Connection || noun || a relationship linking people or things together
Sarah Wall has a gift for connection. Netball and fitness, strength, passion and people are strands that the creative genius has woven into a business. From a fledgling beginning of fitness classes based around netball skills, NETFIT Netball now has a digital platform that supports players and coaches the world over.
Sarah’s passion for netball started after a serious knee injury sustained when she was just 14. She explained, “I loved the excitement of the bus trips with my team to country tournaments. I grew up in Camperdown, and my mum was my coach. She made us love the game by keeping it fun, using her imagination and making us believe that we were the Diamonds. But after I did my knee I couldn’t play for two years, and I think that was when I realised just how much I loved and appreciated the game.”
Sarah went on to become an elite netballer, and it was while playing for the Melbourne Vixens that she also entered the world of business. Sarah started the Jeanieboy range of netball related products, a brand that was colourful, fun and a “little bit different!”
Jeanieboy morphed into NETFIT Netball, an idea that was born through testing times and some sage words from a friend. Sarah had dealt with two knee reconstructions, and several years as a bench player, only to be cut from the Vixens at the end of 2012. She’d been combining careers in teaching and netball and, seeking a new contract elsewhere, pushed herself to the point of exhaustion in a bid to become fitter, stronger and faster. Stricken with Bell’s palsy after exhausting herself through training and work, she returned to her family home in Camperdown to recover. Tucked up in bed one night, a light bulb moment occurred.
“It was around that time I’d been given some great advice. I was told to work out what my strengths were and what my passion was. Well, my passion was netball and my strength was working with kids and people. I realised that was my genuine love, rather than creating a clothing line,” Sarah said.
“I’d also spent many years listening to people and clubs about what was really needed for netball. While I wasn’t the strongest netballer, I’d learned a lot physically and emotionally through adversity, and I felt I had something to offer. Knowledge and passion that I could share.”
Growing up in a small country town Sarah didn’t have access to high performance coaches, or any understanding of what was needed to develop her body for what can be a physically brutal sport. She said, “Back then I was running long distances around the lake or oval in Camperdown, not knowing how important explosive speed, or hops and balance and lands were for knee strength. We just didn’t have the resources available.”
Even while playing for the Vixens, there were no netball specific classes available outside of training. Like many midcourters she needed to do extra fitness sessions, and used to do Spin or BodyPump classes rather than ones tailored to her needs. Sarah said, “After doing two knees I just knew that the foundation behind my idea had to be netball specific explosive skills.”
With all those thoughts swirling around, Sarah flicked on the light, and spent the next few hours scribbling ideas as quickly as her cramping hand could manage. She laughed, “By the end of it my bedroom floor was littered with paper, but the NETFIT dream was born.”
Her very first class was at Colac, where a local netball club had asked her to run a fitness class. Sarah said, “I asked if I could trial this idea I had. We went to a gym, I plugged my iPod in to my computer and used its speakers. That’s how trial and error NETFIT was in the early days. But I knew that to be effective it had to be fun, it had to be relevant to netball, and it had to be low equipment, so it was easy to do. The netball community really got behind the idea, and it just took off through social media.”
As the business grew, other people came onboard. Laura Langman started running clinics in New Zealand, while Kim Green is involved in Australia and has also developed NETFIT Tours, which currently provides teenage netballers with the unique opportunity to experience what it’s like to be an elite netballer in an overseas destination such as Hawaii, Los Angeles, Singapore and even Bali.
It excites Sarah that people are passing their knowledge on to the next generation of netballers. She said, “The NETFIT culture is unique in that it’s not high performance based. It’s a result. Not everyone will be able to play for Australia, but if you’re healthy, happy and have a positive mind, that’s the most elite you can get.”
“For me, it’s an honour to work with anyone who’s achieved at world class level, but their hearts are more important than their status. They believe in what we’re trying to achieve, they believe in the culture. But there are benefits for them too. Exiting the sport on retirement can be lonely, so keeping yourself current, useful and working with young people is a bonus.”
While Kim Green is now Sarah’s business partner and one of her closest friends, she was an intimidating figure in earlier years. Sarah remembers, “I grew up playing against her in juniors and then at franchise level. I was in awe of her, and petrified all at the same time, because she was so good. But I got to know Kim more personally when I joined the Swifts and then later the Giants. She was such an incredible leader, but at the same time really identified with people. Her actions always speak as loudly as her words and she has such empathy. So while she has done it all in netball terms, what was more important to me was how she treated and cared about people.”
As the pair continually bounced ideas off each other, they realised they needed a better way to connect with millennial children. They were being asked the same questions by teenage girls wanting direction in netball, and in life. They were seeing them locked on to their screens and struggling to communicate with others. The kids often lacked access to the best quality information to improve their skills. And so NETFIT Netball went digital.
The NETFIT Netball online app is a netball program, tailored for players and coaches of all abilities. It includes exclusive “how to” videos and session plans, coaching tips and drills from Lisa Alexander, running, high intensity workouts, footwork and agility, yoga, meditation, nutrition and a wide range of other resources. For example, Australian Diamonds physiotherapist Alana Antcliff gives information on recovery and injury prevention, while The Athlete’s Foot gives tips on correctly fitting netball shoes.
An extraordinary wealth of knowledge is provided to support subscribers with an ongoing full year plan, while the fitness component is broken down into six week training blocks. Coaches can use the resources to run trainings for any level of competition, while players have everything they need to stay fit and healthy at home.
However, to Sarah the application is more than just a useful training tool. She said, “The thing I love the most about the app is that it’s a community, where girls are supporting each other. Social media can be a lonely and isolating world. We’re on it 24/7, so how can we use it in a more healthy, positive way? The girls signing up to NETFIT follow each other, and comment and encourage each other. It’s a safe and nurturing place for them to be.”
Lisa Alexander was so impressed with the concept that she came onboard as NETFIT Netball’s Coach Ambassador, and is featured sharing her wealth of knowledge via coaching video clips. For Lisa, the support that NETFIT can provide to grassroots netball is particularly dear to her heart.
She explained, “Our little country towns and suburbs often don’t have the level of expertise that our bigger centres might offer. So I’m passionate in wanting to share information that is both high quality and aligns with what Netball Australia is trying to teach its coaches and athletes. That means supporting the mums and dads, who often get pulled into coaching or supporting our young netballers but may not feel confident that they have the level of experience needed.”
While the NETFIT Netball application is ostensibly a tool for netballers to improve their skills and fitness, it is so much more than that. Sarah has created a product that helps people lead better lives. She said, “In this day and age, building confidence is so important. I know that when I’ve felt fit and strong, I’ve had internal confidence and I make better decisions. I want to promote an authentic sisterhood. I really want NETFIT to promote friendships, support and connect people with each other. There can be a lot of loneliness and isolation in young people, even if they seem to have others around them.”
“My big message is to make sure that we build a strong community of people that are genuinely there for each other. To lift each other up, rather than just thinking of ourselves.”
“Every day that I get up I know that I’ll never give up. If my journey has taught me anything, it’s that you can get through anything by having good people in your life.”
The NETFIT Netball app is available to download on Google Play and the App Store.
A yearly subscription to the 12-month MY NETFIT plan costs A$119 annually.
For more information on NETFIT Netball and its offerings, head to netfitnetball.com.au or follow @netfitnetball or @netfitsarah on Instagram.