Did netball originate from American basketball or American women’s basketball?
I’m in the process of working with a few individuals to get good article status for the netball article on Wikipedia. I had hoped to be able to write this process up once the article had gotten there. Normally, the process takes about a week. (Assuming the article has appropriate scope and is completely cited, it shouldn’t have huge fixes and should require only minor revisions that would take no longer than a week.) This isn’t the case. At the moment, we’ve got an American reviewer who is rather insistent that American women’s basketball be incorporated into the article in greater detail. This has led an interesting question: Did netball derive from American basketball that was being played by both men and women during the 1890s, or did netball derive from a totally unique sport of American women’s basketball? Parts of this debate can be seen in the good article review and on the talk page in the women’s basketball section.
I’m firmly in the camp that the sources appear to suggest that netball originated from the sport of basketball, not from an American women’s game of basketball. Most of the sources I’ve seen have indicated that the game was brought over by British women who saw the men’s game or the earliest version of basketball before men and women’s basketball went on separate trajectories to become different games (before becoming one game again at a later date).
Rather than rewrite what I’ve already written, I’m just going to copy and paste from what I posted on Wikipedia: McIntosh says: “Madam Osterberg had heself introduced the American game of Basketball to her Hampstead College and to this country. Her students developed Netball from it. It was found to be suited to the grounds of a country house and flourished in the new setting.” That is on page 292. On page 293, it says “C. Lawrence and M. Hankison, E.R. Clarke and E. Adair Impey, for example, were key figures in establishing of national governing bodies for women in Hockey, Lacrosse an Netball respectively, and in general the Osterberg Girls were to play collectively, a role in women’s sports not unlike that of the A.P.T.C., through the years, in the corresponding areas for men.” That’s page 293. The reference refers to the game as American. To a degree, this is also supported by the All England Netball Association Golden Jubilee book: “1895: Visit of Dr. Toles, an American, to Madame Osterberg’s P.T. College (then at Hampstead). Students were taught Basket Ball — indoors — no printed rules — no lines, ircles or boundaries. The goals were two waste paper baskets hung on walls at each end of the hall.” Also on page 13: “1897: Game played out of doors on grass. An American lady paid a visit to the College (moved to Dartford), and taught the game as then played by women in American. The students at Dartford introduced rings instead of baskets, the larger ball and the division of the ground into three courts.” These two quotes from the All England Netball Association demonstrate the game that they learned was Basket Ball, or basketball. There is no clear indication that American women were playing a distinct form of Basketball, that had separate and unique rules that were different than the game being played by men. Hence, the use of Women’s Basketball as a distinct sport unique from Basketball is inappropriate and causes confusion. Women’s Basketball is also used as the official name of the sport in New Zealand and Australia until 1970. Using the term Women’s Basketball, with out some mention that the term “women’s basketball” is another name for netball, adds unwanted confusion and can be clarified by doing away with women as an adjective, especially as the idea that women’s basketball that netball came from is not supported in earlier references.
Netball traces its roots to basketball. Humberstone says on page 11: “Before we turn to the sport as we know it today, it is worth looking at its originas. It is an offshoot of basketball, the game founded by Dr James Naismith at Springfield College, Massachusetts. Two Englishwomen watched a game at the YMCA in Springfield and immediately saw the possibilities for their own sec. They returned home and developed a set of rules more suitable for the less robust female competitior who, in those days, was regarded as a rather frail and timid person.” This source explicitly says that netball was derived from watching a men’s game.
Buchanan and Slottje talk about the early history of basketball. On page 3, they say “In the beginning, basketball was actually played within the confines of a steel cage. Furthermore the ball was never out of bounds. Players would simply bounce off the sides of the cage.” Later in that same paragraph they say: “In fact the game originally had a nine man format but in 1897 was set at five.” The nine-a-side reference supports the idea that women and men played a similar game at the time with similar rules.
Colbeck also point to similarities between what would become netball in the early rules of basketball. On page 12: “It was once the practice for the game to be restarted at the centre after each goal; now the ball is put into play immediately by the defending team.” On page 15, Colbeck says that “The game bust be played indoors or out, thus tackling must be forbidden, and to offset this, running with the ball must also be eliminated.” Early basketball had no dribbling, a characteristic found in netball today. The original rules for the game are found on page 16. The rules do not exclude either gender from participating. This was different from netball, which at the onset did not permit men to compete.
