|Organisation:||Scottish Thistles Netball Team|
Gail Parata is the New Zealand born Head Coach to the Scottish Netball Team. Since 2013, Gail has taken them to a top 10 World Ranking, a Commonwealth Games, a World Cup and a Tour of South Africa…all this from a girl who was unable to get onto her High School A Team!
The retired Silver Ferns player has worked with the Worlds best, from Waimarama Taumaunu to Margaret Matenga and credits her success to working hard, dreaming big and never giving up.
Below, Gail shares her story of playing netball for her Aunty Patsy’s Club Team, moving to the Capital City of NZ to realise her dream of becoming a Silver Fern and her experience of moving her family across the other side of the World to Scotland.
I was 9 years old when I played for my primary school team. I was surrounded by talented netballers at that age and we had an excellent coach (school teacher) – Miss Kissick who encouraged and believed in us. I loved playing netball and so I worked hard and I was selected in the Taranaki regional age groups team from secondary school to Under 20s. However, not good enough to make my ‘High School A team’ I went to play for my Aunty Patsy’s club team. I was 15 and surrounded by some very experienced and skillful netball players who taught me how to be a better netballer. As I got older and saw netball being played on the international stage I wanted to play for New Zealand.
At the age of 20 I moved to Wellington (Capital city of NZ). I wanted more out of life and more for my netball. I joined the P.I.C netball club and was introduced to netball legends Waimarama Taumaunu and Margaret Matenga. I wanted to be coached by and play with the best. Because of the coaching and the reputation of the P.I.C netball club they attracted talented and skillful players from around New Zealand. The majority of them went on to play for the Silver ferns. Whilst my team mates were being selected for various NZ squads I was not. Nevertheless I still believed I was good enough and would one day play for my country.
Eight years after arriving in Wellington I was selected to play for the Silverferns. I was selected into the NZ team with five of my club team mates whom all ,except one, have gone on to be performance coach’s – Tanya Dearns (Central Pulse HC), Debbie Fuller (Northern Mystics HC); Noeline Taurua (Southern Steel HC) Julie Seymour (NZ Secondary Schools HC) and Bernice Mene (Netball TV Commentator).
It came as a shock to be selected at that time because I was contemplating retirement. It was 1996 and so far a great year where my club team had won the national club title and the Wellington regional team had won the national provincial trophy. The latter had been eluding me for years so after winning that I thought I could finish off on a high. Then came the announcement of my selection. Again a shock because for years I was told I was too short (5 foot 6) and one of the reasons for missing selection and then when I was 26 years old they started to say too short and too old. It was also unheard of too not make any of the New Zealand age group squads on the way up to the Silverferns. For any young aspiring athlete who wants to play for their country I encourage you to never give up on your dream. I was not selected for my High School A team or any New Zealand squads and yet I made it to the SIlverferns. Even though it was only one cap I received as a Silverfern no one can take that away from me. I worked damn hard for that cap. I wished it had been more but immediately after that test match where we lost to Australia there was a coaching staff change. The new coach came in with new ideas and new personnel. Again to young aspiring athletes one coach may not prefer you but another might and that’s why it’s very important to persevere!
Belief in my abilities; Goal Setting; Perseverance; Hard work pays off; Self-Motivation; Discipline; Teamwork; Organisational and Leadership skills; Relationship Building; Humility; How to win; How to handle disappointment; Coping with stress; Coping under pressure; Reflecting on how to be better; Problem solving…. the list can go on as there were so many skills and attributes that I learnt while playing sport that I not only transferred into my coaching but also my life and work experiences!
My passion to coach comes from the love of the sport and my belief that I can help girls and women grow and develop into skillful and talented netballers as well as become great female role models. I use to read articles about people who love what they do as a day job and they say if you find something you love doing you will never work a day in your life. I feel the same about coaching. Doing something I love drives me to be the best and makes me work even harder!
I have experienced barriers to my coaching career that have questioned my belief in the developmental process but never my ability to succeed as a coach. A head coach role would open and having gone through the process of coaching age groups etc, operating as an assistant coach, I believed I was ready to step up only to be over looked. Like any sport politics is rife and netball is no different. Sometimes in the developmental process you may have to play political games in order to go places and I wasn’t prepared to do that which has cost me positions.
