As night falls at the Auckland Netball Centre, flood lights illuminate the sea of courts. Every Tuesday night teams fight it out for netball supremacy. There’s only one thing out of the ordinary – these teams have both men and women.
The teams are taking part in a social, mixed netball league, but the games are still highly competitive. This mixed netball league has been running for several years and Wendy Soper from Auckland Netball says it is growing in popularity.
“We’ve had a big increase in numbers this year. It seems to become more popular every year.”
Twenty-one mixed teams play each Tuesday night at the outdoor courts in St Johns, with players varying in skill level from seasoned veterans to first-timers.
Newcomer to the sport Simon Kemp says the game has its challenges but is easy to pick up.
“I’d like to think I’ve caught on pretty quickly. I wasn’t expecting it to be so tactical but once you get a rough idea it’s not too bad.”
Netballer Alina Varoy says men bring a different dimension to the game and help to make it more of a spectacle to watch.
“They [men] seem to have more of a natural knack for it than girls. It’s always more interesting and fun with boys because they are more adventurous with their moves once they have the confidence.”
More men are taking to the court and Soper believes this is down to people seeing netball as a physical sport nowadays.
“From a guy’s perspective, people don’t see it as being a soft sport anymore. It’s much more socially acceptable.
“The hardest bit is getting them into it, but once they do they get addicted.”
Bringing men into the mix means a different style of play and for Varoy it’s a welcome change to playing against an all-female opposition.
“I think its a lot more aggressive when you just play with girls, it can get quite feisty! Whereas with boys, the aggression is more unintentional contact.”
The social element is a big drawcard of the game with Soper saying women are always trying to get their partners and families involved. For many teams winning the game is second on the agenda to spending time with friends.
“It’s a fun way to catch up with friends, make new ones and exercise,” says Varoy.
The appeal of mixed netball for Kemp is the chance to tackle a sport usually reserved for women. For him the most enjoyable aspect is “doing something different with my mates that we wouldn’t normally do.
“I didn’t expect myself to ever be on a netball court.”