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England Netball: Back To Netball and The Roses Reunited Series

17 November 21 interview: Katie Lyle

The Vitality Roses are playing Jamaica at The Motorpoint Arena on Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 December in the Roses Reunited Series. We sat down with Back to Netball player Ibby Brown and Netball Development Community Coach Ruth Pickthorn to talk about everything they do and their excitement for the upcoming games…

What was your journey with Back to Netball? 

Ruth: I finished playing netball when I was 16. And then I started at a Back to Netball session in my early 40s. I ended up working for England Netball full time as a netball development community coach, doing Back to Netball sessions. I loved netball at school but I didn't continue it, like many women; as soon as they finish school they give up team sports. Then I found it again, and I never looked back.

Ibby: I absolutely loved netball at primary school. I went to a tiny school, where there were literally ten of us in our year group. When I hit secondary school, going from a year group of ten, to a group of 250, I just felt really insecure about my ability. There were tons of other girls who were loads better than me and I lost my confidence. So I didn't really play that much at secondary school, and then tried to pick it back up again at uni and exactly the same - I just didn't feel good enough. 

When I found the Back to Netball movement, oh my goodness, it could not be more fun, and it’s really inclusive. If you make a mistake, like a dodgy pass or go offside, you just laugh about it, and then reflect on what you did wrong and start again. It felt so comfortable. Totally different to what I experienced at uni.

How do the sessions tend to work?

Ruth: I just try to make it welcoming, and for any lady that’s got a pair of trainers in the back of the cubbyhole, to feel confident to come into a safe and friendly environment and do something that they thought they'd never be able to do again. A lot of women pack in team sports when they leave school, they don’t think they can do it, or there's not anything out there for them. I try to make it as fun as possible. And I explain to the ladies it's an hour of madness, this is just their hour for them. We talk a lot and laugh a lot and sometimes you have a netball in your hand. 

Ibby: I couldn't agree more. It is just the most fun and what I love about it is that it really doesn't matter about your level of fitness, you've got nothing to be insecure about, you just have so much fun. You can try any position, and that whole hour just flies by. It's just brilliant. If you've got a bit down, like I have with COVID, and a bit stressed, that boosts me up for the week and I leave the sessions absolutely buzzing. I'm really lucky because I play four times a week because I cannot get enough of it. But it's all down to Ruth. Her enthusiasm is just amazing. 

How has it been getting back involved after the pandemic, how's it felt?

Ibby: Absolutely amazing. You don't actually realise how much you've missed it. But just to get back on court, it's a mood booster. You can just turn up, there's no prep. I’ve come straight from the hairdresser's or my little girl. I just really love being part of a team and love being with the other girls.

Do you feel like there are things that it's helped you overcome or ways it's helped improve your mental health and your mindset? 

Ruth: I just think it gave me my identity back. As a mother who worked part time in the leisure centre, life was grand but I didn't actually do anything for me. Everything rotated around family life. You really lose yourself in that sense, which is not a bad thing. But to do something actually for me, boosts my self esteem and confidence. I was happier. And I was meeting other like minded women that felt the same. I’ve become best friends with the ladies at Back to Netball; we go camping, we go on holidays. The social side of it is huge as well and everybody's in WhatsApp chats. So if something's wrong with somebody, everybody helps each other out. It's a whole different family to the one that you've already got, for me it was life changing. Definitely.

Ibby: Self-confidence has soared and helped my mental health massively. It gives you the opportunity to meet women who you would never normally come into contact with. And like I've said, with the family, it sounds really cliche, but it actually is. I don't know what to do without it. I became a mum last July, and had to stop work because of different bits and bobs and it's my one hour where I don't have to think about anything else. You're so lost in the game and what you're trying to do, there's no other things going through your mind. 

What is your favourite thing about netball as a game? 

Ibby: For me, I love the pace, you've got three seconds with the ball and you've got to pass it - if you don't, you lose possession. That makes it really exciting. I love that each player has got a limited area that they can go in. So every single player is valuable. There's no time to ignore anyone. Whereas in other bigger sports, like football or hockey, you could easily not touch the ball for ages because you don't have to.

What’s the new season like after the pandemic? What is it like seeing everyone again? 

Ruth: I remember the first session back was just after Easter, because we went to quite a few restarts which didn't happen because of COVID. I was so excited, I was so nervous though at the same time because all these women were coming, the session sold out completely which was amazing to see - that enthusiasm was there straightaway. But I was anxious about getting back because even though we were outdoors, I just wanted to make sure everything just went perfectly so no one felt uncomfortable or hurt themselves because of injury. 

We did virtual sessions online when we were in lockdown for a year and a half. It was more throwing a pair of socks in your dining room. So I was just concerned that we took it gradually. It was quite emotional just seeing everybody's faces in real life again. And new ladies have joined which is lovely to see as well. We kept our engagement with the ladies from before lockdown, but to have new ladies actually venture out and try something new. It's been good. 

Do you think it's affected anyone’s confidence? 

Ruth: I know ladies who still won't come back at the moment. And it's just a case of telling them it’s fine. You come back when you feel ready. There's no pressure and even at the sessions, we have a chat, make sure everyone's alright, still use hand sanitizer and still use wipes and everything to make sure those ladies feel that they're in a safe environment. If someone does get too close, it's okay for them to say ‘back off’. It's just ensuring that those that do attend feel okay, and those who are still anxious, that the sessions will be there for them when they're ready. And there's no rush, they keep in contact by WhatsApp, and we have Zoom meetings so that there's still that engagement, but some of them just aren't quite there yet, which I totally understand. 

If this could encourage anybody else to do Back to Netball, Walking Netball, Netball Now or any of the programmes or volunteering within the Netball community, it'd be amazing. 

The Roses Reunited Series is coming to Nottingham. Are you attending these matches at the arena?

Ibby: Yeah, we’ve got a group of us going. The opportunity to watch England Netball in Nottingham - oh my goodness me, we could not be luckier to have that on our doorstep, to have the England Netballers. So my mum and I signed up straight away to watch both sessions. We've got a group of us going from Southwell, about ten of us. I've got the tickets right on the centre line. My mission is to get us on the big screen. So I've got red roses for all of our hair. I've got all of it ready. I'm going to do cheerleading. We're going to make a flag. I cannot wait. It’s in Nottingham - England Netball! 

Ruth: I'm working the event. I’m doing the hospitality bit, and then sneaking around to watch a bit of the game when I can! 

You can get yourself tickets to the upcoming Roses Reunited Series against Jamaica at The Motorpoint Arena now.

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