Building male engagement in netball

Inclusive: Netball Victoria hosted a come-and-try day for young boys across Gippsland in Traralgon. Photograph: Zaida Glibanovic




SPORT is for everyone – Netball Victoria knows this.

Netball Victoria is actively building the sport for male engagement by breaking down barriers for junior athletes.

Over the school holidays, a group of young aspiring male netballers were treated to game time and skills clinics run by none other than Gippsland’s very own Australian Under 17’s team representative, Zac Mabilia.

Netball Victoria’s Eastern region participation coordinator, Leanne Bland said male participation is key to growing the game.

“Our male participation coordinator, Jayden Cowling, who has been newly appointed, identified that we have 346 boys playing in Gippsland,” she said.

“Feedback that we get from the general community that more boys playing netball want to play against the boys.

“We’ve created this opportunity to try to bring some of the Gippsland players together to play against each other.”

Young boys in netball can play against girls up until 13s in their local associations and clubs. Still, with Netball Victoria’s gender policy, the boys are not permitted to play in those competitions once they hit that age based on an assessment of the difference between female and male strength and stamina.

While associations cater to those boys looking to play past age 13 by facilitating mixed competitions, the level of competitiveness and opportunities are not quite the same.

Bland is hopeful that Gippsland has the demand to run junior boys competitions one day in the future.

“Hopefully, we’re looking at the growth at netball where boys can verse boys in the future; we thought bringing the Gippsland kids together we hope this can transpire into something that can continue and grow,” she said.

The recent triumph of the Victorian Men’s and Mixed Netball Association (VMMNA) in the Australian Men’s and Mixed Netball Association (AMMNA) 2023 National Championships in Perth shows how enthusiasm for men’s netball participation is growing.

Data from the Australian Sports Commission’s latest sports survey shows an estimated 115,400 men played netball in 2022 – up from 64,300 in 2020.

Netball Victoria recognises the rapid male interest in the sport and is willing to facilitate grassroots action.

From the physical, social and mental benefits, the sport continues to grow, and it’s not hard to see why.

Remaining physical in team sports is incredibly important for young children. Playing team sports makes regular exercise a habit from a young age and helps develop bone and muscle strength, fitness, health, interpersonal and social skills.

The problem is that everyone is different, and people all like certain things. Still, these young men found their calling in the skilful contemporary sport of netball with exciting new possibilities in a potential local boy’s competition.

Seventeen year old Mabilia ran the Gippsland boys come and try netball day, held in Traralgon recently. The young gun from Wonthaggi paved the way for boys in netball in the region.

An athletic child, Mabilia played all sorts of sports, but netball was his favourite. Mabilia, joining his cousins one day, discovered a love for the game after a junior clinic called Net, Set, Go, and went on to play for Victoria’s men’s team with a selection in the National team.

“It’s pretty special to have some boys playing and to see Netball Victoria putting on clinics for boys to do,” he said.

Having had nowhere to play locally after he took out the Gippsland League Best and Fairest in his last year of Under 13’s for Wonthaggi, the young netballer said the opportunities for boys in the sport have grown since his day.

With Netball Victoria’s commitment to work on ways to increase the participation of young boys in the sport and facilitate competition, Mabilia said it will attract many more young boys to the sport.

Mabilia must still travel to Melbourne to access high-level opportunities, but with the Gippsland Stars Victorian Netball League announcement, who knows, perhaps a Gippsland men’s team may be on the cards. Currently playing for the Altona Falcons in the M-League, Mabilia said netball was one of the highest-growing male sports, and is excited about where the future may lead.

While we should not get too ahead of ourselves with a local boy’s competition still only a future possibility, the boys at the school holiday clinic had great fun, and that’s what it’s all about.