When former Diamonds’ coach Norma Plummer watches Simone McKinnis addressing her Vixens players at a time-out, she likes what she sees. A lot.
“Their eyes are just glued to her, and that’s what you want in a coach,’’ says Plummer, who led Australia to dual World Cup gold.
“You can tell the respect is there and they’re ready to do whatever she’s asking.’’
Yet when Plummer coached McKinnis in her days as a champion Wing Defence for Melbourne and Victoria, it was not necessarily with the thought that there was an obvious coach-in-the-making.
“It was more that I didn’t think she’d want to do it,’’ Plummer says. “I sit there now and think what a great job she’s done and is doing.’’
On Saturday night against the ladder-leading West Coast Fever in Perth, McKinnis will coach her 100th game for the Vixens. The obvious highlight of the first 99 was the 2014 premiership, while the only time the team has missed the finals in her five-season tenure was in the injury-hit, rebuilding year of 2015.
Yet, more than just results, Plummer applauds the reigning Suncorp Super Netball Coach-of-the-Year’s willingness to foster and develop young local talent, as well as her desire not just to teach, but to lead.
“She understands the game, and that’s so important. Technically and tactically she’s got it right,’’ says Plummer, also noting the important support roles played by Vixens’ assistants Di Honey and Joh Munro.
"Simone has continued to evolve, which you need to do or you'll get left behind, and what she understands is that even the top players still need direction.
“Simone and someone like Rose Jencke, they’re coaching the Victorian way, where you do have structure, but the structure can be tweaked at any time. But to do that you’ve got to have options and be able to get into a player’s head and direct them in the right way.’’
Having been invited to attend a training session, Plummer noted all the skills and preparatory boxes were ticked. While an apprenticeship that took the 63-Test superstar and inaugural Melbourne Phoenix premiership captain from Singapore to Canberra and Tanzania has served her well, Plummer hopes McKinnis’ expertise and experience may yet take her further still.
“I do hope Simone puts her hand up to coach Australia one day, because she will understand the pressures of it all, and you do have to know what it’s like when you’re in the crunch,” says Plummer, now head coach of South Africa.
Captain Kate Moloney shared a debut season with McKinnis and speaks glowingly of the respect she commands within the playing group.
“It’s the belief and the confidence that she instils in you and how loyal she is to her players and to the club as well that makes her so special as a coach,’’ says Moloney.
“You trust her, and you know she’s been there and done that. She gives us so much confidence, and we go out and play for her, as well as for ourselves.’’
Moloney believes the still-super fit McKinnis has managed to strike just the right balance between camaraderie and authority. She can be tough, yes, but only in the interests of bringing out the best in her charges, who have noticed a slight mellowing over time.
“She’s getting softer and softer each year,’’ says Moloney, slightly mischievously, while stressing that McKinnis’ emphasis on clean, disciplined netball remains unchanged.
“From the very first minute she walked into the club, discipline has been a massive thing to her, which I really love,’’ Moloney says.
“How we play all comes back to what Simone has taught us, because so many of us have played under her for so long, and she really has developed us - not just into the players that we are but the people we are as well.''
Young defender Kadie-Ann Dehaney puts it simply: “She actually believes in me, that I can get the job done, and that’s the biggest thing.’’
Diamond Jo Weston, meanwhile, hopes the team can celebrate the milestone with the result they could not quite manage for another centurion, Tegan Philip, last Sunday against the Giants.
“Simone’s really empowering as a coach and she lets you be in charge of your own destiny as well as being incredibly positive, which gives you the best environment possible to grow,’’ says Weston.
“And she really fosters our relationships with our teammates, which in turn makes us a really tightly-knit group.’’
The Melbourne Vixens return home to Hisense Arena for Round 14 on Sunday 5 August. Get your tickets here.
By Linda Pearce, multi-award-winning netball writer with over 30 years experience.