The coach from the blue - Part two

4 years ago

The continuation of Joyce Brown's interview with Melbourne Vixens head coach Simone McKinnis.

JB – At an Australian level who were your coaches?

Wilma Shakespeare – I didn't fit what she was after.

Joyce Brown – You gave me my chance, helped me to gain confidence to be my best.

Jill McIntosh – She managed an experienced successful team well; she let us play.

JB – Who were your best wing attack opponents?

Sue Kenny (NSW) – was great her timing was spot on and her ball skills were excellent.

Shelley O'Donnell and I had some great battles. They were fast and furious encounters.

Both players (Sue Kenny and Shelley O'Donnell) were in the 1991 World Championship Team for Australia with Simone. How lucky was I to coach them. After Melbourne Blue she became Captain of Melbourne Phoenix in the Commonwealth Bank Trophy winning the Premiership in 1997 but not making the Finals in 1998.

Overall I think Phoenix won five of the ten Premierships in the Mobil League or Commonwealth Bank Trophy. These were the preliminary National competitions to the later establishment of the ANZ Trans-Tasman Competition as it is today.

Simone became the Assistant Coach to me at Phoenix for two years after getting away from netball for a while. I tend to think it rekindled the idea of coaching as a means to travel or was it an unexpected enjoyment of coaching? With Simone it's hard to tell; she's a very private person.

After a brief break from the sport, Simone then coached for three and a half years at the Singapore Sports' School where the players came in at the age of twelve or thirteen years. She trained them though to sixteen or seventeen.

“I loved my Singapore time. There was netball improvement; they were great to work with. I still keep in contact with them now.”

In all of this early coaching she loved it; “It was great to coach the kids, support them, develop them, I loved it”. I suspect Singapore was also a good place to kick off and see the world from time to time.

She then coached at the Australian Institute of Sport for three years and added the role of U/21 Australian Coach. This was the formal beginning of Simone's coaching career at home after incidental coaching sessions as a specialist defence coach. Some of the AIS and U/21 juniors coming through at that time included Laura Geitz, Shae Brown (nee Bolton), Sharni Layton, Amy Steel, Josie Janz, Ashleigh Brazil, Madi Robinson (nee Browne), Janelle Lawson, Tegan Philip (nee Caldwell) and Caitlin Bassett.

“The AIS program was a full on residential program with daily training of fitness, skills and teamwork. It was mainly the U/21 team and we did a lot of travel interstate and overseas. It was a great place to learn and it was full on. I enjoyed it but after three years I felt a bit stuck. The U/21's won the World Youth Cup; that was a great thrill. It seemed to be a good time to move on.”

“Moving on,” meant four months in Tanzania, Africa. It was raw. After the magnificently resourced AIS it was quite a shock for Simone to be in the poor rural bush setting in Africa.

Always up for an adventure even she wondered if she had 'bitten off more than she could chew'. She did not have her assistant AIS coaches, Maria Lynch or Sue Gaudion, to turn to. There she was based at a rural school, no balls, no bibs and two 'courts' next to the open fields.

“People walked across the courts to and from collecting water balanced in urns on their heads. We eventually got going and the girls were lovely. This was their norm. The courts had great pot holes but they learned to take them into account when they were leading for the ball.”

The plan was to take the Team to the Six Nations Tournament in Singapore; which they did. They came third – a good effort. That coaching appointment lasted only four months and taught Simone patience, to be adaptable, flexible and not to plan ahead in this way of life.

“The people were kind and I enjoyed trying to overcome the language barrier, and in spite of the rawness I kept trying”.

Next was the Pakistan experience more weeks than months.

“I went to Islamabad and Lahore twice. The first time it was such a culture shock. The people were kind and welcoming and I felt protected. The next time I went I enjoyed it more. Sure there were confronting situations but if you used your wits you were OK. The people were special. I moved from school to school and Club to Club taking a variety of sessions. It was another good experience.”

Her interest was now sparked to apply through the VIS for the coaching job at Melbourne Vixens. Simone inherited a pretty good squad at the Vixens from Julie Hoornweg and has changed the personnel considerably to ensure that mix on young ones and the more experienced give the team the right dynamic.

She prepares her sessions meticulously, is precise in what she expects from each player, and has a serious and direct manner at training. She can also have a joke with the players off court but they know it's serious business on court where the aim is excellence, improvement and winning. She is an astute calculator of the opposition.

Captain Bianca Chatfield says of Simone, “ I love Simone's style of coaching, Every session is different and suited to the part of the season we are in whether it is more fitness based agility in the pre-season, or more tactical approach closer to game day. Her pre-match speeches are inspiring and straight to the point. She has extremely high standards but knows how to have fun away from the court. It's impressive how she learns about each player, and knows the right way to push us to do better”.

Falling short in the 2013 Preliminary Final spurred Simone and her assistant coaches Di Honey and Sharelle McMahon on to better things. The 2014 Premiership achieved that, and now they are planning hard to back that up with the Premiership in 2015. Simone is used to winning and is a very determined competitor.

JB - What do you do to relax?

“I read a lot, mainly bios and factual experiences. I like to know how others have done it – life that is! I am not a film buff.

I have a good cook as a partner, and that works well. He works locally in the Geelong area and while I am on the road coming from the VIS in Melbourne four nights a week he is cooking up a storm.”

JB - What else do you do?

“I am a mad cleaner. I like everything neat and tidy and have a thing about cleaning. Housework in general really”.

JB - OMG! Just as well you have a built in psychology student with you!”

JB - What was your greatest thrill in netball?

“Undoubtedly the 1991 World Championships in Sydney. It was huge! The whole thing was amazing. The response from the public, the amazing event that it was. The win! Nothing has topped that.”

The travel attached to her early coaching assignments took Simone to different cultures, opened her to learning different ways and helped mature her as a person. Coaching she says, “Opened my mind to learning and improving on everything I do in netball. Apart from getting better at communication, managing and organising, it demands you take a good hard look at yourself.”

Simone is a very private person and although she knows our sport needs the media and sponsorship and does her duty to the game in this way, she really enjoys the players and the game and not the media show so much. She remains a free spirit behind that calm exterior.

What I have been struck with in this interview is the number of times that Simone has used the words: “enjoyed it and loved it”, in regards to coaching and people. We are lucky she recognised her personal enjoyment of the game, her ability to support and develop the players in her trust and her courage to put her stellar playing credentials on the line and have a red hot “go” to coach at the top.

And it seems she can do that as well on a dusty pot-holed court or a beautiful double sprung wooden one.

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