According to Hollander on page 5, “Naismith envisioned the new sport as a mass game, in which any number of players could participate.” This suggests that Naismith did not envision the game as being played exclusively by males. The players were playing basketball. On page 6, it says : “Girls got involved in basketball almost at the game’s beginning. In March, 1892, a match pitted a team of local Springfield girls against a squad of women teachers. Naismith apparently liked what he saw at the game because he married one of the players, Maude Sherman. Vassar and Smith, both women’s colleges, added basketball to their activities in 1892.” There is no suggestion that basketball at this time had become two separate sports in the United States. There is no suggestion that women played using modified rules. (In fact, it appears that there were collegiate basketball teams for women before there were collegiate basketball teams for men. On page 7, the first men’s collegiate team was created in March 1893 at the University of Chicago.) While on page 225, Hollander says: “Women have been playing basketball since 1892, a year after the game’s invention. But the game they played differed greatly from the men’s. Early rules called for nine women to a side, each confined to an area, with the ball passed from area to area before a shot.” This passage does not indicate when separate rules were created for women. (This is important. We know that netball was being played in England in 1895. With out a date as to when separate rules were created, we do not know what game the women watched. Netball sources do not indicate which gender that 1895 game drew inspiration from. Smith and Humberstone indicate the game they may have adapted to create netball was a men’s game.) At the same time, while women are separated, there is no indication that basketball played by women was viewed by players as a separate and distinct game in the United States basketball community: The texts indicate the game shared the same name and were viewed as two versions of the same sport.
In 1996, Levinson and Christenson also fail to reference American women playing basketball under their own set of unique rules that differ from men as a the source of the game of netball in England. Their wording on page 683 says: “Netball was introduced from England in 1895 as the indoor game of basketball. The person responsible for this was an American educator called Dr. Toll, who was a visiting college of physical training in north London. Dr. Toll taught the female students how to play basketball, but she did not distribute a book of rules and the playing area was of an indeterminate size. The goals were wastepaper baskets hung on the wall at each end of the hall. This very much mirrored Dr. James Naismith (1861-1939), who invented basketball in 1891 and who used peach baskets as his original scoring targets.” Levinson and Christenson trace the origins of netball to Naismith, not a later female America game that used its own unique rules. Later on page 683, the text says that in 1899, “a Ling Committee subcomittee drafted a set of rules that established a transatlantic compromise. Goals were to be replaced by points, and a shooting circle was introduced — these elements were part of the American game. However, the size of the ball (68 centimeters [27 inches] in circumference), was similar to the size of an English football and 4 inches less in circumference than the American “basketball.”" When they talk of a compromise between the two set of rules for the sport, the source refers to the American game as basketball, not women’s basketball or not American women’s basketball. This I believe supports my claim: The sport of netball traces its roots to basketball. If there was a unique women’s American sport called women’s basketball, it seems like it would be cited as the place where compromise was made.
In 2005, Levinson and Christenson again trace the roots of netball to Naismith’s game on page 1066: “The goals were wastepaper baskets hung on the wall at each end of a hall — an arrangement the mirrored that of Canadian born Dr. James Naismith (1861-1939), who invented basketball in Massachusetts in 1891 and used peach baskets as his goals.” Both the 1996 and 2005 texts by Levinson and Christenson agree that the game invented in England and derived from American basketball was called “women’s basketball” in England until they made the switch to netball in 1899, when metal rings with nets hung below them replaced baskets. (Page 1067 for 2005, Page 683 for the 1996.)
- All England Netball Association (1976). Golden jubilee : 1926 – 1976.. All England Netball Association. OCLC39500756.
- Buchanan, Michael J; Slottjie, Daniel J (1996). Pay and Performance in the NBA. Jai Press Ltd. ISBN0762301848.
- Colback, A.L. (1961). Modern basketball, a fundamental analysis of skills and tactics. Nicholas Kaye.
- Hollander, Zander (1979). The modern encyclopaedia of basketball. Doubleday & Company. ISBN0385143818.
- Levinson, David; Christenson, Karen. (1996). Encyclopaedia of world sport: from modern times to the present. ABC-CLIO, Inc.. ISBN 0874368197.
- Levinson, David; Christenson, Karen. (2005). Berkshire encyclopedia of world sport. Berkshire Publishing Group LLC. ISBN 0974309117.
- McIntosh, Peter C. (1968). Physical Education in England Since 1800. Bell. ISBN071350689X. OCLC41636.
- Smith, Marian; Humberstone, Brian (1978). Netball, The Greatest Team Sport for Women. Cassell Australia. ISBN0726937193.
What do you think? Do you have any sources that support a claim that netball derived from an American women’s basketball?