Written by Joyce Brown OAM - former coach of the Australian Netball Team and Melbourne Vixens patron.
Of all the players I have had through my life in Netball I would not have thought Simone McKinnis would have been interested in coaching let alone working her way to the top echelon by being A Premiership coach at the ANZ Championship level. You think you know but you don't really!
Players who did not surprise me with their coaching skills were Norma Plummer, Chris Burton, Jill McIntosh, Anne Sargeant, Michelle den Decker, Vickie Wilson and Roselee Jenke. Simone was a “bolt from the blue".
At her best as a player she was a free-flowing, smooth mover, with elevation to spare and crisp ball handling skills. She was undoubtedly the best wing defence Australia has ever produced and definitely in the top seven team in the history of the game.
When you are that good the theory is that you won't necessarily be a good coach. There is a theory in coaching circles that the hard working players make the best coaches. Wrong, in the case of Simone, who was also a good decision maker and a dogged competitor. Now that I am writing this I realise I was just slow to see the potential and maybe she was too.
However she did most of her Coaching Accreditation courses when she was a player, she was hoping to use it at some time to support her love of travel. And travelling to coach she did, to the Australian Institute of Sport, Singapore, Pakistan and Tanzania. But let's go back to how it began.
The McKinnis family was sporty. The five daughters were all interested in sport, rowing, swimming, athletics, hockey and netball. Mum and Dad loved tennis and footy respectively.
After some time in Western Australia and New South Wales, the family settled in Geelong. This necessitated the well-worn travel path down the highway to Melbourne which Simone still grinds out today as Coach of the Melbourne Vixens from the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) in South Melbourne.
In the early days she played with the Hearn Hill team at Geelong where Barbara Gillet (Goss) was the coach and ex Wing Attack for Melbourne Blue and Victoria.
Naturally, Barbara steered her to the Melbourne Club at Royal Park. Simone was a goal defence and started in Melbourne Green, progressed through Reds, Golds and to the famous and dominant Melbourne Blues coached by Betty Carrol (Taylor) and Norma Plummer.
She started in the Greens with Roselee Jencke, with whom she progressed through the ranks, both representing Victorian from 1985 to the winning of the World Title team for Australia in 1991.
Simone called it “time" in 1998 after 63 Tests, two World Titles in 1991 and 1995 and a Commonwealth Games gold medal. During this time she obtained her Bachelor of Arts and Social Sciences majoring in Psychology. This was to be another strong plank in her coaching career.
She remembers fondly the players of the Blues when they were at their best. Janine Ilich, Michelle Bennison, Liz Taverner, Deanne Linsey, Roselee Jencke, Chris Harris, Di Honey, Helen Crowel, Leanne Mackie and later, Suzie Meaney (Howie), Eloise Southby and Sharelle McMahon, all just starting out.
JB – What about the coaches?
Melbourne Greens -“Betty Carroll (Taylor) had played for Australia as goal defence and her defence advice was great. She knew – she had done it!"
Melbourne Blues – “Norma Plummer – she was tough, had strict guidelines which I probably needed at that time. She was good strategically and pushed basic skills.
JB – Your parents were good supporters, I suspect that your father may have given you some advice?
“No not really. When I was older and struggling to decide whether to give it away or not he said: 'You are a long time out of it. Make your time count'. That was good advice. He never tried to coach me though."
Simone took a while to make the Australian team. She was in the ten players but rarely given the chance for the starting seven. On one tour she would be in, the next one out.
By 1991 she was regularly in the starting line-up and her confidence grew from there and she never looked back. With tours in between she was in the successful World Title winning teams of 1991 and 1995 as well as the team that won the Commonwealth Games Gold in 1998.
I coached Simone at Australian level for three or four years and always felt I was lucky to have such talent on wing defence. It's a difficult position to play, usually on speedy, showy wing attacks. Simone had the talent to work them out, position them to her advantage and beat them to the ball on a front lead or a high lob.
She was a clean player with speed in the last couple of strides, great defensive skills and a clear crisp attacking skills. Sometimes she maybe 'cracking even' with an opponent at three quarter time but you had the confidence to stick with her knowing she would pull in a miracle intercept that would turn the game.
Beautiful to watch!
Part 2 to be released soon.