One of the puzzles in netball is how Noeline Taurua didn’t even make the shortlist last year when she applied for the job as coach of the Silver Ferns. Judging by her record and her effervescent personality, you would’ve thought she was a shoo-in.
Her record includes being a Silver Fern herself back in the 1990s. And her coaching credentials aren’t too shabby, either, because she steered the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic to the ANZ playoffs in each of the six years she had them. And guided them to the championship title in 2012, despite the apparent superiority of the Aussie teams. But that Silver Ferns setback was only briefly a bother for her. She now has the Southern Steel sailing through a (so far) unbeaten season.
And, as she’s been indicating to Dale, there’s a good deal more to her life than just netball.
Kia ora, Noeline. Well, I know your dad, Kingi Taurua, of course, as many of us do. But I don’t know anything about your mum. Or the rest of your whānau.
Mum is Polly. Her maiden name is White. From the Nathan family from around Dargaville way. She’s lovely. Still alive and kicking. She’s been sick for a few years. But she’s a real battler, and pretty much the strong person in our family.
My mother is Ngāti Whātua. Dad’s Ngāpuhi, of course. My grandmother is Ngāti Rehia and my grandfather is Ngāti Kawa.
There are five in our family. Four girls, one brother. And I’m the youngest.
I was born in Papakura. At that time, Dad was in the army. And then we moved to Paremoremo when Dad was a prison warden there. We spent the majority of my primary and intermediate days there, and then we moved to Taupo when Dad became a probation officer. I spent the end of my intermediate and college years there.
So you’re a Taupo College kid. I suppose netball already featured prominently?
The main sport that I had growing up was athletics. I did that from intermediate right through to college. Sort of tutu’d with basketball and netball in the off-season.
But my first passion was athletics — sprints and 100 metre hurdles. Had a bit of a flit with long jump too. And then netball sort of took over. Like everybody, I loved the aspect of being in the team.
I remember making the D team in my first outing in Taupo when we moved there. And then making the Taupo A team — when you’re young, like fourth form, and you’re making the top team — that was quite special.
Sport was pretty much my whole life. I was very lucky that I always had the support of Dad and Mum, who would pick me up and take me anywhere I needed to go. I had great friends at that time, too, and we all played sport. And, right through, even when I was in intermediate, I’ve had some really good coaches.
I have fond memories of my athletics days as well. There was Mr Woods, a coach at Taupo-nui-a-Tia College, and he put endless hours into our training. He had us going round and round the field.
How much influence did that athletics training, that focus as a runner, as an athlete — how important was that for your later success in netball?
Coming through the athletics system, I think you get everything. Not only the skills training, but also the discipline that’s required for an individual sport. There’s no place to hide. You learn how to run. You learn to be tenacious. You learn the work ethic.
If you look back at your success as a player, are there some people who inspired you?
My mother. She was the first person I ever watched. I would always watch her, and how she handled herself. She was a goal defence but very tenacious. I think the next ones I watched were on TV. At that time, there was Margaret Matenga, Margaret Forsyth, Waimarama Taumaunu and Lyn Parker. Ladies who were more senior than us but had been around the tracks for a long time. And who knew the game back to front.
But then you made the Silver Ferns yourself — and played for them for some years. I wonder what the highlight was for you as a player?
The highlight was in Dunedin in ’94. My very first test and singing the national anthem. That was quite overwhelming to have that opportunity presented to me. But I was also so proud that Mum and Dad were there. Just that feeling, that sense, of the whānau — and what that meant. Not only to me but to them as well. I can clearly remember that.
And from then on, every game in the New Zealand uniform was an honour. Every game that you take, you want to do your best, not only for yourself but for the country and for your team as well. So you never take anything lightly.
I want to talk about motherhood because I know you love babies — you’ve got a few of them. But also, at the top level in New Zealand netball, there are mums coming back and having a strong influence on court. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Back in Russia in the ‘60s or ‘70s, there was a study on a lot of female athletes, where they looked at the difference between them before and after having children. And the difference is that, when you’re a mum, you have a responsibility. So when you’re away from your babies and your kids, you put 100 percent into being as good as you can be. You want to make sure that what you’re doing is of worth. That you do them proud. And do yourself proud.
Also, being a mother is not a disability. It doesn’t mean we have to stay home. And there’s the business of time management too. I had Aania, my oldest, when I was 25. And I remember trying to make sure, when I was away from home, that everything I did was of value. I also felt that I became stronger. Not necessarily in my body but definitely in my mind.
I have five children. And I value the time I have with them — but also the time I’m away from them!
Your dad is a very visible face in New Zealand politics and certainly in te ao Māori. How does that political side of the Taurua family sit with you? And do people make the connection between you and him?
When people connect me with Dad, sometimes there is a moment of silence. Especially if they know about him and what he stands for and fights for. We’ve had many a discussion at home about things tribal, and his beliefs, and the land, and what it used to be like. Often, we don’t see eye to eye. Probably, I have a more modern way of looking at things. I’m more open to finding ways of reconciling, or building relationships.
