An Evaluation of the NetballSmart Dynamic Warm-up in Youth Netball
Netball is a popular, physically demanding female sport with a high risk of lower limb injury, particularly to the ankle and knee. Neuromuscular warm-up programmes can enhance modifiable factors that have been linked to performance and injury risk in both adult and youth team-sport athletes. The current evidence for this however is largely limited to male football. Additionally, as coaches are key to the successful implementation of these programmes, their feedback and further evidence of the performance benefits is needed. The overall purpose of this thesis was to determine if the recently developed NetballSmart Dynamic Warm-up can improve physical performance measures in female youth netball players. Additionally, there was a focus on exploring the role of the coach in the implementation of the warm-up.
To better understand the training needs of a female youth netball player, a physical performance profile of this group was determined. Differences were found in anthropometry, horizontal and vertical jump performance, balance, core strength, change of direction speed and sprint times between grades and playing positions (n= 102; ES= 0.28 to 1.37). Results showed that players in higher grades performed physically better than lower grades. A physical performance profile could be used for talent identification and for guiding training programmes. Once a physical performance profile had been established, the same physical performance measures were used to investigate the effect of the NetballSmart Dynamic Warm-up on performance. Significant improvements in prone hold (β= 20.46 s; p= 0.01) and vertical jump (β= 6.73 cm; p= 0.01) were found in the intervention group (n= 45) compared to the control group (n= 36). In a sub-group study, the warm-up did not improve isokinetic knee flexor or extensor strength (60 ⁰/s; p= 0.08-0.90) or change the hamstring to quadriceps ratio (mean difference= -0.02; p= 0.25). Both these studies provided preliminary evidence that some physical performance measures can be improved with this neuromuscular warm-up which will be useful when promoting the programme to coaches. Given the key role of the coach when including a new warm-up in training, coach experience of the warm-up and their knowledge and attitude to injury was evaluated through a coach survey.
The initial feedback on the warm-up provided by coaches was encouraging. Poor technique was perceived to be the most common injury risk factor (87%) in netball and the ankle was correctly reported as the most common lower limb injury (67%). The majority of coaches (93%) felt their personal coaching experience was sufficient to be able to coach the warm-up but reported barriers to the translation of the programme into the netball environment may cause delays in programme implementation and uptake. As coaches are a key influence in the adoption and maintenance of injury prevention programmes, these barriers need to be addressed to ensure the sustainability and success of the warm-up programme.
Physical performance in youth netballers differs by playing grade and position and some performance factors can be improved with the implementation of the NetballSmart Dynamic Warm-up. It is recommended the warm-up be implemented in regular youth netball training guided by current and future coach feedback.