Tom Degun: Why I think netball should be in the Olympics

I will admit, when I turned up at Bath University to train with reigning netball Superleague champions TeamBath, I wasn't all that prepared.

Nor did I know an awful amount about the sport other than what I had seen on the school playground (which is not a lot in every sense of the term).

I was rather tired from a hard day (yes, pull out the violins) and hadn't really given the event too much thought.

But who cared?

I was a reasonably fit guy. I go for regular jogs and play a bit of six-a-side football most Sundays. And after all, I was only taking on a bunch of girls!

How hard could it be?

So it was with the arrogant attitude that I emerged from the pristine changing rooms kitted out in my tracksuit and ready to strut my stuff and show the netballers how a real athlete does it!

Being the only male in the vicinity (a fact I surprisingly wasn't overly bothered about) I was prepared for an easy ride when the first drill was announced by TeamBath coach Jess Garland: a warm-up game of Frisbee.

I was in easy-street!

We split into two teams and netball rules applied meaning that you were not allowed to move with the Frisbee in hand and had to get to the opponents end to score.

So we began.

And then it suddenly dawned on me and far too late in the day; these girls were serious athletes.

They move around count with lightning pace and the reflexes of the most agile slip-fielder.

I thought that they were cheating and moving when the had the Frisbee but they simple caught and passed so fast, it gave the false illusion that they were not playing by the rules.

I started foolishly running around trying to catch the Frisbee but at the pace it was travelling, I could barely see it let alone lay a finger on it.

But then my increasingly battered pride took over, demanding that I put in more effort to avoid utter humiliation.

So I dug deep, wiped the reservoir of sweat from my brow and increased my tempo, managing even to catch the Frisbee once (though I also missed a catch spectacularly at one point where the Frisbee careered into the side of my head).

My problems however, quickly multiplied as a ball was added into the mix.

I didn't know whether to go for the Frisbee or the ball and as a result, ended up stupidly turning in circles on the spot.

Then - to my immense relief - the whistle blew singling the end of the practice.

"Excellent," I thought, "time for a drink and a much needed five minute breather."

No such luck unfortunately.

This wasn't the rugby training I had become accustomed to during my playing days with the charismatic but limited – particularly when it came to the cardiovascular department - University of Bedfordshire; this was training with a netball team who were comfortable victors in last years National Superleague Tournament.

Unlike me, they did not require rest between strenuous exercise and barely looked out-of-breath from the surprisingly vigorous warm-up as we moved on to a passing exercise which involved three attackers attempting to score past two defenders.

Needless to say, I did not excel in the drill and got about a close to scoring as Hull City to the Premier League title.

We moved on again to another passing drill which involved quickly manoeuvring the ball around in groups of three but at this point, I was seeing stars due to my immense fatigue at the intensity of the activity.

They say that in boxing "Speed Kills"; well that is certainly a saying that can be applied to netball as I saw girls stretching dramatically to catch balls than can be more accurately described as fast-paced white blurs.

Despite my regular self-criticism, I am no slouch and have participated in a few physical sports in my time including rugby union and league, football, boxing, tennis and basketball and I can assure you that netball is faster than any of these.

The hand-eye coordination involved is mind-numbing and the handling skill puts some of the best scrum-halves I have played with to shame.

If you don’t believe me, tune in to Sky Sports on the evening of December 10 for the first match of the new Superleague where TeamBath take on Northern Thunder and see for yourself.

Better still, go along to the Sports Training Village at Bath at 8pm and have a watch because I can find no adjective to describe the blistering pace that is a feature of the game at this level.

We ended the training with a match and with one last heroic surge, I valiantly tried to mark my opposite number.
But I would have had more success trying to catch my own shadow as I could not get close to her so fast was she around the court and so quick was her ominous change of direction.

Like I said, "Speed Kills".

I finished the training session with a few aches and pains but I think it is my ego that will take the most time to recover as I had the obvious truth thrust upon me that there are girls who can annihilate me in physical activity.

And tremendous physical activity at that.

I never thought I would hear myself say this but I see no non-Olympic sport more worthy of a place on the programme than netball.

It is a fantastic game encompassing speed, skill, power, accuracy and finesse and I see no reason why it would not make a worthy addition to the Olympics.

Although netball will unfortunately not be featuring at the London 2012 Olympics or even the Rio 2016 Games, 2020 remains a strong possibility as up to and including Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he would like to see the most popular girl's sport in the country feature at the greatest sporting event.

In fact, TeamBath and England international Eboni Beckford-Chambers organised a facebook petition group which over 40,000 people joined to support the inclusion of netball at the Olympics Games as revealed to me that "support has come from no less than Dame Kelly Holmes, Mark Ramprakash and Cherie Blair".

And Garland told me: "Guys that I know that have come have given it a try or watch the game realise just how fast it is and how much skill is involved."

I was no exception.

So if you get the chance to watch the Superleague, make sure you do and then bang the drum for the sport's readily justifiable inclusion at the Olympic Games.

After my enlightening yet humbling experience, I certainly will.

Tom Degun is a reporter with (arcicle courtesy of Inside the Games).