I had never heard of netball until I moved to Japan. It's a popular school sport for girls growing up in the U.K. and Australia and New Zealand, and here in Tokyo, expats from these countries get together every Wednesday night to play. I joined in a year ago on a lark -- I was the only American until a 20-something basketball player from St. Louis started turning up -- and now I'm a national champion. Oh yes. It's true.
At the 11th annual Japan Netball Championship held last October (2009), my team, Tokyo Netball, for whom I played Wing Defense, won 1st place. Each team member received a Japan Netball lapel pin and a wreath of twigs and dried flowers.
This year's event was at a big gymnasium at the University of Tsukuba, in Otsuka, in Bunkyo-ku. There were eight teams competing. We gaijin had enough people to enter two teams; Tokyo Netball B took 1st to hold onto the title. Tokyo Netball A finished in third place.
Our players were randomly assigned, and though our B team dominated throughout the day, our game against each other was no blow out -- we were tied 6-6 at the final buzzer and had to go into overtime. (the B's -- the ladies in the gold bibs -- ultimately won 7-6.)
I posted this video clip featuring some of the day's action. Watch it and you'll see that in netball there's no dribbling, and when you get the ball, you have to stop where you are and get rid of it in three seconds. You can't shoot or score a goal unless you're playing one of two offensive positions. For the others, it's like a game of catch, or keep away (I oversimplify, but you get the idea). It's supposed to be no-contact, but bumping and crashing and tripping is known to occur. Put the ball through the net to get a point. That's the gist anyway. For a full explanation and history, click here.
I mostly played Wing Attack for the A side. Basically my job was to help ferry the ball from our defensive end to the shooters. It's basically a mid-court position.
At halftime, I pass the WA bib to Kanako and pick up my camera. Lu, our formidable Center, talks strategy.
Someone suggested we try an unsmiling cross-armed rugger's pose for our team photo, but we weren't feeling very serious.
More than half of the A team hails from the U.K., but we also had a South African, a Samoan, a Japanese, an Australian and an American (me -- 6th from the left). I'm guessing the age range represented here is early 20s to early 40s. I can't be sure, but the Japanese teams seemed almost entirely made up of university students.
While I was certainly at the upper end of the age spectrum, it's didn't matter, of course, and I have to say it's nice to be involved in something where my being a mother is totally irrelevant.
At the start of our first game, against "Rizen" -- the team that eventually took 2nd place and the first of only two games our A team lost that day -- the umpire called for a rock-paper-scissors to decide who would get the starting pass. I'm not sure how this happened but I ended up doing the honors. Fortunately, having seen my boys play this game countless times, I knew what to do. "Sai sho wa gu, a jan ken pon!" I said, and threw down scissors. So did the other girl. A tie. Again, my boys had trained me well. After two more fist pumps and an "Ai ko de sho!", we threw down again. Me: scissors, Rizen: paper. Black ball!
Here we are later on in the day, playing "Dream Tago" ...