Breaking sporting barriers to achieve netball excellence

Posted: May 18, 2021

Across the country, we’ve seen a noticeable gap between men and women in sports. This is attributed to a combination of practical and emotional factors, such as fear of judgement, lack of time or low confidence.

According to Sport England, 39% of women aged 16 and over are not active enough to get the full health benefits of sport and physical activity, compared to 35% of men.

One ambitious local sports organisation helping to bridge this gap is the Leeds Rhinos Netball team. At Leeds City College, we’ve partnered with the team in a bid to inspire more young people, especially women, into sport. 

First team professional, Rhea Dixon, sheds light on her journey in the sports industry.

Ahead of the game

Rhea developed a keen interest in netball from a young age, after regular visits to the club with her mum.

“I decided to pursue netball as a career because I love pushing myself to be the best I can be. Although it’s physically challenging, I enjoy the thrill of motivating myself to constantly achieve better. My love for the game has allowed me to continue playing Superleague netball since 2017.

“The intensity, physicality and comradery are what I love most about netball. I train six days a week, which often involves gym sessions, court practice, extra conditioning and specific shooting lessons.

“When I was younger, I found it difficult to balance school work and sport; I had to prioritise and make sacrifices. This often meant I would miss out on social events with friends, but it did mean I got to spend time doing what I loved with my netball friends.”

Bridging the gap

Although women’s involvement in sports is increasing, more needs to be done to inspire young females to pursue sporting careers.

“Being a woman has meant that people take me less seriously as a female athlete. I feel that this is due to the lack of funding compared to male-dominated sports in England, such as football. However, it’s important to not let this dishearten you – if you want to make a career out of it, it’s entirely possible.

“I admire so many female athletes, especially those who have spent time away from sport to have children and come back again. They have to work twice as hard to get back into fitness, let alone having to balance family life too. 

“It’s important for young people to have these female role models, so they can demonstrate that it is possible to break the sporting barriers and achieve success.”

Challenging times

The pandemic meant that Rhea, along with her fellow teammates, had to take a break from netball.

“The various lockdowns meant that we had to take time away from netball, which was incredibly difficult as we usually have a set weekly schedule. 

“I had to find other ways of keeping fit, so I started doing home workouts, runs and cycle rides. I also got a full-time job working night shifts in a bakery, which gave me insight into a completely different industry!

“The team offers such a solid support system during difficult times. There’s a real diverse group of players from different walks of life. During the pandemic, we always looked out for each other by catching up over the phone or going for walks. Having strong, inspirational women surrounding me has been fundamental to my wellbeing and dedication.”

Best foot forward

By making a career out of netball, Rhea hopes to inspire young people to achieve their sporting goals. 

“When pursuing a career in sport, it’s likely that you’ll face obstacles. I’ve often felt demotivated when I’ve not been selected for a team, but I have used these situations as a learning curve. I aim to constantly improve by asking for feedback, so I can work on my weaknesses and develop my strengths.

“I’d advise any young person who’s keen to get into the sports industry to push themselves to work harder and achieve more. 

“In order to encourage more diversity within the sector, more fun sports opportunities should be provided within education. This way, students won’t feel pressure to perform, giving them the chance to enjoy it and find their passion.”

As part of a wider partnership with Leeds Rhinos Foundation, Leeds City College runs the Leeds Rhinos Foundation Development Academy, which provides all students with the opportunity to study full-time while representing Leeds Rhinos at a post-16 level. 

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