Anna's story: A love for netball and injury prevention

Anna Kennedy 3

Former Silver Fern Anna Kennedy (née Thompson) was one of the first players to benefit from NetballSmart, an injury prevention programme launched 20 years ago by ACC. Now she's teaching NetballSmart principles to the young players she coaches.

Netball has been Anna Kennedy’s life. 

Now 37, the former Silver Fern has been playing for more than 30 years and still gets the same kick out of competing with her mates at top level club netball today as she did on the frosty mornings in North Canterbury as a seven-year-old. 

“I have clear memories of our brown track pants and canary yellow jumpers, which were lovely,” she says with a laugh.

“We were playing on freezing mornings but youre just so excited to be there on the netball court and running around.

“Nowadays with three young kids, sport plays a huge role in my mental health and it’s so important to have that outlet.”

Anna has come full circle. She is now helping others at the start of their netball journey as coach of the Rangi Ruru Girls' School team.

“When you get to my age, you realise you have been fortunate to have the experiences and memories I have. The friendships I have made through netball will last a lifetime.”

A netball team poses for the camera with their coaches either side

Coach Anna Kennedy with the Rangi Ruru Girls' School netball team. 

NetballSmart trailblazers

Anna was first identified as a player of talent when she was 15 and attending Marian College.

Around the same time, in 2000, ACC created an injury prevention programme to address the high number of injuries in the game. In 2004, the programme was renamed ‘NetballSmart’.

Anna and her national rep team-mates were the trailblazers for the programme as it was rolled out nationwide.

“It was exciting to be the first players. We all got into it because we trusted Shaz (Sharon Kearney from Netball New Zealand) and we were delivered the reasoning behind it.

“As I matured, I understood the importance of injury prevention and it was a huge part of my career.”  

Sharon, now the NetballSmart programme lead, says the programme was revolutionary at the time.

“We had a generation of players who put a huge amount of trust into the principles, and that buy-in meant we could develop a nationwide programme.”

Twenty years on, NetballSmart is a fixture in the local game and ACC has announced it will invest $4.9 million into the programme over the next three years.

As I matured, I understood the importance of injury prevention.
- Former Silver Fern Anna Kennedy

An illustrious career on the court

Anna first made a name for herself when she was a member of the Netball World Youth Cup gold medal-winning New Zealand U-21 team in 2005. She made her Silver Ferns debut in 2009.

“You know I do look back and think ‘Wow, I'm lucky to have been one of those players who have worn the black netball dress’. Not everybody gets to do that,” she says. 

“It was a real privilege to play for the Silver Ferns and represent New Zealand.”

A goal attack or wing attack, Anna played 13 tests for New Zealand. Her highlight was being a part of the 2011 World Cup squad in Singapore. 

“We came second but it was an amazing trip to Singapore. And then I think a real privilege of that was also having my family to experience it as well and really celebrate those moments. For them to see me wearing the black dress was pretty special.”

Anna was noted for being a dedicated trainer and a well-drilled attacking player.

She was a mainstay at the Canterbury Tactix from 2008 to 2017.

After her playing career, Anna always wanted to be a coach.

She found the transition from being a professional player to a club player a difficult one and coaching has enabled her to get her full netball fix.

“Being able to give back and educate and help develop players coming through is quite fulfilling,” she says.  

Her advice for her players is to invest in their bodies.

“I have grown up with NetballSmart as part of my routine and that is what I am instilling in these girls. We want it to be second nature.”

Netball going strong in Aotearoa

Netball is the most popular sport for females in New Zealand, with over 136,000 players nationwide.

But it's also causing a high rate of serious knee and ankle injuries in female players.

NetballSmart is an evidence-based framework made up of six principles. It helps improve players’ performance in sport by preventing injuries.

In 2023, ACC accepted 22,598 netball-related injuries. These injuries came at a cost of $38.7 million to help people recover.

A recent 10-year nationwide review of netball injuries also revealed a 120 per cent increase in the number of 15 to 19-year-old girls having Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery.

“The cost of a major injury is huge,” Anna says. “So the more you can do to prevent injuries happening in the first place, the better off you will be.”

ACC injury prevention partner Nat Hardaker says NetballSmart is the only sports programme to focus solely on tailored interventions to improve outcomes for females.

“It’s exciting to see the positive impact of the NetballSmart programme supporting players to stay on the court and minimise time lost to injury,” she says.

“We’re keen to grow the reach of the programme to ensure more netball players benefit from it, so they can enjoy more time on the court with their team-mates.”

Three netballers training

Netball injuries by the numbers

  •         In 2023, ACC accepted 22,598 netball-related injuries

  •         These injuries cost $38.7 million to help people recover

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgeries have increased by 120 per cent in 15 to 19-year-old girls over the past 10 years

  •          ACC will invest $4.9 million into NetballSmart over the next three years.