It’s not hard to hang on the every word of a netball coach of the caliber of New Zealand Silver Ferns and Sunshine Coast Lightning coach Noeline Taurua.
This is, after all, a coach whose credentials are almost unrivalled in world netball, having taken the Waikato BOP Magic to 11 consecutive finals series in the ANZ Championship and the old New Zealand national league, before jumping the Tasman and collecting the first two Suncorp Super Netball titles. And with a startup team, no less.
So when we had the chance to spend the day with Taurua as she visited to film some new netball drills with us, we were all eyes and ears as she went about her business on court with a group of young players.
Here are a few of the biggest lessons we took away from an afternoon with one of the world’s best.
DIFFERENT PLAYERS, DIFFERENT APPROACHES
Has Taurua had talented players at her disposal while at the helm of the Sunshine Coast Lightning? Absolutely.
But in the glow of back-to-back Super Netball premierships, it’s easy to forget that before some of her players became crucial cogs in the Lightning machine – and top players on the world stage – they were a long way of being considered among the game’s elite.
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Kelsey Browne was unquestionably a special talent but one that had been largely unfulfilled, having never quite been able to put all the pieces together in her home state of Victoria. Laura Scherian had bounced around Queensland netball for a decade, always just on the periphery of the elite competition but only ever cracking the big time for a one-year stint with the Firebirds. Even Karla Pretorius was something of a speculative selection – she’d impressed for South Africa, but as a then 26-year-old it remained to be seen how she would perform week in and week out in the world’s strongest competition.
So what is it that allows Taurua to find the spark with each and every player she coaches, get her message across to them and bring out their absolute best?
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Given her recent coaching history, it should come as no surprise that Noeline is a master at quickly uncovering the best way to work with each player under her guidance.
It’s something that most of us, as netball coaches, are aware of to varying degrees: the need to modify your message, coaching style or approach depending on which player you’re dealing with.
Noeline said it openly multiple times throughout the afternoon as she took on a group of 15-17-year-old players, having never met them previously: one of her first jobs as the coach is to discover what works for each player and how they best take on new information.
You could see her watching each player closely as they began training, and it probably took her only five to 10 minutes with each of them for her to figure out what was going to work for them individually.
With some players, she’d give them verbal instructions and away they’d go. With another player, she demonstrated the activity for them and then asked them to mirror it. With one of the younger players, she physically guided them through certain movements until they understood it well enough to perform it on their own. On other occasions, she’d ask pointed questions of certain players to ensure they didn’t just understand what they were doing, but WHY they were doing it.
At times we’re probably all guilty of coaching our sessions in the same generic way to all of our players, but clearly there’s much to be said for taking the time to help each player understand what you’re asking of them, in the way that works best for them.
DON’T MOVE ON UNTIL THEY’VE ‘GOT IT’
Some of the drills that Noeline filmed with us took a little longer than anticipated, but with good reason.
As coaches with limited training time, many of us often hurry through the coaching of certain skills so that we can move onto the next part of the session, or cram something into a session so that we can move onto a new skill the following week. Last year we wrote an article about why it’s OK to repeat training sessions from time to time, and Noeline also subtly conveyed this message throughout the day.
Without saying it explicitly, right from the outset it was obvious she was committed to making sure the player or players completing the drill/skill had mastered it, understood it or completed it successfully, before she was happy to move on. If that meant completing four or five extra repetitions in order for a player to nail the movements or have some success with the drill, so be it.
While we all feel the pressure to progress our sessions on quickly, for fear of not covering everything we feel we need to, or for fear of players becoming bored, there’s clearly much to be said for putting the brakes on sometimes and ensuring players are actually ready to progress.
STAY ACTIVE WITHIN YOUR SESSION
You barely notice it at the time, but Noeline is a hive of activity throughout her session.
She’s constantly on the move, putting herself in the right place at the right time in order to view the drill or player from the best possible angle, to allow her to give the best possible feedback.
Often you’ll see coaches standing stationary on the sideline while a drill is underway, but with Noeline you’ll find her constantly buzzing around the outside – pointing at something here, or catching a player’s attention there.
During long court transition drills, the easy or lazy option is sometimes to stand halfway along the sideline and call out instructions or feedback, but Noeline was only ever a few metres away from the action, following the ball up and down the court so the players could hear her clearly, and also so she could direct them more effectively when required. It also meant that if she needed to stop the drill and provide feedback, she could be in and out within a few seconds, rather than forcing the players to wait for her to wander over from another part of the court.
They’re only little things, but they all make a difference.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE A GAME CHANGER
I think most of us would agree that innovation in netball is a very slow-moving beast.
Sure, the game has become much faster and more physical in recent years as the athletes have moved into the professional era, but when it comes to the way the game is played, change is usually glacial. We still see very similar structures around centre passes and throw-ins, and we still see players running largely the same lines and implementing the same strategies, both in attack and defensively.
Think about the never-ending negativity around players like Gretel Tippett, who unashamedly does things her own way, and the constant message that comes along with it: “That’s not netball”, or, “That’s not how we play”.
Why, though? In a game so restricted by the limitations placed on each position, is there room for innovation and a completely new way of doing things?
Absolutely, Taurua says. In fact, as an elite and national coach she almost suggests it’s part of her responsibility to try new things that may advance the game.
We won’t reveal what she’s been working on in recent months – they’re her little secrets! – other than to say she’s been throwing previously unseen strategies at her players and watching to see what works, what doesn’t and what sticks. Keep an eye out for them in the Super Netball season!
The message? Don’t shy away from trying something new and different with your team, and just because something hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.