Education is at the forefront of the relationship between NetballSmart and the long-running Aotearoa Māori Netball Oranga Healthy Lifestyle (AMNOHL) tournament.

The annual tournament – which promotes healthy lifestyles for Māori women and girls – returned to the courts after a three-year break due to Covid-19 in Palmerston North in April, where they partnered with the injury prevention programme of Netball New Zealand.

NetballSmart consultant and former Silver Ferns physiotherapist Sharon Kearney said their main message at the tournament was around education on the philosophy of their programme and to also provide an injury management clinic at the three-day event.

“We’ve been involved with AMNOHL for two or three years, but this is the first time we’ve provided an injury management service – that was our Koha to AMNOHL,” she said.  “We were able to be onsite to provide an injury management service, and it also provided the opportunity for us to educate.”

Kearney said going to tournaments like AMNOHL gave them a “bit of a barometer” to see how the NetballSmart programme was being received and utilised and where they needed to channel their focus.

“It’s great because we can see where our engagement’s gone.  If you go to a tournament and see a significant percentage of the teams doing a NetballSmart Dynamic Warm-up, warming up in the way we think they should from a performance enhancement and  injury prevention perspective – you know that NetballSmart has actually started to have an impact,” she said.

“We often discuss NetballSmart depth – we can work with the ANZ Premiership players and promote elements of the NetballSmart strategies but depth is when an U13 team from anywhere in Aotearoa does the NetballSmart warm-up or elements of it.  That’s when we know we are getting through.”

AMNOHL organiser and past player Ashleigh Kate Araroa-Waerea said they were delighted to have NetballSmart on board to deliver those important messages on injury prevention.

“There were some activation stations that really showed the purpose of NetballSmart and maybe the important parts of the sport that we don’t always see.  In the bigger picture, it was nice to see how coaches and teams are using NetballSmart to enhance their own players and their own knowledge and show just how much we’ve grown.”

Araroa-Waerea – who played in the tournament as a teenager before becoming involved as a coach and committee member – said AMNOHL was first introduced to promote healthy lifestyles for Māori women and was now in its 33rd year attracting 40 teams from 10 regions around the country to compete in U13, U15, U17, U19 and Premier grades.

“At the time when they first started, the health rates for Māori women were quite poor with cardiovascular, diabetes and most of them were smokers – being that they were the main carriers of the future generation they wanted to find a way to support them to be healthier and live longer.

“As it’s evolved, performance wise a lot of our players have gone on to New Zealand Secondary Schools, NZU21s or even the Silver Ferns.  But the cool thing about AMNOHL is that it’s different to mainstream competition.”

The chance to utilise Māori tikanga practices made the difference, Araroa-Waerea said, including a pōwhiri, march passes of the teams and encouraging Māori looking after Māori.

“This year felt a bit more special,” she said.  “Because we haven’t had it the last three years, just being amongst it again, it felt so nice.  We may have taken it for granted in the past but being back was exciting for everyone.  It gets better each year.”