women playing netball

There is a lot happening around the world for disability netball, and Sport England's campaign 'This Girl Can' is a great example of how netball can be inclusive of anyone!

This Girl Can is a sassy celebration of women everywhere, no matter how they exercise, how they look, or how sweaty they get. The national charity, the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) is supporting This Girl Can to ensure more women with disabilities can get involved in the campaign.

Sport England recently published their Active People Survey. It showed that 121,700 fewer people with disabilites and 125,000 fewer women are regularly taking part in sport. EFDS believes that the results reinforce the importance of understanding and responding to disabled people’s needs and preferences much more effectively.

Campaigns like This Girl Can will play an important role in increasing the numbers of all active women, especially those living with impairments and health conditions.

Olive Lycett has always been very active but recently joined, and now helps to run, Dangerous Hands, a deaf netball team in London.

“I used to play the sport at school, but having left I found there just weren’t enough opportunities,” she says.

"Dangerous Hands were supposed to fold really last winter, but I was determined to play more and everybody reluctantly agreed! I made everybody carry on!”

An independent mental health advocate in a secure unit by day, most evenings Olive Lycett can be found heading to her local gym or swimming pool.

But the veteran of four marathons recently rediscovered her love of team sports, following an impromptu match at work.

“I played basketball with a couple of patients at the hospital where I work, and I really enjoyed it and it occurred to me that I’d quite like to get back into playing netball,” she tells EFDS.

“And that just happened to coincide with, locally, a deaf netball team setting themselves up and there we are. They were looking for more players, and I volunteered to play.

“Prior to starting with Dangerous Hands in September, the last time I played was 12 years ago. That was it, until just last year.”

Now Olive had become an intrinsic part of the Hands setup, a club for deaf players.

They compete in a league in north London, and the competition organisers have had to make allowances for the needs of the team.

“The netball league are learning how to cope with us, and the referees have learned how to adapt to meet our needs.

“We need to build up that relationship, that understanding, with other teams and the officials. We don’t play in a deaf league – everyone else is hearing.”

Olive is deaf, and has been from birth. She's married to a deaf husband and her parents are also deaf, as are two of her four children.

While her impairment has not prevented her from participating in sport and physical activity, she does understand why fewer disabled people than non-disabled people are physically active.

“There’s a euphoria involved in exercise. Deaf people have lots of barriers in everyday life, so it’s nice to go for a run and let it all go, let off steam. It feels good afterwards. That’s why I’ve always done it.

“And exercise is good for my children’s wellbeing. If they are not active they just stay at home and do nothing. My two daughters ride horses, my son plays golf and my other daughter enjoys ballet.”

Their mother sets an example, not only to her children but to the younger members of Dangerous Hands.

"I am the grandmother of my netball team at 43.

“You know the advert on telly about the Duracell bunny rabbit, who runs on batteries? That’s my nickname, because I run around like a headless chicken all over the court all of the time.

“That, plus I’m also a little bit crazy. I love running around and having fun with everyone else.” It’s that group participation, that camaraderie, that Olive particularly relishes.

"It’s nice to be sociable with the girls, to have fun with a group of people. It’s quite rare for deaf people to have these sorts of opportunities,” she says.

“I go to the gym on my own and I do that for myself. But netball, playing in a league, is all about our team spirit. On the court, and also in the pub afterwards. We all socialise together and hopefully next year we’ll manage to organise a deaf tournament in London, to bring together girls from all over the UK.”

Olive says she has already had expressions of interest posted on the Hands’ Facebook page.

Netball is a sport still predominantly played by women. Olive has seen, and enjoys, the This Girl Can campaign, which is encouraging more women to play sport or be otherwise physically active. And she says she understands the barriers women often face when it comes to taking up exercise.

“I do think women need that extra push to get active, because it can be a male world. If you go to the gym there can be a lot of men with weights and as a girl, if you’re a newcomer, you’re not really sure what to do.

“And if you’re disabled that’s an extra barrier, because you have to ask for help and you feel even more of a fool in front of all these rippling muscles.

“This Girl Can is fabulous, absolutely fabulous. It’s great, because it shows anybody can do it, even if you have a fat belly or a wiggly bum.

"Exercise is for everyone, and there’s nothing stopping you from joining in.”

*Article and photo provided by English Federation of Disability Sport