Story: Netball

Page 1. A leading sport

All images & media in this story

Netball is New Zealand’s leading women’s sport. This fast, skilful team game is played at both a social and competitive level by females of all ages, and has become increasingly popular with boys and men. New Zealand’s national women’s netball team, the Silver Ferns, are repeat world champions and Commonwealth Games gold medallists.

How the game is played

Netball is a seven-a-side game, based on running and jumping, and throwing and catching a ball. Goals are scored at either end of the court, when the ball is thrown through an elevated hoop. Each goal is worth one point. Most top-level games are 60 minutes long, played in four quarters of 15 minutes.


Each athlete plays in a distinctly named position and wears a bib with the initial letters of that position:

  • GS – goal shoot
  • GA – goal attack
  • WA – wing attack
  • C – centre
  • WD – wing defence
  • GD – goal defence
  • GK – goal keep.

Only two players from each team – the goal shoot and goal attack – can score goals.

Zones of the court

Unlike in most other team sports, no player can score a goal single-handed. The team in possession of the ball must pass it through zones known as thirds that are marked on the rectangular court. These thirds, which are reversed for the two teams, are known as attack, mid-court and defence.

The ladies’ lineout

In May 2012 there was controversy when during a game between Auckland team the Northern Mystics and the Melbourne Vixens, the Mystics’ goal defence Anna Harrison was lifted by a teammate to block a shot at goal. This move, dubbed the ‘ladies’ lineout’ (a reference to the rugby tactic) and the ‘Harrison hoist’, was legal, but some commentators called it unfair.

No player has access to all areas of the court. The goal shoot is allowed only in the attacking third, including the shooting circle, while the goal attack can also venture into mid-court. The wing attack, who feeds the ball to the goal shoot and goal attack, can move inside the attacking and centre thirds, but not into the goal circle. The centre has the run of the court, except for the two goal circles. Wing defence, who tries to disrupt the flow of the ball through the court, is allowed inside the mid-court and defensive thirds but not the goal circle. The goal defence defends the mid-court and defence zones, and, like the goal keep, can defend against shots inside the goal circle, but the goal keep is restricted to the defensive third.


In 2012 there were over 1,000 clubs in 90 centres nationwide. Clubs had over 135,000 registered members and another 80,000 people played in social competitions. Netball was the second-largest participation sport in secondary schools, with 29,725 girls and boys involved in 2011.

Netball is traditionally a winter sport, but for elite players taking part in international test series and semi-professional club competitions, playing netball is a year-round engagement.

How to cite this page:

Suzanne McFadden, 'Netball - A leading sport', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 May 2024)

Story by Suzanne McFadden, published 5 Sep 2013, reviewed & revised 26 Aug 2020, updated 1 Jun 2023