“What are you up to tomorrow?” one of my millennial colleagues will invariably ask me in the dying light of a Friday afternoon.
Sometimes I wonder if I should utter the words. They must seem so … so … frightening to a human being who mightn’t even be on their way home from a big night out as I’m backing out the driveway on a Saturday morning.
“Netball. The girls have netball.”
“For how long?”
“There are quite a few games. Most of the day really.”
“Ohh…really … ” The conversation is finished as they don’t know what to say next because they truly feel sorry for me.
I know I could play the martyr mother here. Get some sympathy, attention and maybe even be asked if I want a coffee when they next do the coffee run. With three daughters, school and club games on a Saturday, we are out of the house by 7am and not back until about 3pm. My Saturday is gone in a haze of balls, whistles, bibs, cut up oranges, scorecards and finding change for the canteen that still sells mixed lollies.
Martyr mother opportunities are like golden eggs and don't drop at your feet very often, but I have a problem picking this one up and running with it.
I actually LIKE Saturday netball. I like watching the games. Sometimes I stand on the sidelines in the wind and winter sun, other times I'm perched on a cold indoor bench making small talk with the parent beside me. All in one day.
I like seeing my daughters race down the court, and step release, and intercept and score - not usually all in the one play.
I like seeing them dig in when they are being beaten. I like seeing them play hard. I like seeing them shake hands with their opponent at the end of the game and share a joke or a compliment. I like seeing them grow in confidence for doing something well and learning a new skill.
I like the talks on the way home, girls exhausted, heads pressed against windows, radio turned down.
I like that they play sport because research has found girls who play sport have a more positive body image, they understand their body is not just for looking at - it's for DOING as well. Girls who play sport also experience higher states of psychological well-being. Then there is the simple fact that kids who play sport spend less time on screens. Better body image plus less screen time plus being happier? Win. Win. Win.
And I've come to understand that my three daughters, who range in age from 12-17, are heading into the danger zone for sports drop-out. According to the #TeamGirls Suncorp Australian Youth & Confidence Research 2017, over 38 percent of girls aged 15-16 are playing less sport than a year ago, and nearly 50 percent of girls aged 16-18 decreased their participation in sport over the last 12 months.
The #TeamGirls research also compared the daily activity of a 5-8 year old girl (1 hour and 43 minutes) to a 15 year old (30 minutes). Hot tip: for more fascinating facts about sport, girls and confidence, check out the #TeamGirls website and their amazing podcast with Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the Body Image Movement.
So, with my daughters' netball, it might be a long day driving from game to game and we do tend to lose an inordinate number of water bottles, but I wouldn't have it any other way because netball is giving me and the girls much more than a winter tan, chapped lips and an afternoon sugar rush. It's a teacher. The kind but firm kind.
Look at the lessons the four of us learnt just last Saturday.
My 12-year-old had a particularly hard game. She's a GA and her GD was on her like a rash. Neither of them stopped trying the whole game. They were red and sweating, they hurt fingers, they intercepted and blocked, deflected, rebounded and scored. I could see my daughter was getting frustrated, she's fast and usually finds space, but this morning on the netball court she was finding everything more difficult. At the end of the game I watched them shake hands and smile at each other and start talking. I couldn't help but ask my daughter what they said.
"She said I was a great GA and a great shooter. I told her I thought she was the best GD I'd ever played."
Lesson learned: You're allowed to play hard in life (something girls particularly need to hear). But don't confuse playing hard with playing mean. When girls support each other - on and off the court - magic happens. Life is richer, better and happier.
My 15-year-old daughter is a GS and she didn't shoot so well in her games the week before. During the week she quietly went into the backyard and practised. She didn't want to let her team down. On Saturday afternoon she was a dead-eye. The dads from the other team started to groan when she caught the ball in the circle. I loved hearing that groan.
Lesson learned: There comes a time in life when you have to put in extra effort to get what you want. You have to sacrifice what you want right now (perhaps watching Shawn Mendes interviews on YouTube - just saying), to perhaps get something later. There are a few lessons learned here. There's the old short-term loss for long-term gain lesson. Plus the practise lesson. Practise, practise, practise will reap rewards. Natural ability will only get you so far in life. And finally there's the quiet lesson about goal setting. The only way you can achieve that goal is by working hard. No-one else can do it but you, and when you do shoot better or speak French or play Schubert on the violin, something wonderful happens (as well as the skill you now have in your top pocket): a girl gains confidence.
Out of the four games last Saturday, two were won and two were lost. When you see a team win in netball, one thing is very clear: you need all seven girls to play together for that to happen. From the GK and WD to the WA, GS and everyone in between. Everyone on that court has a job to do and netball doesn't rely on a star player.
Lesson learned: In an age of celebrity talent shows and reality TV individual winners that rely on "outwitting and outsmarting", teamwork is often underrated. Working together, supporting each other through good passes and bad, for a team win is truly magnificent to watch.
At about 11am last Saturday I couldn't decide between a bacon and egg roll or a sausage in a roll at the fundraiser barbecue beside the canteen. I opted for the bacon and egg roll, with a bit of barbecue sauce and it was glorious.
Lesson learned: Go with your instinct, because when it comes to barbecued meats at fundraiser stalls that's all you've got.
#TeamGirls, powered by Suncorp and in partnership with Netball Australia, launched in 2017 with the goal to build a nation of confident girls through girls supporting girls.
Research indicates sports participation makes a significant positive impact on girls’ self-esteem. It’s especially prevalent in team sports, such as netball, where every player is equally important — providing the perfect environment to nurture the #TeamGirls spirit.
So, whether you're a parent, carer, friend or family member, together, we can all rally behind #TeamGirls to help build a nation of confident girls.
Isn’t that a team worth joining?
Learn more at suncorp.com.au/teamgirls