Netball World Cup 2019: Tales from the netball changing room

Nisha (centre) and members of the Bran Nu netball club from Birmingham

England Netball is on a mission - to make the country fall in love.

The nation was inspired once again as England claimed a World Cup bronze this summer, now the focus is on getting more women and girls active and playing netball.

But how? And what can you get out of netball?

'Anyone can rock up and experience what the game is like'

England Netball created the biggest netball open day ever by hosting more than 200 netball sessions across the country the day after the World Cup finished.

On the final day of the tournament, England Netball experienced a 1,000% increase in visits to the England Netball session finder compared to two weeks before the World Cup.

"There was an incredible spike in grassroots netball participation after the Commonwealth Games in 2018," says England Netball chief executive Jo Adams.

"We hoped that the Netball World Cup would have another similar impact on this country, and I'm pleased to see that it already has.

"Whilst the Roses were gunning for gold at the World Cup, they still came away with a medal and showed thousands of people how amazing this sport is."

Adams is keen to stress that anyone can get involved regardless of age, ability or fitness.

"They might think they're not fit at the moment, or not active enough to play competitively, but it's something to go back to for the fun and social side.

"Anyone can rock up and experience what the game is like."

In the year following England's gold at the Commonwealth Games, netball felt a noticeable difference at club level, with teams up and down the country attracting new players aplenty.

Nisha Haaijer, founder and coach of the Birmingham-based Bran Nu club, says: "I think England winning the gold [in 2018] rocketed netball through the whole country.

"We've seen so many more people come into netball. They've been inspired, and even the ones that were good already have tried to become even better."

After more than 111,000 spectators attended the World Cup, England Netball are optimistic that this summer's success has provided further inspiration for those women and girls watching on.

England Netball team celebrate victory in the 2018 Commonwealth Games final against Australia
England beat Australia with a last-second winner to take gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games

'These girls have become my family'

Sarah Prescott, who describes herself as "non-sporty", experienced first hand how nurturing netball can be when a friend encouraged her to join Bran Nu.

"I remember the first day I came to watch... I just thought, 'wow!'

"I had lost all my self-esteem and suffered from mental health problems. I had just had a child, was a lone parent and just wanted a sense of belonging.

"From the moment I met them, I never looked back and these girls have become my family."

Players from Bran Nu netball club having fun on the court
Bran Nu is more like a family than a sports team for single mum Sarah (left)

That is underlined by the support the women give each other off the court - they're a 'sport family' rather than just a team.

"Last weekend I did a speech at a ceremony so the girls came," says Sarah. "Nisha does a lot of gospel choir concerts, so we'll go to those.

"We like to support each other in whatever is important."

Jo Adams hopes that sense of a 'second family' is something that will appeal to women considering getting back into the game.

"I think anyone that follows England through their journey will have that bug again," she says. "People see the team and think, 'I want to have a go'.

"Some women have quite a nice life and they just want something a little bit extra. But there a lot of women who are really struggling with mental health issues... their social wellbeing isn't great.

"If you're a woman that's potentially struggling a bit, come along to a session."

'This keeps me active, this keeps me fit, this is my release'

Sarah Pugh joined Bran Nu two years ago and says she has found a "family away from my family".

"You just fit," she says. "It doesn't matter what you look like, who you are, where you come from, what you do, they're just so welcoming."

Having not played since primary school, Sarah immediately felt comfortable in her new surroundings.

"Everyone is so encouraging - my skill level has increased massively. The team are motivating - they pick you up and push you, but in a good way.

"I've dropped nearly two stone through netball. I'm still a big girl, and I'm still going, but this keeps me active, this keeps me fit, this is my release."

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The story of grassroots netball in 2019

'The passion is all over our faces'

The strong bond between the players at Bran Nu has had a profound effect on their game. Unbeaten in the league and competing in the regional play-offs, the team are causing quite a stir in the netball community.

"I think our game is so tight because we know each other well," says Sarah Pugh. "We're so comfortable with other and we trust each other."

Goalkeeper Aliana adds: "But we're not going to sugar-coat everything! When we want to win, we can be 'AARGGHHH!' But we all know its just banter and it's all love really."

"Exactly," adds Joan, who at 55 is the team's oldest member. "While we're actually playing, it's our ball and they know we're coming to get them!

"People love that about our team - the passion is all over our faces."

'There's a place for you and everybody you know at netball'

It is that passion that England Netball hopes to reignite after the success of the World Cup.

"We want international success, of course, because that success develops our role models and continues to make us a mainstream sport," says Adams.

"But I don't think it's only about winning. Netball is still very approachable, and we want to make sure that if people experienced it for the first time at the World Cup that they come back to watch more and, of course, play too."

Bran Nu netball player Nikita helps a young club member with her shooting skills
First team players are always there to lend a helping hand to young club members

Still not convinced?

Nisha says: "Get up, go, and forget your fears. Try it, have some fun and see where it takes you. There's a place for you and everybody you know at netball. Trust me."