By JULIE ASH
What do the Black Ferns, Tall Ferns, White Sox and White Ferns have in common?
Apart from being national women's sports teams, all four are coached by men.
Throw in the national women's hockey, soccer and Federation Cup tennis teams, and you begin to wonder where the women coaches have gone.
There is no shortage of talented sportswomen in New Zealand. But it seems that once their playing days are over so is their involvement with their sport - and that's a vast amount of knowledge untapped.
Understandably, many take a break after retiring to establish other areas of their life such as careers and families. Few return.
Men coaching women's teams is not uncommon elsewhere. Now, many New Zealand sports organisations are making an effort to get more women involved and, slowly, they are.
The Black Ferns have had four coaches since their humble beginnings back in the late 1980s.
Laurie O'Reilly guided the side, followed in the mid 1990s by Taranaki player Vicki Dombroski, then Darryl Suasua and Brian Hayes in 1995.
Suasua took over in 1996 and, after two successful world championships, has declared this year his last.
New Zealand Rugby Football Union national team administrator Daneka Charlton said women's rugby was relatively young, so it had not enjoyed the fruits of former players coming back to coach.
"With the Black Ferns, a lot of senior players who have been in the game for a long time and have the knowledge to coach are still playing," she said.
"But they are starting to come through at national provincial level."
Two examples are former Black Ferns Davida White and Helen Littleworth, who are coaching Auckland and Otago respectively.
The New Zealand women's softball side, the White Sox, are coached by Mike Walsh, with former captain Helen Townsend as technical coach.
Walsh took over from former White Sox player Cheryl Kemp in 1999.
Softball New Zealand chief executive Haydn Smith said the administrators were conscious of getting women into the game.
"We have a lot of men who return to coach, but not so many women," he said. "We are aware we need more women and we are looking at it.
"But it takes planning. If we don't start tapping women on the shoulders they think they are not up to it or are not in the mix."
Smith said softball had a number of women who could step up to the job when Walsh retires.
"But obviously we are looking for the best person for the job, male or female."
To encourage more players into coaching, Softball New Zealand asks its national under-19 squads, male and female, to complete a level-one coaching certificate.
"We are trying to make sure there is a base to start developing coaches," Smith said.
New Zealand women's basketball coach Tracy Carpenter said there were some differences coaching a women's team, but it was the same game.
He became the Tall Ferns' coach last year, replacing Carl Dickel, and also coaches the Harbour Kings men's side in the NBL.
"I think it all boils down to the coach being respected by the players," Carpenter said. "I have enjoyed coaching the national women's team, they work hard and they seem to be a lot closer."
A woman manager helps Carpenter with some aspects of his job, such as when he is allowed in the dressing room.
"It hasn't been a problem at all," he said.
Of the seven teams in the women's national provincial competition, all but one are coached by men.
Former Tall Fern captain Kirstin Daly, who retired last year, is the coach of the Mighty Hawks.
"At the Olympics every head coach was a male, except for Canada and the US," Carpenter said. But Basketball New Zealand was trying to develop more female coaches, and some former Tall Ferns would fit the bill.
Anna Lawrence retired from the New Zealand women's hockey team last year. In her 11-year stint there were three coaches - two men and a woman.
"I think it can be challenging for a man to coach a women's team because often they have also coached men's teams and women react differently to criticism. In some respects, male coaches put up with less," she said.
Lawrence has not ruled out coaching in the future.
"I like working with kids, but I don't have any aspirations to be a national coach."
Netball, the country's leading women's sport, seems to have no trouble luring players back to coach.
Former Silver Ferns Lois Muir, Lynn Gunson, Leigh Gibbs, Yvonne Willering and Ruth Aitken have all coached New Zealand.
And netball has proof that one can juggle a family, career and coaching.
Gibbs was married with two young children when she was the Silver Ferns coach. Aitken, a schoolteacher, is married and also has two youngsters.
Chief executive Shelley McMeeken said Netball New Zealand had realised that sports had to create pathways to ensure coaches were captured.
In the past few years, it had held coaching seminars and appointed a technical manager.
"It is accepted for women to be in sport and to excel in sport. Now we need more women to excel in coaching."
By JULIE ASH