Losers: the downward slide in international netball

The Australian cricket team lost to the Proteas last weekend despite a dirty little trick of roughing up the ball. Being caught cheating cost three Australian players a temporary ban and maybe more, but you have to admire their commitment to winning at any cost. I’m envious for a smidgen of that attitude to boost the Silver Ferns performance going into the Commonwealth Games, without the cheating of course.

The Silver Ferns are on a downhill slide having lost just over half their games in the last two years.

2016 Silver Ferns Image Maori Television

We can place some blame on the mindset of the players. Having worked their way from school netball up to international play they’ve been ruined by Tall Poppy syndrome. Attempts to excel in sport at primary level are met with a collective bid to keep everyone happy, meaning standards drop to the level of the status quo. Winners certificates have been replaced by participation certificates. Kids are taught that ‘doing their best’ is good enough when in sport there are only winners and losers.  The ‘I did my best’ group does not exist. We should be cultivating the killer instinct in our junior athletes otherwise what’s the point of playing?

What we have in junior sports is a socialist attitude with a great big hole in it, falling well short of socialist Russia which recognises talent at a very young level by whisking promising youngsters away from their families to raise them in specialist sporting schools. We don’t need to split up families, but we do need the underlying philosophy of nurturing and developing talent.

In the 1970s our Aussie neighbours decided to take a professional approach to sport and instituted the Australian Institute of Sports (AIS) precisely to cultivate talent. Many years later results speak for themselves in international sport, particularly netball.

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These days the AIS offers assistance to athletes through a network of coaches on campuses in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth and through a number of regional centres. Scholarships are offered to elite athletes in 35 disciplines.

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The Silver Ferns will attend the Commonwealth Games ostensibly to win a medal. But that’s unlikely to happen because Australia, England and Jamaica have already shoved us aside in their quest to take the three available spots on the winner’s podium. And all credit to them, especially the Jamaicans who crushed us twice in the last week.

Another reason for the downward slide in international netball began with the appointment of head coach Janine Southby ahead of the supposedly stroppy but highly effective Noeline Taurua. Not even considered for the plum job in 2015, Taurua crossed the ditch to coach the Sunshine Coast Lightning netball team and did that convincingly by winning Australia’s national title. Taurua took with her Laura Langman, world class centre, who subsequently was not offered re-entry to the Silver Ferns after her foray to the dark side despite her superior talent.

For Southby’s appointment and Langmans’s departure we can blame the old girls club, Netball NZ. It needs to take a long hard look at its decision making drivers, as its sponsors will surely be doing when contracts for financial support come up for renewal.

Since Southby’s appointment, NZ netball has been a horror story.

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She’s won just 17 of 32 matches (53 per cent) since taking charge in November 2015. Against the benchmark for any Ferns’ coach, Australia, she’s guided New Zealand to two wins from 12. Losing twice to Jamaica in three days is harrowing.

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I like Janine Southby and she is doing her best, but her best is just not good enough. My sympathy is with our top netball players, those already in the Ferns and those who might have made it into the team had they been evaluated using ‘winners’ criteria.

Our top netballers are missing the opportunity to play against Australia’s finest when Netball NZ last year ditched the nine-year-old trans-Tasman netball competition, replacing it with a local one. It wasn’t a convincing argument at the time and certainly hasn’t improved the Silver Ferns’ performance.

It appears that both Southby and netball players are subject to political machinations from the organisation that should be supporting them, Netball NZ.  For any hope of the Silver Ferns returning to a 1st or 2nd world ranking heads must surely roll.


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Suze aka Sue Sangster is an avid reader, writer and aspiring novelist with a green thumb.

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