Playing netball helps relieve stress and provides a good social network. (Supplied: Nigel Owens)
Dallas Austin has been playing in the Marie Little Shield since it began.
For the New South Wales vice-captain, netball is her outlet to escape the drama of everyday life.
But when she started playing as a young girl, Austin struggled to get a go on court, certainly not in any of the positions she liked.
“Everyone was like rep players and I was the weird little kid that they’d just bring on if they needed to,” she said.
“The Marie Little Shield has helped me grow in my own way and I found a club that supported me to better myself.”
The tournament, which has just finished its sixth official season, is organised by Netball Australia to promote inclusion.
It provides opportunities for players with an intellectual disability to compete in a national tournament, with the guidelines that players must be female, 16 years or older and registered with a local club or association.
Named after leading sports administrator Marie Little, who dedicated her life to helping those with a disability, the state and territories league has grown in popularity over the years.
NSW head coach Jenny O’Keefe said the netball community was really starting to recognise the benefits of these sorts of initiatives.
“This competition knocks down a whole lot of barriers for these women,” she said.
“It gives athletes with an intellectual disability something to strive towards and creates a level for them at the top.”
Also with the NSW group from the beginning, O’Keefe has had plenty of success as a coach.
A win over South Australia in Sunday’s grand final was her fourth title in a row.
She said the team had been focused on fighting complacency within their own squad, boasting a mix of experience and new talent.
“We had two sets of twins in the team this year. They bring a lot of strength to the court,” O’Keefe said.
“Certainly when you have a team that’s not trained for a very long period of time, when you have a few players that have a keen understanding of each other, it works to your benefit.”
Jenny O’Keefe says people are starting to recognise the benefits of initiatives like the Marie Little Shield. (Supplied: Nigel Owens)
Relieving stress and providing a good social network, playing sport in this environment gives the athletes a chance to build confidence in their ability.
It’s one of the reasons the NSW coach has stuck with the program for so long and looked forward to it every year.
“I enjoy seeing them achieve their goals and the feelings they get when they do. You watch it all come together,” O’Keefe said.
“We’ve been able to keep a good core for a couple of years now and that’s an achievement in itself.
“I love when you watch some of the things you’ve worked on the following year come back and build in match play.”
The tournament is organised by Netball Australia to promote inclusion. (Supplied: Nigel Owens)
First-timer Casey Stevens never thought she’d be picked for the Marie Little Shield and was excited to join the NSW squad.
“I wasn’t expecting it. I had heard about it and my friend encouraged me to ty out, and then when I got in, my mum was so excited,” she said.
Casey said she enjoyed playing netball for the interaction and especially enjoyed her new challenge at state level, in a space where she was free to practice teamwork and have a laugh.
“The coaches are really nice and the girls are all really good. It’s just a different aspect of netball.
“People with intellectual delays don’t get many opportunities, so when I found out about this, it was exciting because you only really have the Paralympic Games and some other individual sports that offer similar things.”
Despite winning another grand final, O’Keefe said it was important to remember there were other victories that happened on court that were always more important than winning.
“I’ve been happy with our progress at training. The challenge is to keep the momentum going and I think we’ve managed that quite well.
“Everyone seems to be relatively happy and healthy.”