Netball Rules

We get asked a lot of questions about netball rules, both at our taster sessions and at our netball leagues!

The following is an overview of the rules of the game of netball as outlined in the Official Netball Rules, published by the International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA).

It’s not possible to include all the rules of the game on our website. There are so many that everyone learns a new rule every once in a while, no matter how long they’ve been playing!

The aim is to provide you with a basic understanding of the rules to be able to play the game safely and enjoyably.

Please use this section as a reference to answer any questions you may have about umpiring decisions. If you’re still not sure, please ask one of our umpires on your match night.

  1. The team
  2. Substitutions
  3. Playing positions and their roles on the court
  4. Starting the game – centre pass
  5. Footwork in the centre circle
  6. Offside rule
  7. Footwork
  8. Obstruction
  9. Obstruction of a player not in possession of the ball
  10. Contact & Contest
  11. Penalties against a player
  12. Taking free passes and penalties
  13. Shooting
  14. Throw in
  15. Over a third
  16. Replayed ball
  17. Short pass
  18. Jewellery
  19. Nails
  20. Guidelines on enforcing the rules

Copies of the rule book can be obtained from England Netball.


The team

Teams shall consist of 7 players. There must be at least 5 players, one of whom must play centre, to enable the fixture to go ahead.



Substitutions can only be made at half time or when a player is injured. There is no limit to the number of substitutions that a team can make.

If you start a match with 5 or 6 players but more members of your team arrive after the game has started, they must wait until the next centre pass before being allowed to join the game.


Playing positions and their roles on the court

There are seven playing positions in a team. Each has an important role to play for their team:

Goal Shooter  To score goals and to work in and around the circle with the GA
Goal Attack To feed and work with GS and to score goals
Wing Attack To feed the circle players giving them shooting opportunities
Centre To take the centre pass and to link the defence and the attack
Wing Defence To look for interceptions and prevent the WA from feeding the circle
Goal Defence  To win the ball and reduce the effectiveness of the GA
Goal Keeper  To work with the GD and to prevent the GA/GS from scoring goals


Starting the game – centre pass

The first centre pass is decided between the two captains by the toss of a coin. The centre passes then alternate between the teams, regardless of which team has scored.

Before the whistle, all players must start in the goal thirds except the two Centres. The Centre with the ball must step wholly into the Centre Circle with at least one foot and must obey the footwork rule after the whistle has been blown.  The opposing Centre stands anywhere within the Centre Third and is free to move.

After the whistle the Centre pass must be caught or touched by a player standing in or landing wholly within the Centre third.

A player must not ‘break’ at the centre pass, which is moving into the Centre third before the whistle is blown for the Centre pass.

A free pass would be awarded to the opposing team in any of these instances above.

Players must get onside quickly at the centre pass. The Centre with the ball must hurry back to the centre circle and step straight in. If she waits for her players to get back onside, this is called “delaying play”.

This would result in the Centre receiving a caution, a penalty being given and advanced up the court.


Footwork in the centre circle

The footwork rule still applies in the centre circle. As soon as the Centre steps into the circle, their leading leg becomes their landing foot and the footwork rule then applies. That is, if they lift or move their landing foot and place it back down again, a free pass will be awarded to the opposing team due to footwork.

The umpire will blow the whistle to start play once the Centre has placed one foot wholly in the circle.


Offside rule

A player with or without the ball cannot move into an area of the court that isn’t designated for their position.

This will result in a free pass being awarded to the opposing team.



A player can receive the ball:

  • With both feet grounded or jump to catch the ball and land on two feet simultaneously. You may then take a step in any direction with one foot (but not both) and pivot on the spot with the other foot. Once one foot is moved, the other is considered to be the landing foot.
  • With one foot grounded or jump to catch the ball and land on one foot. The landing foot cannot be moved, other than to pivot on the spot, whilst the other foot can be moved in any direction. Once the landing foot is lifted, it must not be re-grounded until the ball is released.

Hopping or dragging the landing foot is not allowed.

If you break the footwork rule, a free pass will be awarded to the opposing team



A player attempting to intercept or defend the ball must be at least 3ft (0.9m) away from the player with the ball. This distance is measured from the landing foot of the player in possession of the ball. The defender may jump to intercept or defend the ball from this 0.9m (3ft) feet distance but you must ensure if you do jump to defend a ball, you don’t land any nearer that 3ft or this is obstruction (i.e. shortening your distance).

A penalty pass will be awarded if you obstruct a player as described above.


Obstruction of a player not in possession of the ball

Your arms can be outstretched when you are a marking your player off the ball if you are trying to:

  • Catch, deflect or intercept a pass
  • Obtain a rebound from an unsuccessful shot at goal
  • Momentarily signal for a pass or indicate the intended direction of movement

These instances are not classed as obstruction but you will be penalised if you mark a player with your arms out or potentially if you stand under the post with your arms up whilst waiting for a rebound (although the umpire may choose to play advantage if the opposition isn’t being impeded).


Contact and Contest

‘When attacking, defending or playing the ball, opposing players may come into physical contact with each other.  Provided the players do not interfere with each other’s play or use their bodies to gain an unfair advantage over their opponent, it is deemed to be ‘contest’ and play continues’.  ‘Contact’ occurs when a player’s actions interfere with an opponent’s play whether these are accidental or deliberate.

