Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Ok, so we were all very excited when England Netball finally announced that we can return to training and playing netball - albeit a modified version.
So in our first training session where we tried to implement the new rules and it threw up a few questions. I have also seen a lot of talk on social media about the new rules and I think there is some confusion as well as some valid questions. I am going to outline the main questions and misunderstanding below. Please note, I do not work for England Netball and I am only interpreting the new rules based on what I have read and watched. If you are an official it is a good idea to watch the videos below, read the guidance and attend the zoom sessions that SCNA have set up for officials.
An introduction to Stage 4 Netball: https://youtu.be/PWehcDeTh_A
Stage 4 modified Netball explainer: https://youtu.be/JNSJx4U8M58
So in summary the new rules for game play are:
- 4ft spacing at the start of play
- 4ft marking
- 4ft position of penalised player
- Removal of toss ups
- Removal of idle interactions
(please note there are separate COVID guidelines and protocols that all clubs must follow)
Before we go into detail, it's worth mentioning that while it does seem frustrating that other sports are continuing as normal we have to remember that netball is unique in nature when it comes to stationary marking (the person with the ball) which is (usually) face to face and lasts up to 3 seconds. Other sports such as football have close marking but they are continually moving and not standing face to face for more than a second. In addition when players are idle in netball they naturally will stand close to their opposition. Again this is not something we really see in other games, and the large playing fields of rugby and football and lack of face to face contact with the exception of the scrum (which has been modified) mean that their risk of transmission is much lower. Finally, netball is usually considered an indoor sport even though I know, most community netball is still played outdoors in England, I'm guessing they have to reduce the risk indoors and it would be too confusing to have different rules.
So - below I will discuss the modified rules and some of the questions / misunderstandings:
So we have to be 4ft away from our players all the time?
NO. This is incorrect and wouldn't be a very fun game. My understanding of the modified game is that you can contest the ball and man mark when moving and involved in game play in exactly the same way as you can in a standard game of netball.
As a GK I have to be 4ft from my player until the ball is thrown to the GS in the circle?
Again, this is not quite right. At the start of play you need to be 4ft from your opposition and inside the D. Once the whistle blows if the ball is moving towards your end of the court and the GS starts to set up in an attacking position the GK is allowed to mark them. It isn't completely clear cut - if you're standing face onto your player trying to block them or push them out of the D this probably isn't going to be considered to be within the spirit of the modified game and I suspect an umpire would have a word with the defending player. However if you're moving on your toes around your player trying to put off the feeder then that is fine. As soon as the GS receives the ball, the defender needs to move 4ft away, in exactly the same way they would have moved 3ft away in the standard game.
If the C pass is going the other way and the GS and GK are stationary "having a chat" they can still do this but they must be 4ft away from each other.
I'm a WD, this is so boring that I can't mark my player on a C pass - that's my main job!
I hear you WDs! But this also isn't quite right. Yes, you have to be 4ft away at the start of play, but the second the whistle is blown you can mark your player in the same way as a standard game. We tried some C passes at training and actually they didn't feel that different - particularly if the opposing C is marking the WA / GA rather than the other C. Although the defenders have to be further away initially, the attacking players will feel more "zoned" and feel like they have less space to move into. This might actually turn out to be one of those things that by marking off the body the defenders find they can get more interceptions... Also WDs, focus on that interception in the second phase of the game!
So on the edge of the D you have to be 4ft away all the time?
Again this isn't quite right. You are allowed to mark your player if say the GA is passing out to them from inside the D. The advice from Collette Thomas is that you're better off moving around your player to try and put off the GA passing to them rather than just standing on one side of the player, leaving the other side open. So again, the key is to keep moving! If the ball goes off the back line and takes a while to get back, or the GS sets up to take a shot this is when you should step away from your player to ensure the 4ft rule is acknowledged.
Players aren't allowed to step in then, as this would mean that they're less than 4ft away?
In the video the answer to this is really if you're a GS or GA taking a shot and your opposition have to be 4ft away why would you step in as you'll have a clear line of site to the post. They also felt that stepping in you would be increasing the risk of transmission and therefore if a shooter steps in they will be asked to move back again. If a shooter was consistently doing this it is likely that the umpire may issue warnings and eventually use game management rules to turnover the ball etc. In terms of taking a step outside the D, some players do this to keep their momentum - a running step. I think this is fine and completely within the spirit of the game as you're moving, so the interaction would be fleeting and marking could continue as normal. In an Umpiring forum someone asked if you could step in if there was no one marking and the answer was yes, you can step in if there's no one there.
So no more toss ups?
Correct. No more toss ups. I can't actually remember the last time a toss up was used in a match I played. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end of the toss up?
So if a penalised player has to be 4ft away I can't take a step in front of them to block them if I'm taking the penalty pass?
Yes, this is the case as they have to be 4ft away. Although this is a change it isn't going to make a massive difference to the game in my opinion.
If I've set up on the transverse line in case my team need to reset the ball to me, my opposing player should be 4ft away from me?
Yes I would argue that if you're stationary for more than a second or so you should be 4ft away from each other. As play can go on for a number of minutes without the ball being reset I think the players should space themselves 4ft away. If a defender sees a WA turn to look to reset the ball I would argue that at that point they can move back within 4ft to try and stop the player receiving the pass. It's probably still a good idea to keep moving around your player though rather than standing still.
Other rules: There are also a number of COVID rules that are for match set up and training, such as social distancing during breaks and not sharing bibs so please do have a look at the England guidelines to make sure you're following all the rules.
Netball organisations and COVID-19 officers: https://www.englandnetball.co.uk/riseagain/covid-19-care-package/stage-4-covid-19-care-package/netball-organisations-and-covid-19-officers/
Coaches and hosts:
This blog article is meant to give my interpretation of the new modified rules and to promote some discussion. It will be updated if there is more clarification from SCNA / England Netball. Please don't take it as gospel but I hope it creates some debate within your club so that we can all work towards a common approach.