Dana Johannsen: Better get used to Aussie in ranks

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Wilson's appointment tremendous for Ferns but a sad reflection on the dearth of our own quality coaches.

New Silver Ferns assistant coach Vicki Wilson. Photo / Natalie Slade
New Silver Ferns assistant coach Vicki Wilson. Photo / Natalie Slade

The idea of having an Aussie help out the Silver Ferns in their quest for world championship glory was never going to sit comfortably with everyone.

The appointment of Vicki Wilson as the assistant coach of the Silver Ferns has been met with shock on both sides of the Tasman, with the thought of one of Australia's all-time greats, and one of the Ferns' all-time nemeses, joining forces with New Zealand proving rather confronting for some sports fans.

But move beyond the notion of transtasman rivalry and there is a bigger reason to be disappointed with the appointment of Wilson.

I should preface this by saying I believe the hard-nosed Wilson will prove a tremendous asset for the Ferns, and Netball New Zealand have pulled off a massive coup in signing her. Likewise, the general feeling in New Zealand netball circles is the move to hire Wilson was a good one, but also in many ways a sad one.

The Australian shooting legend was said to be not just head and shoulders above the other candidates, but a "whole body-length", which does not reflect favourably on the calibre of local applicants.

While it should be pointed out that several of New Zealand's top franchise coaches - Noeline Taurua (Magic), Debbie Fuller (on sabbatical from the Mystics) and Janine Southby (Steel) - did not apply for the job, the pickings were nevertheless extremely slim.

The lack of coaching depth is an issue that has been bubbling away since the start of the transtasman league, but it has often been overlooked by a more immediate concern, the lack of player depth. But they are really both endemic of the same root cause - a poorly structured regional set-up.

Moves by franchises over the last couple of seasons to appoint former Silver Ferns mentors Leigh Gibbs (Tactix) and Ruth Aitken (Mystics) has been met with disapproval from local coaches, who accused the old-timers of blocking the pathways for young, up and coming coaches.

From the franchises' point of view though, the reason for bringing back the likes of Gibbs and Aitken is simple - they have vast experience leading high performance programmes.

Outside of the national programme and ANZ Championship franchises there are no formal high performance structures in place - indeed it could be argued even some of the Kiwi sides in the transtasman league aren't operating in a true high performance environment.

Whereas in Australia they have very sophisticated, well-resourced state programmes that help both the athletes and coaches develop an understanding of the requirements of a professional environment, there have been no such pathways in place here.

Up until this year, New Zealand's provincial league was just five weeks long and didn't come close to providing the players with the level of competition needed to make the step-up to franchise level. Likewise it didn't come close to providing the coaches with the experience needed to conceive, plan and run a 27-week professional netball programme.

The nationwide restructure this year, which saw the 12 regions abolished and five zones established in their place - each aligned with an ANZ franchise - will go some way to addressing the myriad problems facing player and coach development.

Already we have seen the establishment of a national under-23 competition, with the idea being the teams will have access to the same resources and will be expected to put in the same level of commitment as the elite players.

But it will be at least a couple of years before we will see the benefits of these programmes. Until then, we will just have to get used to the idea of having an Aussie in the ranks.

- NZ Herald

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