to play netball using a basketball hoop but if there is any contact between the ball and the backboard, the ball is considered out of play. If a goal is scored off the backboard it does not count. Some versions of the rules allow a goal to be scored from a backboard rebound if a player who can catch the ball throws the ball in without touching the ground.


The ball resembles a basketball but is lighter, smaller, slightly softer in construction, and generally white. A netball will often have patterns engraved or stitched into its design similar to a volleyball. Gilbert is the official ball supplier of the International Federation of Netball Associations.


There are seven players on each team, who are given nominated, named positions (some junior/training variants have only five players per team). Each player must wear a "bib" showing one of the abbreviations below, indicating that player's position. Each player is only allowed in certain areas of the court: a player in a section of court that is not part of their playing area is deemed "offside". The positions are described below:

Netball positions
Position Name Abbreviation Player to mark Areas permitted
Goal Shooter GS Goal Keeper Attacking third, including the goal circle
Goal Attack GA Goal Defence Attacking and centre thirds, including the goal circle
Wing Attack WA Wing Defence Attacking and centre thirds, but not the goal circle
Centre C Centre All areas of the court, except the goal circles
Wing Defence WD Wing Attack Centre and defending thirds, but not the goal circle
Goal Defence GD Goal Attack Centre and defending thirds, including the goal circle
Goal Keeper GK Goal Shooter Defending third, including the goal circle

Scoring goals

By the combination of the above, only the Goal Attack and Goal Shooter are able to score goals directly. The job of the Goal Defence and Goal Keeper is to block the Goal Attack and Goal Shooter from shooting. A ball that passes through the hoop, but has been thrown either from outside the circle or by a player not the GA or GS, is deemed a "no goal". Furthermore, a shooter (GA or GS) may not shoot for a goal if a "free pass" has been awarded for an infringement such as stepping, offside, or using the post.

If a player misses and the ball does not touch the rim or any part of the post, the player cannot catch it otherwise it is called repossession. This results in a free pass to the other team.

Starting and restarting play

A netball game in action.

At the beginning of every quarter or after a goal is scored, play starts from the centre of the court with a "centre pass". These passes alternate between the teams, regardless of which team scored the last goal. A centre pass is made by a player in the "centre" position who must have one foot grounded within the centre circle. As the game restarts, only the player in the 'Centre' position from each team are allowed in the centre third of the court. When the umpire blows the whistle to restart play, players in the positions "Goal Attack", "Goal Defence", "Wing Attack" and "Wing Defence" can move into the centre third, where the centre pass must be caught.

If the ball touches the ground outside the court boundaries, then a member of the team that was not the last to touch the ball before it went out is able to throw the ball back into the court to restart play.

Stepping, footwork, and passing

Netball rules do not permit players to let their landing foot touch the ground again if it is lifted at all while in possession of the ball, so players can take 1.5 steps while holding the ball. Players are entitled to balance on the other foot if the landing foot is lifted. Consequently, the only way to move the ball towards the goal is to throw the ball to a team-mate. The ball cannot be held by a player for more than three seconds at any time, and players may not tap the ball to themselves. The player cannot catch the ball, drop it and pick it up again; this is called a replayed ball. The duration before it is called a drop is determined by the umpire. These rules, combined with the restrictions on where one player of a particular position can move, ensure that everyone on the team is regularly involved in play.

Contact and obstruction

Contact is only permitted provided it does not impede with an opponent or the general play and players must be at least three feet (90 centimetres) away from a player with the ball while attempting to defend. If impeding contact is made, a penalty is given to the team of the player who was contacted, and the player who contacted must stand "out of play", meaning they cannot participate in play until the player taking the penalty has passed the ball.

Playing time

A game is played in four quarters, each one lasting fifteen minutes, with intervals of three minutes between the first and second quarters, and between the third and fourth quarters. There is also an interval of five minutes at half time. If a player has an injury, a team-mate or umpire calls time, and the time keeper pauses the timer. When the game starts and the player has swapped places with another player, or is healthy, play is resumed and the timer is restarted.


Indoor netball

Indoor netball is a variation of netball, played exclusively indoors, in which the playing court is surrounded on each side and overhead by a net. The net prevents the ball from leaving the court, reducing the number of playing stoppages. This gives indoor netball a faster pace than netball.


Fastnet is a variations on the rules of netball designed to make games faster and more television-friendly. It is employed in the World Netball Series with the ultimate aim of raising the sport's profile and attracting more spectators and greater sponsorship. The modified rules are outlined below.
  • Timing: Each quarter lasts only six minutes, compared with 15 minutes in normal international netball competition. Breaks in between quarters are two minutes each. Injury time-outs are 30 seconds only; standard rules allow for one initial two-minute injury time-out.
  • Coaching: Coaches can give instructions to players from the sidelines during play, from in front of their playing bench. Standard international rules do not allow coaching during play.
  • Substitutions: As in basketball, teams will be allowed to use rolling substitutions, with no stoppages in play per substitution and with unlimited substitutions per quarter. Standard international rules only allow substitutions either between quarters or when a player is injured.
  • Power plays: Each team can separately nominate one "power play" quarter, in which each goal scored by that team counts for double points. This is somewhat similar to powerplays in One Day International and Twenty20 cricket, although it is not a feature of standard netball.
  • Two-point shots: Similar to three-point field goals in basketball and two-point goals in six-a-side indoor netball, the goal shooter (GS) and goal attack (GA) may shoot goals from outside the shooting circle. These goals count for two points; in a power-play quarter, they would count for four points. Umpires raise one arm for a single-point goal and two arms for a two-point goal. In standard netball rules, goals can only be shot from within the shooting circle and count for one point only.
  • Centre passes: After each goal, the team that conceded the goal takes the next centre pass; teams alternate taking the first centre pass of each quarter. Under normal rules, a coin toss determines the first centre pass of the match, after which centre passes alternate between the two teams.
  • Tied scores: Ties will be decided by penalty shoot-outs, similar to those in association football. Often in competitive netball, tied games simply continue until one team wins in extra time, or else subsequently achieves a two-goal advantage.

