Good coaching is about developing a lifelong love of sport in people and in a commitment to seeing the quality and number of coaches grow in Northland, the Northern Advocate has teamed up with Sport Northland to publish a question-and-answer feature on one local coach per month.

The aim is to highlight coaches from an array of codes to give an insight into the nuances of coaching and the people who dedicate themselves to the discipline.


The second monthly coach profile is Cheryl Smith. As head coach of the inaugural Farah Palmer Cup Northland Kauri team this year, the former Black Fern guided her team to a semifinal against Hawke's Bay.


Name: Cheryl Smith (nee Waaka)

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Age: 49

Hometown: Ōtaua

Current job: Sport Northland community connector for the Mid North District

Sport: Rugby

Current coaching role: Northland Kauri head coach

Favourite author: My most recent read, that I couldn't seem to put down, was My Life, My Fight by Steven Adams

Favourite movie: I have very little time to watch movies but one I have watched several times and have enjoyed a lot is Coach Carter.

Favourite meal: Steak

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Smith's passion for women's rugby has played a big part in seeing more women getting into the game in recent years. Photo / Debbie Beadle
Smith's passion for women's rugby has played a big part in seeing more women getting into the game in recent years. Photo / Debbie Beadle

How did you start in rugby?

As a teenager at Northland College, I only played netball. Rugby wasn't allowed at school, but we used to play lunchtime games of "force back" with the boys. I started playing rugby after I left school - both in the backyard with my brothers and for the local Ōhaeawai Rugby Club.

When I represented Northland, I was noticed by the New Zealand selectors and it was due to that I decided to move to Auckland. I played in Auckland for 10 years for three different clubs and I was playing for College Rifles when I was selected into the Black Ferns.


What is your coaching history?

A few years ago, I started coaching in the junior ranks at Kaikohe Rugby Club, using the knowledge I had gained as player but modifying it to the age group I was working with.

Mainly we just played games like I did in the backyard with my brothers. For me, this was part of giving back before I started my family. Today I am still involved with junior teams.

I started coaching senior rugby by mistake. I actually called for a muster of women interested in playing. No one showed but the senior men needed a coach, so they asked me that same night.

The Northland Kauri, in their first year in the Farah Palmer Cup, did extremely well to make the semifinals against Hawke's Bay. Photo / File
The Northland Kauri, in their first year in the Farah Palmer Cup, did extremely well to make the semifinals against Hawke's Bay. Photo / File

Why do you coach?

To give back what I've learned in my playing career and to show that coming from a rural area doesn't have to be a barrier to achieving. I like to empower players to take charge of their own destiny.


What coaching training/qualifications have you done?

I don't actually have any formal rugby coaching qualifications. My coaching knowledge has come from my experience on the playing field. I try to take a small piece of what each coach has taught me at club, Northland and NZ levels.

If it has resonated with me, I use it. I also like to talk to other coaches, even those outside of rugby, to see what they might be able to offer.


How has your coaching changed?

I have tried to maintain the same way of coaching that I started with. Even though I now have more experience, I have tried to remain focused on the players rather than the game.

Northland FPC coaches Susan Dawson (top left) and Cheryl Smith (top right) faced plenty of challenges during their first campaign in the competition. Photo / File
Northland FPC coaches Susan Dawson (top left) and Cheryl Smith (top right) faced plenty of challenges during their first campaign in the competition. Photo / File

How has coaching/sport changed?

In my opinion, coaching is too technical today. This has meant a movement away from the art of coaching and has detracted from the flair of players.

Players are often too robotic and can't seem to think for themselves. I think that coaching needs to empower players to make decisions in real time as that is what playing sport and real life is like. Things are not always predicable or square shaped.


What is the importance of coaching in the sector?

This is huge! You are not just a coach you are a mentor, parent figure, councillor and leader. Coaching is a way of helping people find themselves and being true to themselves.

The passion and pride with which the Kauri played this year stemmed from Smith's leadership. Photo / File
The passion and pride with which the Kauri played this year stemmed from Smith's leadership. Photo / File

Who has been the most influential coach/person in your life?

The most influential person in coaching and in general was my dad. He was a very real person and he focused his energy into coaching in the Kaikohe and Hokianga communities.

Daryll Suasua, my Black Ferns coach, told me that "coaches shouldn't change you as a person". That has taught me that I need to get to know my players and stay true to myself because that's what I expect of my players.

Farah Palmer, my Black Ferns captain, said to me when I caught up with her this year, "Cheryl, I am not surprised you are coaching. In our team you were a leader, but you didn't know it. The others looked to you all the time ..."


What would be your number one coaching tip?

As a coach don't change who you are. Be true to yourself and expect the same from your players.