The Centre Pass

Friday 7th June marks the official opening of the Robin Dyer Centre, a development that will provide indoor facilities for cricket, tennis and, for the first time, a showcase court for netball. The timing of this could not be better. This July, England will host the Netball World Cup and netball fever will surely take hold, just as it did last summer…

There was just one second left on the clock when 23-year-old Helen Housby stepped forward to take a last shot at goal. England needed just one goal to win. This was April 2018 and I, like many people around the country, had tuned in to watch the England netball team take on netballing giants, Australia, in the final of the Commonwealth Games. I was on the edge of my seat; I had been gripped as the game swung one way, and then the other. As Housby’s ball went in, and the final whistle blew, there was something in the commentator’s voice: a sense of utter joy, a recognition that this was something special, both a special moment for netball, and for the profile of women’s sport. But my abiding memory of that match was not of that final shot; what came through clearly during the match and in the commentary was that this victory was all about team. It was about coming together, about commitment, about synergy, about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The phrase, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, coined by Aristotle and oft quoted by me, has emerged as something of a theme at Wellington over the last fortnight. The week before last saw a visit from Olympic gold medallist Sally Gunnell, who touched on the same truth and reminded us that, even in individual sports, success largely depends on those around us.

Sally’s explanation of how she went from 5th place in the Olympic 400m hurdles final in Seoul, to winning a gold medal in Barcelona four years later was simple: she built a team. She gathered nutritionists, Pilates instructors, sports psychologists, and sleep specialists and, like the victory of the England netballers, winning gold was the culmination of a huge team effort. And, as Sally admitted, this team, like all great teams, was greater than the sum of its parts. In Sally’s words, there were athletes running in that final who were “faster” than her, individuals who were “stronger” than her, but she had a strength that, on the day, was unrivalled, fuelled as it was by collaboration and collective endeavour.

In assembly this week, we were delighted to welcome Sally Jones, a journalist who, it just so happens, covered Sally Gunnell’s story in both Seoul and Barcelona. Sally took us on an entertaining journey through the sporting triumphs of her youth (where she had gained national titles in Real Tennis and captained Oxford University in no less than three sports) to her early days at the BBC, where she became the first female networked sports presenter. Among many amusing anecdotes, Sally reminded us of the importance of looking beyond ourselves, something that, as she acknowledged, is increasingly difficult to do in the solipsistic world of social media. That cruel put-down, “It’s not all about you,” actually rings true.

It is not all about us.

Like the netball player who grips the ball at the start of the game, we may start with ourselves but, to make any progress, we need to look to others. In netball, players are given only three seconds to make a pass after catching the ball, a rule that makes the game entertaining to watch and exciting to play. The same is true of life: the more personal connections we make, the more rewarding the experience, the more likely our chance of success.

So, my advice is this: from the centre pass, look for your teammates, and don’t forget to be in support when they are looking for you.

Netaball Superleague Grand Final: Today, 5.15pm, Sky Sports

While we are on the topic of netball, today is the Superleague Grand Final, in which Wasps will take on Manchester Thunder. This is the biggest final for domestic netball in this country and we will be cheering on two members of the Wellington teaching staff. Tune in to Sky Sports Mix to watch Art Teacher, Amy Flanagan, on court and Head of Psychology, Sophia Candappa, coaching and supporting her team.


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