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Are bad netball courts causing player injuries?

By Faith Kiai

Added 2nd September 2020 09:56 PM

The lack of quality Netball courts has forced many clubs into training on the tarmac which has alarming repercussions on players' knees and ankles through injuries that with a better training surface could be avoided.

Are bad netball courts causing player injuries?

Netball players in action . File photo

The lack of quality Netball courts has forced many clubs into training on the tarmac which has alarming repercussions on players' knees and ankles through injuries that with a better training surface could be avoided.

When Elizabeth Atonet tore her anterior cruciate ligaments in 2015 during a national team training, a new reality had struck women's netball in Uganda.

Just like that she had met a horrible and horrendous end on the injury spectrum playing on a surface that was not right for the game. Atonet a marauding wing defence was looking to intercept the ball from another player which led to a collision and in an attempt to break her fall caused her injury to happen.

As if that was not enough it was months before she received the right treatment. It took a media campaign from the New Vision to compel the likes of the National Council of Sports (NCS) to help with a treatment from CoRSU hospital where she was treated and rehabilitated.

"After requesting for financial assistance from the public it was the National Council of sports that came out to help, me. Before I got the injury we didn't have specialists in such injuries but after that, the association started hiring specialists. My wish is that the association can provide playgrounds that favour us because the ones we use don't," the now-retired Atonet said.

 To this day, not a lot has changed in terms of playing surface options and even more, players are plagued by knee and ankle injuries which is forcing them out of the game slowly but surely.

The lack of quality Netball courts has forced many clubs into training on the tarmac which has alarming repercussions on players' knees and ankles through injuries that with a better training surface could have been avoided.

In a nutshell, training on such courts serves only to expose netball players to tissue damage which is dangerous on a daily let alone over a while.

"When playing netball the players continually accelerate- decelerate, jump, and land in an attempt to receive a pass. This gradually exposes the players to injuries in lowers limbs frequently the ankle joints and knee joints although most knee joints account for the most disabling injuries if not managed well," said Norman Stephen a specialist Physiotherapist with Fitness Health Nutrition Sports (FHNS) clinic Mukono.

A good number of netball players are playing through injuries because they think it's normal but along the way, they will add up and affect them long after they stop playing.
"Most netball players have developed knee injuries because they land on hard courts and these tissues get issues. Of course, when players get them they learn to ignore the pain and take care of them on there own. We all learn to put it at the back of our minds because when you don't play it becomes hard," former She Cranes player Florence Amono said.

Research studies indicate that when a netball player jumps to catch a ball propelled 20 cm above their head, upon landing there is a reaction force that arises from the ground ( ground reaction force) and it is 5.2 times the bodyweight when they poorly land on their heel and 5.7 times when they land on their toes.

It's for the above reasons that Norman discourages training on hard surfaces because it can result in over-use injuries in joints hence micro-traumas to the joint cartilages in the knees and causing possible meniscus injuries.

In essence one wrong move by any player could result in a world of pain.

Uganda Netball Federation president Susan Anek is of the view that the sport is in urgent need of courts but it's dependent on finances to enable them to acquire land to build the courts.

"Unfortunately, we do not have good Netball courts in Uganda. A few years ago England had offered us one but we did not have where to put it so they gave it away. We have been offered another one from South Africa but all we need is a place where we can fix it which means we have to find ways big securing land for a court. At the moment the only available court is the Makerere Arena, it's a place where we could play some games but we know that it could be overbooked when it's ready and done," Anek said.
The arena was constructed for the FISU World University Netball championships but is yet to be completed.

Construction on the indoor facility had hit a snug but Makerere University sports tutor Peninah Kabenge explains that work is still in progress to complete the arena.

"We resumed construction earlier this year a few changes were made in terms of sitting, the stadium is now a 3000 capacity stadium. Currently, we're working on finishing chairs and scoreboards among others. We believe the facility is good enough to host all indoor games which include netball volleyball, basketball, badminton table tennis, and many others. Due to the current conditions construction has slowed down but hopefully, it can open by the end of the year," Kabenge explained.

 Seeing as the facilities are few the best way to avoid injury according to Norman would be to encourage players to train on different surfaces thereby reducing the need for using multiple training shoes which is also a potential for causing injury.

Players need to constantly practice landing skills while catching the ball to develop a good kinesthetic sense of where the body particularly the lower limbs are positioned for ground impact.

Since the situation on the courts will not change soon, athletes are encouraged to get shoes that support the foot on landing to assist in absorbing the ground reaction forces and also have a frictional characteristic of slip and grip related to the surface where training and playing most commonly take place.

"We encourage proper conditioning programs that focus on joint and muscle strengthening such as the FIFA 11 plus warm-up program should be initiated to reduce the risk for overuse injuries," Norman advised.

The only way to prevent all these injuries is to see to it that appropriate playing arenas that don't expose Athletes to too much tissue damage throughout their careers are built. This will keep them in the game for a longer period and also be useful to the clubs, country, and the entire sport.

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