By JULIE ASH
Being laughed at probably wasn't what Don Tricker expected at his first team meeting as Black Sox coach.
The man who plans and analyses everything down to the last little detail admits to being caught a bit off guard when many of his former Black Sox team-mates collapsed into fits of laughter.
"I still remember that team meeting in 1998 when I first got the job. I looked across at Dean Rice and they all started laughing. All Dean said was, 'this is going to take a bit of getting use to'."
But it was Porirua's Tricker who had the last laugh, guiding the Black Sox last year to their second consecutive world title and picking up this year's Halberg Award for New Zealand Coach of the Year.
"The Black Sox are a unique group of New Zealanders whom I feel privileged to belong to,"he said. "I appreciate that most people don't get the opportunity to be a part of something so special."
With the lower North Island being the heart of the New Zealand game, growing up in Porirua almost predetermined Tricker's future.
"I have been involved in the sport since I was four. I was introduced to it through my family who have a long association with softball."
Tricker's grandfather, Buck Laws, was one of the country's leading softball umpires and played a key role in introducing the game to the Wellington region.
Tricker played for Porirua until he was 22 then moved to Poneke Kilbirnie. Both teams claimed regional and national titles, which helped to catapult Tricker into the New Zealand side.
A utility player, Tricker played on and off for the national team from 1986 to 1991.
"The highlight of my Black Sox career was playing in the 1988 World Series, and the low point was finishing second."
Tricker began his coaching career while still playing at Poneke Kilbirnie.
"I formally started coaching them in 1996. I came in at the back of the season and they won the title.
"I coached them again in the 1997-1998 season and we won the national title again."
Tricker landed the Black Sox coaching job in 1998.
"Softball has had a huge influence on the person I am today," he said. "Some of my coaches have had such an impact on my life, and the sport has provided me with so many opportunities, I wanted to create some of those opportunities for other people."
His success as a coach comes as no surprise to many, especially Rice, a member of the Black Sox from 1988-2000.
"It was funny to have a team member turning up in front of you as coach.
"But having played alongside Don, I knew he was going to be a great coach."
Rice said that as a player Tricker "wasn't a big, powerful guy" but was mentally strong.
"He didn't possess the X-factor that makes a good athlete, but he was a great hitter, was very analytical and great in pressure situations."
Those who know Tricker will know just how analytical he is.
"He can't help himself," Rice said. "He has always been that type of guy. I'd imagine it would be hard for him to just sit down and watch a game of any kind without analysing everything."
The world title and successful tours of North America and Japan led to Tricker's reappointment through to the next World Series in 2004.
The decision to reapply was a hard one, said Tricker.
He had had to consider what impact the commitment would have on his wife, Carey, children Mitchell (7), Bronte (4), and Georgia (2), and his job, as a business development manager.
"It's about finding the right balance in my life, with my family, career and coaching. It has become one of the biggest challenges I have ever had and is something I haven't cracked yet.
"Many coaches are in the same boat, except maybe the professional ones where their sport is their career. I try to con myself by saying that everyone needs a little time to themselves; in my time I have softball."
Along with the Black Sox, Tricker also coaches son Mitchell's under-9 softball team, and despite the Black Sox' four-test series against Australia which started last night, Tricker will still be on the sideline for Mitchell and his team today.
"This weekend my programme is two tests with the Black Sox on Friday night, on Saturday I am with the kids' team, then back to the Black Sox for the last two tests on Saturday night."
Often asked why New Zealand are so good at the game, Tricker's answer now comes easily.
"I think softball is dominated by pitching and for some reason, being able to develop pitchers is what we are good at.
"But also our players have a real ability to pull together as a team.
"On the international front we are up against some outstanding individual players, but often they tend to play as individuals rather than as a team, and it's all about being a team."