Worldwide popularity

Netball is a popular participant sport, particularly in countries of the Commonwealth of Nations such as Australia, New Zealandmarker, Malawimarker, Jamaicamarker, and the United Kingdommarker. Over 20 million people play netball in more than 70 countries. Netball is commonly played by Commonwealth children during their years at school.


In Australia and New Zealand, netball is the most popular sport played by women . 2008 saw the inaugural ANZ Championship, a Trans-Tasman semi-professional competition that is broadcast on television in both New Zealand and Australia.

West Indies

Approximately 10,000 people play netball in Jamaica , and it remains the favored women's sport in that country with Dayna Kalpagos (Australian) the key player in the league. Antigua and Barbudamarker is also very active in the netball, with cricket being the only sport more popular .

Physical appeal

Netball requires speed, strategy, team work and co-ordination, thus its appeal is not limited to women. Representative men's teams exist, but attract less attention. At primary home level, mixed teams are not uncommon. As adults, men and women can compete with each other on reasonably fair terms as the restrictions on defence, limitations of numbers and positions of male players, and the women's greater familiarity with the game, prevent those men of superior strength and size gaining an overly large advantage.

Major competitions

Netball World Championships

The most important competition in netball is the Netball World Championship which is held every four years. The Australian Netball Diamonds are the current world champions having won the 2007 Championship in New Zealand. Past winners include the Silver Ferns of New Zealand and joint 1979 winner the Calypso Girls of Trinidad and Tobagomarker, though England, the Proteas of South Africa and the Sunshine Girls of Jamaicamarker have all also placed.

See list of national netball teams for a complete list of national netball teams.

World Netball Series

The World Netball Series is an international netball competition which was contested for the first time in October 2009. The new competition features Fastnet rules (which has been likened to Twenty20 cricket and rugby sevens ). The competition is scheduled to be held annually in Manchestermarker, England until at least 2011, and will be contested by the six top national netball teams in the world, according to the IFNA World Rankings.

World Youth Netball Championships

The next World Youth Netball Championships will take place in July 2009 in the Cook Islandsmarker. The 2005 Youth Championship was held in Miamimarker, Floridamarker and was won by New Zealand.

Commonwealth Games

As netball is popular in the Commonwealth, it is has been included in the Commonwealth Games since 1998. Australia have taken gold home twice since then, the Silver Ferns once. England and Jamaica are the two other teams that have placed.

Asian Netball Championship

The Asian Netball Championship is a competition held between Asian countries. It occurs every four years. The winners in 2009 were the Sri Lankan team, with a win over the Singaporian team with a score of 77-48 in the final.

South Pacific Games

Netball is one of the sport at the Pacific Games (formerly known as the South Pacific Games). The Pacific Games is a multi-sport event, much like the Olympics, (albeit on a much smaller scale), with participation exclusively from countries around the South Pacific. It is held every four years and began in 1963.

The Nations Cup

The Nations Cup (also known as the 4 Nations Netball Cup, the 5 Nations Netball Cup) is an international organised by Netball Singapore. In 2007, the competition included the Singapore national netball team, Canada, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and Trinidad & Tobago. The 2008 Nations Cup will be between the Botswana national netball team, Barbados, Northern Ireland, the Samoa national netball team and Singapore.

ANZ Championship

The ANZ Championship is the elite netball competition contested between five teams each from both Australia and New Zealandmarker. It began in April 2008, succeeding Australia's Commonwealth Bank Trophy and New Zealand's National Bank Cup as the highest level of competitive netball in those countries. The Melbourne Vixens won the 2009 competition against the Adelaide Thunderbirds (54-46).

Domestic competitions


Great Britain


Australian variations for children

Fun Net

Fun Net is Netball Australia's play based motor skills program for 5-7 year olds. The emphasis is on the acquisition of basic motor skills, in a fun environment of games and activities. The length of the Fun Net program can be run between 8–16 weeks, although this is flexible depending on school, association and individual needs. The goal posts are only 2.4m high and a smaller size 4 netball is used.


Netta is a basic introduction into the professional aspect of netball for children aged seven years or older. A size 4 ball is used to develop correct passing and catching skills with up to six seconds allowed between catching and passing the ball, instead of the three seconds permitted in the adult game. All players rotate positions throughout the game so that they can experience the differences between each position. The program of Netta allows children to acquire important skills necessary in the game of netball in a fun and exciting environment. The aim of Netta is to ensure each child leaves with the confidence and skills ready to play Netball.

High Five

High five netball ensures that children gain experience at all positions on the court. There are five positions and the players must swap around these positions during the game, allowing them to try out every position. High Five has also been adopted by a number of adult mixed and ladies social netballleagues in London and is known as "versatility"

See also


  1. International Federation of Netball Associations, "Game Plan 2007-2011".
  3. Guinness Book of World Records
  4. Netball New Zealand
  5. Cook Islands Herald
  6. Cardiff University
  7. Netball Singapore

External links

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