He comes from another era, one that I’ll never really understand. He comes from the world where his grandmother was tapu and you couldn’t even touch her. You had to use a stick to feed her. So that world, I have no understanding of. But I appreciate and value what he has, and his knowledge.
I admire people like him that can stand up and be themselves, be authentic. I have so much admiration when he gets up to whaikōrero on the marae, because there’s not many orators like him who go way back to tūturu Māori. And I admire and love him for the skill that he has.
So, yeah, not very many people connect the dots between me and him. But, I carry a lot of his traits, and I’m very proud to.
Kia ora, Noeline. But let’s turn now to your coaching career, because you’ve gone from being a terrific player to becoming a super coach. Probably should be coaching the national team as a matter of fact, but I’ll keep that to myself for now. I wonder where and how coaching fits into your life.
For me, the priority is my whānau. It’s about seeing that the kids are happy and healthy. And Mum and Dad. That’s where my inspiration comes from. But I definitely have an eye for society, too, and for what’s right and what’s wrong. So I try to do better through my own dealings, my own behaviour and my own interactions with people — especially those who may not be as lucky as I’ve been.
There’s inspiration, too, from heaps of people in everyday life — people down at the marae or community centre or people working with refugees. People who have values and who stand up and are strong. They’re the ones who help make the world a better place for everyone. And sport is only a small part. But it’s a vehicle for me to move forward.
When it comes to working with a squad of players, as you have been with the Steel this year, how do you go about lifting their performance and helping them move forward? What is it that you’re looking for from your players?
The first thing is always your values. That underpins everything. It’s about where you come from, who you are, who you represent. And down here, with Southlanders — it’s about the land. It’s about the oysters and the Bluff, and the birds, and the landscapes down here. They’re very strong about that. And very community driven.
So the first thing for any team is: Who do you represent? Where’s your identity? That provides the inner core of a team. That’s always the starting point.
Then there’s your philosophy as a coach. For me, it’s about annihilation and domination. Not only to dominate the opposition, but also to dominate yourself. Being who you are. Being open and honest when you communicate. Being open when you’re building relationships. And doing your job the best you can.
Obviously, in a sporting environment, that means your gym work, your rehab, your nutrition. All the resources that these players have available to them need to be used — and they need to use them properly.
I like to take a holistic view, not only about the team, but about everything: the wairua, the hinengaro, the connections between the mind and the body. So, at the end of it, there’s a real purpose as to why we do things when we take the court. It needs to always be bigger than just what the scoreboard says. And we need to perform well so the people we represent down here can be proud of what we do.
I get the feeling that with new opportunities and other ways to spend leisure time, there aren’t as many of our people turning to sport as they did a few decades back.
Well, I can only speak for netball, but there are two factors affecting our players reaching the top. One is the structure of netball. There used to be four or five layers prior to getting into the Silver Ferns. But nowadays there are limited pathways for players, especially in the rurals, so it’s difficult for youngsters to come through. That’s one aspect.
And another is that you’ve gotta be prepared to work and train hard. A lot of Māori are very talented — and have the X factor. But to go to the next step you have to do the extra work. Talent alone won’t get you past secondary school level.
When you missed out on the top job, some might have thought that you’d give it away. You showed some class by not doing so. But were you tempted to?
Yeah. Very much so. Actually, the first person that called me was Dad. And he goes: “Never mind. Never mind. You can still coach.” And that was all he said actually.
There were a few times when I thought: “Why am I doing this?” Like any other person, if you miss out on a job, you still think you should have got it. But what hurt me most with missing out on the Silver Ferns job was that I didn’t even get shortlisted. That was big. I felt I deserved to be shortlisted at least. I thought I had the capability to get to that stage.
After a couple of months — it actually took me a while — I sat back and thought: “Why I do coach?” And I realised that I don’t coach to be a New Zealand Silver Ferns coach. That’s not the reason why I coach. So I thought about what I get from coaching. And why I do it. And, in hindsight, missing out has helped me go another level in my thinking.
It looks to me as though you enjoy coaching because you like helping people achieve their capabilities.
That’s it, actually. To achieve your human capabilites. To grow as a person. To develop. Learn how to communicate. Learn how to build relationships with other people. Valuing where you come from and who you represent. Being a role model. Being a positive influence on other people.
The most beautiful thing is when you see people grow. To be honest, if we weren’t growing as people, we wouldn’t be playing in the manner that we are. I think it’s all inter-related. It’s all integrated. We’re working to get happy people who are willing to train hard, work hard, and to commit fully to a goal or a dream. When we’re in that zone, which I think we’re starting to head into — man, then we’ll play some beautiful netball.
You’ve had a wonderful career as a player and a coach, and a proud mother. You’ve still got a heck of a lot to offer, not just in the sporting arena. I’m thinking that those with political aspirations for you might come knocking on your door. Have you given that any consideration as you look towards other stages in your life?
Dad has, for many years, tried to push me in this direction and that direction. And, stubbornly, I’ve sort of closed the door on certain things. But I don’t know. I’m sort of open as to where I go, and have the faith that where I end up is where I’m supposed to be. So, apart from trying to do the business on the court, and winning the ANZ, I don’t know where I’m going after that. I’ll just see what presents.