It's fair to say the sport of netball is akin to a rites of passage for hundreds of thousands of Australian girls. It's as bloody Australian as the bloody beach, the bloody barbecue and bloody rugby league (I'm writing this in bloody NSW).
Where we live, netball is a Saturday morning ritual during winter. The local netball association is manned by volunteers who are passionate about the game. They're a bunch of officious old girls decked out in satin-shine white trackie daks with a dashing purple stripe down the outside arm and leg. They wear blindingly-white runners, carry clip boards and go to the same hairdresser. Think 1960s perms with red rinse. Think Stepford netball ladies.
But really, they're wonderful. I wish I was that passionate about anything. These women live for Saturday and with it the sight of thousands of girls in their club uniforms and the sounds of scuffing runners on 30 all-weather hard courts, the continual bleet of umpires' whistles and the cries of jubilation or despair as games are won or lost.
My youngest daughter Miss Hissy (aka The Hiss) plays in a division 3 team in the role of either wing defence or goal defence. For those of you unfamiliar with netball there are three rules* you need to know (let's keep it simple): 1. when a player catches the ball she can only take 1.5 steps before throwing it to another player on her team 2. a player can hold on to the ball for no longer than three seconds before getting rid of it 3. no contact.
The idea is that the team of seven gets the ball into their goal circle, where the two goal shooters (goal shooter and goal attack) attempt to shoot it through the goal-post ring.
Today The Hiss and her team Motley Crew (the MCs) played for a place in the grand final against another team angling for the same prize. Let's call the other team Systemic Catholic Girls' (SCGs) - I'm not trying to be nasty, I just can't help it.
The MCs and SCGs had played each other last week, where it all got a little bit out of hand with accusations of aggressive behaviour flying from both sides. The MCs won the game by a whisker.
This week tension was high on court 7. The Hiss was to spend the third quarter sitting it out (there's four 15 minute quarters). But in the second quarter, when the game was tighter than Spanner's hip pocket, she choked!
For those of you unfamiliar with the Aussie vernacular, "to choke" means to cave in under pressure. The Hiss fell over after she and her opposition player collided. It wasn't a heavy fall and she bounced back onto her feet with the team and parents calling out encouragement. But it was all too much for the Hiss who came off sobbing into my arms.
Concerned and loving mother: What's wrong with you?
The Hiss (imagine really hard sobbing): It's... it's... it's... the hormones.
Concerned and loving mother: Don't be ridiculous.
The Hiss: She tripped me.
Concerned and loving mother: No she didn't. It was an accident.
The Hiss (showing me the grazed palms of her hands): Look.
Concerned and loving mother: They're not even bleeding.
And so on and so forth.
After this exchange, The Hiss managed to stop hyperventilating and went on to play the final half of the game.And we won! Not that I'm taking any credit for my tough love approach but she played like she was on fire. Must've been the hormones.
The win takes the MCs into the grand final in a fortnight, where they may end up facing the SCGs in the battle for first place in division three of the local Saturday comp**.
Let's hope The Hiss can keep her hormones in check and avoid the choke.
*Of course, there are other rules I haven't talked about, many of them a mystery to me.
**I'm just putting the whole thing into perspective.
The photo is of elite netball players, who play the game indoors.