When you know you have done the work, believe in your ability and also continue to strive to be better there is no reason to question your ability to succeed because many others will do that for you! Perseverance and Belief in yourself are the keys to Success!
Netball coaches from New Zealand are in demand because of the long history of netball and years of experiences gained being a country that has achieved consistently at the highest level on the international stage. Having opportunities to coach in high performance environments such as the ANZ championships, the local national provincial league and many club leagues developed over the years has also helped NZ coaches learn what standards are required in a high performance netball environment.
It’s also to do with the style of play that New Zealand produce and the fact that some countries are wanting alternative styles to combat their opposition. New Zealand netball is known for its ‘off marking’ defence called zoning which is about creating opportunities to get ball as opposed to other countries that play a very tight marking defensive style that forces errors and or intercepts and tips. Both styles work extremely well when there is a full commitment from your team to implement. However unlike the man to man marking if one person is not working the man on man defence your defence can still hold where as if one player is not working the ‘off marking’ defence it can be very ineffective and therefore difficult to create opportunities to get ball.
At the start of 2013 I was contemplating my coaching options and I received an email from Ruth Aitken (former New Zealand Silverfern HC) asking if I might be interested in looking at a National Head Coach position in Scotland. After discussions with John (my partner) and my parents I sent an email to Maggie Murray (former CEO of Netball Scotland). She was very helpful and informative and I had heard some great things about Maggie so this was a key reason why I decided to put my application forward.
Also John had just returned from working in England, he was born in NZ but has a British passport due to his Dad being born and raised in Scotland. Therefore our daughter Alexi has Scottish heritage and this also felt right for me to apply. Ultimately I also believed it would be a good coaching move for me and I have not regretted the decision and am enjoying the challenge.
There were some tough decisions to make prior to confirming the post and to be honest they just about stopped me moving because I believed it was going to be too hard to move ourselves from one side of the world to the other. However I put the ‘too hard to shift’ scenario to the back of my mind and focused on the opportunity and the possibilities ahead.
Two years later a Commonwealth Games; a Netball World Cup; a tour to South Africa; test match wins and losses; finishing 2015 with a top 10 world ranking from being 15th when I arrived and working with committed athletes made it very worthwhile.
A good challenge and one I was prepared to take on. Netball is a semi-professional sport in New Zealand compared to Scotland where it is totally amateur the national athletes all work fulltime or study at University and schools. So of course there were going to be differences with the Scottish athletes not paid and less opportunities. However there were also similarities that all athletes have when they are striving to achieve at the highest level – hardworking, committed, determined, passionate for their sport, fast learners and this was no different for the Scottish netball players. When I first saw them play I was pleased because I could see they had good skills and determination. It was therefore my job to help make them better and to do that I needed to work with them and raise the standards on the netball court and off the netball court. To help these standards on the court it was necessary for me to have access to them on a weekly basis. We embarked on a 6 month basic fundamental programme that helped raised the standards on the court and in the gym. Another 6 months later at the Commonwealth Games they looked like athletes that deserved to be playing amongst the best netball teams in the world instead of how the original qualification came about by being the host country of the Commonwealth Games.
Firstly my advice to any coach whether experienced or not:
I absolutely believe that you can be a coach at a level higher than that in which you have played. You just need to look at the All Black rugby coach Steve Hansen and the Australian Diamonds Netball coach Lisa Alexander both won World Cups for their sport in 2015 but never played a test match for their country. Both brilliant coaches and from what I have read and seen great people as well. I also believe playing consistently at the highest level under pressure you learn ‘tricks of the trade’ and these are the little nuggets that you keep as a coach and share with your athletes along the way that a coach who didn’t have the same experiences is not able to do.
That said being a good coach does not just mean knowing your sport, tricks and all, you also need so many other skills and attributes such as being a good communicator, having excellent people skills, being a good listener, coping with disappointment not just yours but everyone in your team and staff and so much more.
I played one test match but I played alongside netball athletes who played many test matches and I was coached by many who had far more experience than me. But I became a good learner and had the belief I could learn from anyone from my primary school coach, club coach, team mates, my employers, mentors and high performance coach’s.
I did the hard graft as well; starting at coaching my club, coaching age group teams and working my way up. I believe this is the best way for any women wanting to coach at a high performance level. You need to do the ‘hard graft’ so that you may gain experiences along the way to know what to do in any situations when you reach the level that you want to Coach.
Final advice – Back yourself to be the best!