Good change at work

Life lessons from the netball court

I’m nearly 50 years old, I’ve been playing netball on and off since I was 11, and recently on the netball court I learnt something about how to be good in the game.

Like lots of lessons, it’s possible I already knew it. But I certainly wasn’t applying it in my game. And because I think it has some implications in the workplace, I thought I’d share it here.

To start with, some netball-related context. I say I’ve been playing netball “on-and-off” for 37 years but here’s the reality: I played through intermediate and high school without ever really understanding the point of the game. I started out in Form 1 in either the C or D team (I can’t remember, it’s all a blur, but above is the photographic evidence – that’s me, third from right in the back row, cheerful but largely incompetent). By the end of my high school career, in 6th form, I was in the F team, which I think is a fairly decent accomplishment. At least you could say I persevered.

I never played again, until, at the age of 41, I received a call from a fellow Island Bay mum, asking me to play for her team. They needed a ring-in, she said. They were desperate, otherwise she wouldn’t have called me. I agreed, fully expecting to hate it … and loved it. I messed about as ring-in for a while, and then found my place in my own team, and I’ve played every season since. And it turns out, as an adult, I’m not nearly as bad a player as I was when I was young. I sort of “get” the game a bit better.

But as I was reminded recently, I’ve still got heaps to learn.

We have this new player on our team, Anita, and she’s really good. Like me, she plays goal keep or goal defence, so we play down the same end together. She’s a coaching player, meaning she talks a lot, giving guidance, telling other players where to be, calling the plays as she goes. She’s much more experienced than me, and my guess is that unlike me, she’s played on teams where they had proper coaching and really knew how the game works.

This week at half time, she said to me “you’re pushing the shooter out, which is great, but you need to tell me where she is, if I can’t see her.” I didn’t say anything, because I was trying to understand what she was telling me. So you want me to not just pay attention to where I am on the court, and where my opponent is – you want me to watch where you are, and where you should be, as well? And have the presence of mind to communicate that? I didn’t really believe I was capable of that, and in the next break, when she told me the same thing, I explained – what you’re describing is the next level of play, and I actually don’t think I can do it. She just said, “Yeah you can. I need you to. Don’t think about it, just do it”.

So in the final quarter, I lifted my eyes up a bit more, and didn’t just watch my opponent, I also watched my team mate. I literally watched her back. And when she couldn’t see where she needed to be, I did my best to call out and give her guidance, just as she’d been doing for me.

I’m not there yet, but I could instantly feel a lift in my game, and testing out that new style of play was really challenging and really fun.

I play a fair bit of social team sport – netball, floorball and football. I mostly play because it’s just sheer fun, and I love the way, when I’m on the court or the field, I don’t think about anything except for the game. But I also play because I think improving my sports game helps me improve my work game – and even, if it’s not too much of a stretch, my life game.

My team mate’s help proves the point – we can keep learning and improving, no matter how long we’ve been playing the game; it’s even better when your team mate’s got your back; and great coaching is a gift we can all give.

Photo caption: Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School, 1980, Netball Form 1 C&D teams

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