Interference may occur in the following ways:

  • Physical contact using any part of the body to limit an opponent’s ability to move freely (this includes, but is not limited to, pushing, tripping, holding or leaning on an opponent)
  • Knocking or hitting a player including when shooting for goal
  • Placing hand/s on the ball held by an opponent
  • Hitting the ball held by an opponent or removing it from an opponent’s possession
  • While holding the ball, pushing it into an opponent


A player causes contact by:

  • Landing in a place already occupied by an opponent before the movement began
  • Moving into the path of an opponent who’s committed to a particular landing space


Generally, an attacker is moving into a space to receive the ball and a defender is drawn into causing contact when trying to intercept. If the attacker was in that space first, the decision goes their way and against the defender. A defender must be able to intercept the ball cleanly.

However, no contact is allowed off the ball. This includes attackers pushing off, backing into or pushing through a defender to get into space to receive the ball. If the defender was in that space first, then the decision goes their way and against the attacker.

Inevitable contact is described as:

  • Player/s, whether moving or stationary, may not position so closely to an opponent that this player is unable to move without contacting


Simultaeneous contact is described as:

  • If two opposing players contact simultaneously a toss up is taken between the two players concerned.


The umpire’s role is to watch the game and determine what is ‘contact’ and what is ‘contest’ . It may not always seem obvious to you as a player why a particular decision has been made or why advantage has been played but please respect the decisions that they make.

If interference occurs, the umpire will state:

  • which player the penalty is against
  • that a penalty pass has been awarded to the opposition


The umpire should stand at the position at the side of the court where they want the penalty to be taken from. If you’re ever unsure where to take the penalty from, you need to look at the positioning of the umpire for guidance.

Failure to set the penalty correctly in this way will result in a reversal of the penalty and a free pass to the opposing team.

A lot of contact disrupts the flow of the game. It also puts your team at a tactical disadvantage because when a player is taken out of play on a penalty, they are not able to contribute to the team’s defence. It’s far better to pull out of a challenge if you think you’re going to contact the player and concentrate on defending the next pass instead.


Penalties against a player

The infringer must stand out of play.  This means the infringer must:

  • Move quickly to the position indicated
  • Stand beside but away from the player taking the penalty so as not to impede that player
  • Remain in this position and not move or take any part in play (including verbal comments) until the ball has been released.


Once the player taking the penalty pass is in the correct position, the player may choose either to play the ball immediately or to wait for the infringer to stand out of play.  If the player chooses to play the ball immediately:

  • The infringer may not take part in play until the ball has been released or make any attempt to intercept the penalty pass
  • The penalty pass will be retaken if the infringer interferes with it

Please observe the above rule if a penalty is given against you!


Taking free passes and penalties

You have 3 seconds from setting the free pass/penalty in which to take it. If you decide that another player would be better taking it, you must place the ball back on the floor.

Do not walk towards the other player to pass it to them (footwork) or hand it to them (short pass).

Any player allowed in that area may take the free pass/penalty.



Only the GS and GA are able to score goals for your team. They must be wholly inside the goal circle to shoot.


Throw in

The ball is thrown back into play from the point where it went off the court. It is out of court when it contacts anything outside the court area (except the goalpost).

When taking a throw in, a player places her foot up to but not on the sideline or backline of the court. The lines are part of the court. If any part of your foot is touching the line or you step into the court in the process of taking the throw in, this is deemed to be a foul throw. At least one foot must be within 15cm (6in) of the line though.

This includes walking on the court to pass the ball to another player if you decide that they should take the throw in. In this instance, you should leave the ball on the floor outside the court for the player to then pick up.

You have 3 seconds from when you take up your position at the side of the court in which to throw the ball.

You must also wait until all players are back on the court before taking the throw in.

If any of the above occurs, a throw in to the opposing team will be awarded.


Over a third

The ball cannot be thrown over a complete third of the court without being touched or caught by a player (i.e. it cannot cross two transverse lines).

A free pass shall be taken from the area where the ball crossed the second transverse line (i.e. where the ball shouldn’t have been).


Replayed ball

A player may not replay the ball. Specifically you can’t:

  • lose control of the ball and pick it up again if it has not been touched by another player
  • catch a rebound from a shot on goal if the ball has not touched the post or another player
  • toss the ball into the air and catch it again without it being touched by another player.



Players must remove all jewellery before the start of a match to avoid injury to you as a player and your opposition. This rule includes all ear piercings, including piercings high on the ear lobe. Covering piercings up with a plaster is not adequate!

The only exception is a wedding band or a medical alert bracelet which can be worn but must be taped up.

Failure to remove jewellery will result in a player not being allowed on court.



Nails must be kept short. As a guideline, nails should be no longer than 1mm long and should not be seen from the underside of the finger. This is to protect other players from injury.

This is not a popular rule but it will be strictly enforced to avoid any unnecessary injuries occurring to players taking part in the league.

Players will not be allowed to start a match with long nails.


Guidelines on enforcing the rules

Although we’re all out to have some fun playing netball, unfortunately there are rules of the game that we need to stick to!

For the first week or two, the umpires may be lenient and give you a second chance to correct a technical fault (such as stepping onto the court as you take a throw in), instead of giving the free pass to the opposing team. Umpires will also explain any decisions that you don’t understand if you ask them politely, although they may ask you to wait until half or full time to allow them to concentrate fully on the game being played.

The rules will be followed more closely as the league progresses and as you all progress as players. The exception to this are rules which affect players’ safety, such as contact and obstruction, which will be enforced from the start of the league.

Please ask our umpires if you would like any further clarification of the rules.