Walking netball embraced by Suffolk coach and team

Walking Netball with Journal sports reporter Hannah Dolman and coach Tracey Butcher

I was never particularly good, but I did enjoy netball as a youngster at school, so I jumped at the chance to try out the latest version — Walking Netball.

Developed by England Netball, it is a version of the game that has evolved from a growing demand for walking sports, and it’s been marched into west Suffolk by netball coach Tracey Butcher.

Walking Netball with Journal sports reporter Hannah Dolman and coach Tracey Butcher

The Bury-based Jetts Netball Club coach thought a lot could benefit from the slower version of the game, designed so that anyone can play it regardless of age or fitness level.

And it turns out my fond memory of the sport is often echoed by, admittedly older, ladies who are keen to pick up the ball once more.

Tracey said: “It is, primarily, for people over 50 but I’ve found it’s for anyone really, it’s just netball but walking.

“Since I started the sessions last October we’ve had an 84-year-old and 81-year-old come regularly.

Walking Netball with Journal sports reporter Hannah Dolman and coach Tracey Butcher

“We’ve only had women so far, as men tend to go more for walking football, but men would of course be welcome to join too.

“It’s a fitness thing, it keeps people active, but also the social aspect — it’s a lot more than just the game.

“And the ladies seem to really get on too, it’s very friendly for new people coming in as well.”

I have to agree with that, as I was immediately surrounded by interested people — wearing their Jetts Walking Netball shirts — and made to feel part of the group.

Walking Netball with Journal sports reporter Hannah Dolman and coach Tracey Butcher

I went along to the session on Friday evenings at Abbeycroft’s Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centre (5.15-6.15pm) which, I am told, does not charge due to funding from the local council budget, and supported by councillors Bob Cockle and Diane Hind.

Tracey was surprised but delighted when 15 turned up, showing how fast its popularity is growing, and promising the numbers to have a match at the end.

We started with some warm-up exercises before setting up for the drill practices.

And that’s when I first started to worry about how badly I was going to show myself up. Could I still catch, I wondered?

And what was that movement? But I needn’t have worried, I could still catch fine and everyone was as confused as I was about how to do what we’d been shown.

Laughing and joking, we worked it out (there was a moment when the ball ran up my face but I avoided major embarrassment as Mark, our photographer, didn’t see).

The rules of walking netball are slightly different, to accommodate the slower pace.

You can’t jump, you can take an extra step once you have the ball and you are allowed one more second with the ball — that’s four seconds.

After the warm-up exercises, more competitive exercises were introduced.

Split into two teams , we had to complete a series of passes — all at walking pace of course — before taking the ball into the goal circle and attempting a shot.

And this was where my ‘never particularly good’ statement came into its own — shooting is hard when there’s no backboard!

Some of the ladies were excellent at it, others better at passing and movement, and I realised a team game like netball allows people with different skills to shine.

Then the competitiveness was ramped up, as the two teams were asked to do the same but, every time the ball was netted, take a ‘counter’ to a big noughts and crosses board and place it. I have to admit, I got competitive — and the only hoop I scored led to me baseball-style sliding along the floor to pip someone else to the space.

We were deemed to have lost.

I’m not saying it wasn’t fair but, well, my team felt we should have had it.

Having let my team down monumentally (I didn’t expect to score), it was time to play a mock game. I’m sure my teammates all quietly jumped ship at this stage.

I was given the centre bib, meaning I was allowed in all thirds but not the shooting circle — that seemed fair.

Rose-Anne and then Mary marked me brilliantly, reminding me politely of the rules as I flaunted them, and reminding me just how much fun netball is.

I also discovered that when the zip gets taken out of a game like netball, what’s left is intelligent passing and movement, it’s not about how much, but when and where.

And you can make it as fast as you like with the speed you walk, I walked quickly and felt it in my body the next day.

And the next.

But well worth it.

As well as sessions in Bury, Tracey also runs a session at Newmarket Leisure Centre on Mondays from 6pm-7pm (£2.50).

There is also another session in Bury, at Moreton Hall Health and Fitness Centre (£4.50 for non-members), on Thursday 10am-11am over in Haverhill from 10am-11am on Friday, costing £2.50 per session.

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