This episode Joan discusses the importance of netball to her when growing up in Namibia before their independence, the challenges she has faced, playing for Namibia’s first ever national netball team, and what her role entails now at World Netball developing the Africa region.
In the open and honest chat, Joan starts by saying: “I grew up in the former South West Africa, which was then regarded as a province of South Africa.
“Being mixed race and growing up in an apartheid system I was then regarded as black and we didn’t have many privileges.
“We were not allowed to a swimming pool, we were not allowed to a tennis court and so the easiest sport for girls was netball and for boys was football.
“You don’t really need a netball court to play netball, you can do your own netball court, you can do your own posts, and you can do your own balls and this is how we did it.
“I grew up in a big family, so we were eight sisters…after school when we got home, we had these wide-open streets, of course gravel, but that didn’t matter to us, as long as we could play.
“And, to be honest with you we grew up as happy children and netball for us was the only sport that we knew and at the time was fun, and as long as we as sisters could play with one another that was absolutely the coolest thing.”
Joan then had to go through many different challenges when wanting to play netball, get an education and start work which she explains in the podcast, before going on to tell us how her and two of her sisters eventually went on to represent Namibia in their first ever netball team, following the countries independence, at the 1991 Sydney World Championships.
Recalling that moment Joan said: “I was extremely honoured to be appointed as captain for the team and I will never forget, it was a totally unknown world to us.”
Since then, Joan has continued to help grow netball in Africa and after joining World Netball in 2008 has worked on many development projects at elite and grassroots levels.
Joan has helped the number of world ranked countries in Africa increase from 3 to 10 (as of 12th August 2022), and has also been a significant part of key grassroots projects such as World Netball ‘Netball Safaris’ and the Netball World Cup 2019 legacy project ‘Net2019’.
The Net2019 legacy project was set up to ‘empower women and girls through the power of netball and legacy of the Netball World Cup 2019’ and one of the two countries chosen as a focus for this was Zambia in Africa.
Speaking on the success of the Net2019 project, Joan said: “I get goosebumps when I think about 2019, and where we (World Netball) started with England Netball and UK Sport.
“At World Netball we rolled out the programme exactly how we knew it would make a big impact.
“We concentrated on building netball at the grassroot level, we concentrated on high performance, and we concentrated on the governance structures in Zambia.
“One of the most amazing things that we created through a partnership with the Wallace Group and Sport in Action (a Non-Governmental Organisation in Zambia) was the creation of the hub sites, and these hub sites were created in the poorest communities in Zambia, where we would identify an open space, make a netball court, a gravel netball court with netball posts, netball balls, sponsored by Gilbert, and then play netball in those rural and very poor areas.”
These hub sites are now engaging with over 8,000 children under 16 and have trained over 200 coaches nationwide.Helping create them was a full circle moment for Joan, who also started playing netball on a gravel court when she was growing up.
When asked how this made her feel, Joan said: “To hear all those boys and girls, laugh and to see how they run and how happy they are, I think that is the most rewarding of it all for me.”
To find out more about Joan Smit and her journey in netball, the challenges she faced and her thoughts on the up-and-coming Netball World Cup in South Africa, listen to Episode 3 of the Our Netball Family podcast now, available on Apple Podcasts, Podbean and Google Podcasts.
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If you want to find out more about the NET2019 project in Zambia, you can read the full case study here.