Strength and Conditioning in Netball

Netball is a sport played on a court with 7 players, each playing a different position which allows them to move into certain areas. The positions are Centre, Wing Attack, Wing Defence, Goal Attack, Goal Defence, Goal Shooter and Goal Keeper. Each position demands different bioenergetic (energy system) and biodynamic (movement) structures. Netball is a very high skill game and should involve technical and tactical mastery, therefore skills should be developed to a high level and then implemented into game situations.

Strength and Conditioning has increased within this sport of late and rightly so, due to the high stress and impact that netball has on the athlete. However, I feel there are a lot of coaches/trainers out there who do not fully understand how to implement this into their current training. Just like any sport young athletes need to be both physically and mentally prepared for their sport. The biggest mistake I see is young athletes who are given a strength and conditioning program to follow which has many flaws from being too advanced, using a generic plan for everyone, not looking at the bioenergetic needs of the sport, not looking at the biodynamics of the sport and mainly too textbook!

In addition to a well developed strength program a well thought out skill training/games schedule should be applied. This is always going to be hard with the athlete being pulled in all directions from school sport, club, regional, county and national levels. But this is something that needs to be addressed otherwise it will be the athlete that suffers, usually with some form of overuse injury. We also need to consider whether the athlete is ready to perform at a certain level or at a higher frequency. If an athlete is not physically prepared to play the demands of a sport then again this will usually lead to injury. Coaches from each department need to work together to create a foundation for the athlete to excel.

Below are a few points I think is required on how to develop a netball athlete. Remember these are just my ideas and should not be taken as gospel.

Increase their skill level

There are numerous drills out there being used today which are great for improving ones hand-eye co-ordination and their ball handling skills, a few point to remember are;

  • The athlete must be fresh and ready to learn
  • Do not overload the athlete with too many new skills at any one time
  • Do not intergrate a new skill into a complex one until the athlete has acquired a good level to do so
  • Skill work should never be done in a tired state
  • Feedback between the athlete and coach is crucial to learning new skills and reinforcement should be given where necessary
  • If an athlete looks exhausted during a skill training session, then make the skill easier or let them rest, as maybe their work capacity is not where it should be
  • In terms of energy systems, skill work should always be alactic or aerobic in nature
  • Skill work should followed up with adequate rest, depending on what the goals are for the session, e.g either power or capacity
  • Remember skill work is NOT CONDITIONING, skills need to be learned

Improving Cardio-Vascular Fitness

Netball is predominately an aerobic-alactic sport , with bouts of lactic work depending on the position. So when we look to improve these qualities we need to keep the sport in mind. Developing a strong aerobic base is paramount to improving their health, recovery and performance. Running continuously for miles on end is an old school way of conditioning this energy system, however it does have its place but when looking at a young netball athlete we want to limit the stress placed upon their body, so running for 5 miles on a hard surface is probably not the best.

At Strength and Performance Aerobic Capacity is improved via Tempo work, which was popularised by the late Charlie Francis. Work is done at approx 60-75% intensity and can be a mixture of running, swimming, biking, running in water, skipping, rowing, medicine ball work, pushing the prowler, dragging the sled and bodyweight drills. This slower paced aerobic work has its place in developing a lower resting heart rate through an increased stroke volume which is developed from a larger left ventricle. This type of training is known as eccentric cardiac hypertrophy. These all serve a purpose to improve the athletes general work capacity.

Developing the alactic energy system is done using maximal acceleration sprints and change of direction drills. These must be done with full recovery with the goal of top speed in mind.

My pet peeve that I often see is court sprints being used as a punishment, these serve absolutely no purpose in developing an athlete apart from everyone else getting a rest and having a laugh at ones expense. Also multiple court sprints is not training for speed and again is often used with the coaches normally saying that they are doing sprint work, this again serves no purpose!

General Physical Preparation Training

Improving an athlete’s general physical preparation (GPP) is crucial to developing them as a whole, this includes everything from strength, balance, co-ordination, flexibility, power and speed. Having a well developed GPP is like building the foundations for a house, for example the deeper and stronger the foundations are made then the more stable the house will be.  The same goes for an athlete, the more developed the core GPP skills are then the potential for the athlete to be stronger, faster and powerful will be increased.

GPP work is split up into different areas and it is covered in the warm up. As athletes develop a bigger work capacity then more and more work can be done.

Soft Tissue Work – This includes everything from foam roll/hard ball/massage. Improved tissue quality means the better the muscle should perform.

Flexibility – The more flexible the muscle is the more movement it has, therefore the more mobile your joints are and hence the less chance of injury, however if an athlete is too mobile then this needs to be considered within the stretching program.

Mobility – Mobility of the joints is crucial for good movement. The key areas for mobility are the hips and shoulders and extra time and care should be given to work on these areas.

Glute Activation – This is important area for young athletes to consider in their warm ups especially female athletes.  This should always include bridge and thrust variations and both single and double leg as well as various horse stance exercises.

Feet Elevated Glute Bridge

Shoulder Health – This again is important for every athlete, especially with our hunched over society. The scapula should move freely in all directions with proper T-spine mobility.

Movement Patterns – This should include everything from squats, overhead squats, hip hinge, single hip hinge, reverse lunges, foward lunges, side lunges, cross over lunges, walking lunges, crawl variations, press ups and recline rows. Technique is crucial here and time should be spent learning the proper movement patterns before overload is applied. This is where many coaches go wrong and they want to overload the athlete before the proper movement patterns have been learned. This may lead to short term success but long term failure. (The athlete squatted an extra 10kg, which is good but followed up the day after with knee pain) Also in this section I would include various medicine ball throws but at a very low intensity. Here skills can be learned which are then progressed when it comes to training for power and speed.

Power and Speed – As a young athlete these areas should be developed using sprint work, plus various jumps and medicine ball throws. Sprint work is used with the alactic energy system in mind, these should never be turned into the lactic energy systems via suicides etc. In the early stages sprint work maybe just working on various power speed drills such as A and B-Skips, Toe bounds long and short, shuffles etc. Jumps must be learned through progressive means and should follow a pattern such as box jump, weighted box jump (if good height) hurdle jump and stick, hurdle jump and mini jump, and then hurdle bounds. Landing mechanics must be taught and learned before moving onto the next progression. Emphasis on power in the throw needs to be a focus therefore the weight of the ball should be appropriate for each athlete and time should be spent coaching these exercises so the athlete understands what they are trying to do.

Recovery Training

Athletes who play netball at a high level will be required to train and play many times during the week, so recovery is very important. When we look how to improve an athlete we always consider what extra training they can add to their current schedule, rather then how they can recover better which may include taking something out of their training. If an athlete is looking to get better then maybe all they need is more rest. Recovery methods should include cold baths, contrast showers, sauna, massage and also nothing to do with netball, for example a walk in the park. Nutrition is obviously another area that needs to be addressed, with athletes usually being dragged from school straight to training, food is always on the go, therefore this needs to be planned so the athlete is getting a well balanced diet.


Closing Thoughts

Netball is a fast paced sport, and any athlete looking to play netball at the highest level need to prepare themselves for the stress that they will encounter playing the sport. This should include everything from acquiring a high skill level and ball handling skills to a high level GPP base. Athletes need to consider if they are playing the sport for fun or if they have aspiring goals, and only then will you know how serious to get involved as it can become very demanding on the individual and the parents involved.

Unleash Your Inner Athlete

Team Strength and Performance

TeamSandP Twitter – @SandP_GYM



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s