What’s Good for Them, Maybe Good for Us: Physical Differences of Youth Netball Players Across Age Categories and Playing Positions.

Introduction Authors have recently outlined the significant differences in activity profiles and movement demands across playing positions in youth netball (van Gogh et al., 2020). In addition, Smith and colleagues (2020) identified high injury rates in community level netball, with lower limb injuries most common. Finally, authors suggest injury prevention strategies should mirror the positional demands of netball (McNamus et al., 2005), while injury incidence is greater in more junior compared to senior age categories (Sinclair et al., 2020). As such, the aim of this study is to explore the differences in physical qualities between junior vs senior and attackers vs defenders in youth netball across a range of assessments associated to injury risk of the lower extremity (Read et al., 2016). It is hoped the findings of this study provide netball coaches and physical training practitioners with the opportunity to consider a bespoke and targeted approach to reducing injury risk in youth netball.

Methodology 53 youth netball players were recruited for the study. Participants ranged from 13-18 years of age and were assigned as an attacker or defender based on their most common playing position and junior or senior based on their school year. In line with the injury risk factor hierarchical model as proposed by Read et al. (2016), four physical assessments were chosen to assess the difference in performance between junior vs senior and attackers vs defenders for tasks related to lower extremity injury risk. The assessments were the single leg riser, anterior reach, horizontal hop and lateral trunk hold. All assessments were administered by a qualified physical training practitioner. Following familiarisation, participants complete the single leg riser and lateral trunk hold for one maximal effort. For the anterior reach and horizontal hop assessments, participants completed three tests with the average of the three used for analysis.

Results In order to compare performance between age categories and playing positions an independent samples t-test was conducted. For the single leg riser, anterior reach and horizontal hop, tests were not found to be statistically significant between junior vs senior netballers (p < 0.05). For anterior reach and horizontal hop, tests were not found to be statistically significant between attackers and defenders (p < 0.05). For the single leg riser and lateral trunk hold, the test was not found to be statistically significant between attackers and defenders for the left leg but was statistically significant for the right leg (p < 0.05), with the attackers performing better with moderate practical significance compared to the defenders. For the lateral trunk hold, the test was not found to be statistically significant between junior vs senior netballers for the left side but was statistically significant for the right side (p < 0.05). The test was also not found to be statistically significant between attackers and defenders for the right side but was statistically significant for the left side (p < 0.05).

Practical Applications These results provide a novel insight into the physical differences between junior vs senior youth netball players and attackers vs defenders in a series of applied lower extremity and trunk physical assessments. These results suggest that there may be little difference in the lower extremity strength, explosive strength, proprioception and trunk strength of youth netballers across divergent age categories and playing positions. Authors have previously highlighted the importance of developing such qualities for improving the physical preparedness of netball players (Barnes et al., 2020), whilst a bespoke and tailored injury prevention programme has been promoted (McNamus et al., 2005). Given the findings of this study, physical training practitioners may be warranted in ensuring a holistic and general physical preparation programme is implemented with youth netball players to reduce the risk of lower extremity injuries, irrelevant of age or playing position. It is advised that such physical preparation considers the physical demands of netball as outlined previously (van Gogh et al., 2020) given the high risk of low extremity injuries in this sport.

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