A ground-breaking resource called - SmartHealth – has been applauded by the Netball and wider New Zealand sporting community for its focus on adolescent female health and development.

Developed by physiotherapist Kylie Cox (NNZ Secondary School Physiotherapist) as part of the NetballSmart injury prevention programme, the 32-page handbook and supporting fact sheets, aims to educate players, coaches, support staff and whanau on female player health. It also provides guidance on how to recognise signs in players who may need help and where to find support.

“The NetballSmart programme is all about preventing injuries and improving performance. We see a lot of lower limb musculo-skeletal injuries in Netball, namely ankle, shin, knee and stress fractures often in conjunction with high workloads and low energy levels. We know the risk of these injuries are greater in females, and in the younger age bracket – and that got us thinking further about the overall health of the female player.

“The research done on this topic show links between the hormone profile of females and the specific injuries we are trying to prevent – and ultimately SmartHealth aims to address this,” said Cox, who did her Masters thesis on the knowledge young players had of the links between their menstrual cycle, health markers and ultimately, their performance.

SmartHealth provides information and practical tips on topics such as puberty, healthy menstrual cycles and its positive effect on female athlete health, energy demands, RED-S, and on how to best support a female players mental and physical well-being.

“Anecdotally, we hear that so many females do not understand their own menstrual cycle how that interacts with bone health, nutrition, injury and health risks,” said Cox.

“Our adolescents are being asked to do more and more with their bodies – in sport, academic and extra-curricular activities and that places a huge energy toll on the young, growing body. With education and knowledge of what is “normal”, players can have honest conversations with whānau or coaches, setting up good systems and habits for success. That’s empowering and positive for players,” says Cox.  

She warns there can be some serious consequences further down the track if we don’t have these conversations – both physically and mentally – not just in terms of a player’s performance on the court, but their health generally.

“It’s a critical topic – and to now be in a position where we can educate players and those people supporting them, I believe is transformational. We owe it to this next generation of female athletes to share what we know and support them in their sporting journey,” said Netball New Zealand’s Lead Physiotherapist and NetballSmart Consultant Sharon Kearney.

The resources are free to download here. Netball New Zealand’s NetballSmart Development Officers are also planning to hold face-to-face SmartHealth workshops during the 2023 netball season.