Netball: a social middle class sport?

Today I decided I would try out for my university’s netball team. Why not? I had always enjoyed playing it at school, given that it’s somewhat of a crossbred between basketball and korfball (Or as I’m sure the majority of you will argue, korfball is a hybrid of basketball and netball). Call me naïve, but it only just came to my attention today the extent to which social class is attributed to netball as a game.

Now, this is not to say that I was completely oblivious to the implications of playing netball up  until today- my flatmate had warned me just a couple of days before when I denounced to her my intention to try out for the team, that netball was very much a ‘bitchy’ sport- something off mean girls or perhaps more pertinent here, 90210, where all the girls sleep around with each other boyfriends/ the guys off the rugby team. I have to admit, I did find it slightly disconcerting that I was asked to insert a picture of myself on the try out ‘application form’ (who even has an application form for try outs?!) along with my achievements, hobbies, highest level of netball etc. One does get the feeling that it is not merely skill that one is being judged on, but your entire being as a whole; this is something which I do not completely agree with. Fair enough, when joining a team you’re not merely training with these people, but you are going out, attending socials and doing whatever it is teammates do in their spare-time. Nevertheless, I went in good faith that I would be welcome, and indeed with a tad bit of arrogance that my natural ability would win me, my so deserved place.

I noticed however a few unnerving facts when I arrived for try-outs. Not only was I the only ‘black’ girl trying for the sports team, but I also appeared to be the only ‘alternative’ girl as well. At once I was called out for (what some people might call) my excessive amount of piercings and was told that I had to take them out or cover them up with some white surgical sticky tape; a sad excuse for a plaster. I appreciate that it is a health and safety requirement to remove jewellery when playing a sport, especially one where contact (although is forbidden) is sometimes inevitable, however the point I’m pressing is not one about dress code and regulations, but rather about the lack of variety within the team. Perhaps coming from London, my perception is overshadowed by the flourishing multicultural community that I was accustomed too, as well as the diverse and inclusive netball team that I was part during my secondary school career. Needless to say we were so inclusive because of our mediocracy- I joke. 

Today was a real big wake up for me, in making me realise how much of social class pervades our everyday participations. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the girls are lovely creatures and those who truly deserve to be on the team will make it, but I can’t help but slightly chuckle when I think about how a few of them went to pains to convey that they were ‘sleep-deprived’ or suffering from ‘bronchitis’, or at those who took comfort in the fact that they already made it on the ‘hockey’ team. One girl even progressed to say that she knew my flatmate, who had told her I would be at trials and that she should come up and say hi to me. (Of course she wasn’t sure who I was and so proceeded to ask first who my flatmate was- it dawned on my however that my flatmate would have said something along the lines of ‘look out for Sophia, she’s mixed race and tall’) It’s almost as if not being on a sport team would deprive them of some essential experience to life. And yes, you can interpret this as being a bitter response (as I write this, I have just received a rejection- surprise, surprise) but when I decided to walk out 45 minutes before the try out session finished, and instead to attend my first Italian lecture of the year, I can honestly say I felt relieved. In fact, I was drowning in liberation and comforted in the knowledge that I had not been bought into an juvenile ideal of what makes a university experience. 

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