I’ve had to take a bit of a step back and look at the bigger picture when it comes to evaluating our 2018 season. Part of me is delighted and proud of how things panned out, the other feels some slight disappointment.
Seven wins versus the one or two we’d managed in previous seasons is a vast improvement in anyone’s book.
But the feeling amongst the girls when we narrowly lost to the Steel in the elimination final was one of just how close we’d come, and, what might have been.
It has, however, reaffirmed to me just how different this team is now and the level of expectation is right where we all want it to be.
That demand for excellence began well before the season started. We made it part of our recruitment policy and fortunately enough, we were able to secure the type of group we were searching for; competitors with a serious desire to win.
The next step was to really embed ‘winning’ as part of our culture. That came way back in January It was the first day our new group came together. I stood at the front of the room and put it to them: “if you are not here to win then there is the door”
I’m thankful and pleased to say no one got up from their seat.
That doesn’t mean we’re not a caring, fun environment either, it’s just the ultimate judgement placed on elite teams is whether you win or not, and we needed to start delivering on that expectation.
While we have had lots of highs this year it is hard to forget the past. Four games into the 2017 season, we hit a real low, losing to the Steel 41-90, I was handed the Head Coaching role the following week. We made a few changes to how we played, and two weeks later came within 6 against the same team. The results from those changes gave us some much-needed confidence, which ultimately led to a couple of wins.
At season end I knew more changes were needed, and recruitment was one of them.
The first recruit I needed was an assistant coach. There was one person I knew I needed for this role. Julie Seymour- an absolute legend of the game who I had work with previously for NZ secondary schools. Julie was initially not sure as she also works at St Margarets College but I kept working on her turning up to her house, her school and not taking no for an answer. Luckily the persistence paid off.
Recruiting an amazing support team was important and I have the most amazing people around me, making my job easy.
In previous years, being an assistant coach you don’t usually get too much input as to how this area goes, but as the Head Coach you really need to lead this.
Before I could make a real start on that, I had to let some players know they weren’t going to be part of the team’s future. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and probably something I’ll never get completely comfortable with.
However, I knew to win we needed to make some change, so I set about chasing the type of people I knew had a real hunger and desire to win no matter what.
Jane Watson was a big signing for us, to lure her home and away from the Steel was huge, so too Kate Beveridge. Having the two of them, Brooke Leaver and Temalisi Fakahokotau is a real strength to our side. Their desire to compete is undeniable and it rubs off on the younger girls too. You can see this in the performances of our young players like Kimiora Poi and Charlotte Elley.
Given how tough both recruiting and keeping some of our home-grown players has been in the past I’m extremely proud of the team we’ve been able to attract to the Mainland Tactix. Despite not all coming from the region, they all play with a real sense of passion and purpose. The great thing is that now we have a team culture we are proud of, we are finding that we can successfully bring young local players into the team and they will thrive. One thing we would like to do is inspire our local girls to want to become Tactix of the future.
Early in the new year, as part of our team building, we paddled across the Lyttleton Harbour, then walked up the Bridal Path. At the top, as we overlooked the Canterbury Plains, Julie and I asked them all what their motivating factors were and why they have come to Tactix. All the new players mentioned that it was how we had sold it to them, our passion for the zone and the vision we had for the team. Maybe we have a future in sales… haha, but that sort of reaction gives me real pleasure knowing other people are also prepared to give their all for the place I love and am proud to represent.
After some early wins and a really strong start to the season we found ourselves in a bit of a dip.
Firstly we lost our inspirational captain Jess Moulds and vice-captain Zoe Walker. This was gutting for us, after such as strong start and with both being such amazing people we had to cope with the gap they left both on and off the court. Jane Watson stepped up as captain and did an amazing job-leading by example and it was great to see her develop as a leader.
We had three games in 9 days, which saw us lose to the Steel once, the Magic twice and then to the Northern Stars a week later. From the outside it resulted in people saying that ‘we were the Tactix of old’, ‘it was too good to last’ and that we ‘wouldn’t win another game”, but from the inside it brought us even closer together. It added a real steel to our side and a determination to get back to winning. We looked harder at each other, asked some pretty tough questions and demanded we do better. In fact, we used those sorts of comments people were making just as we went onto court against the Steel in Invercargill. It motivated us, we came away with a one-point win, then a ten-point victory over the Mystics the following week.
It wasn’t just us as coaches either, there was a desire from individuals to improve and find a solution, they felt responsible for where we were and determined to find a way out. Players were asking for more critical feedback than ever before, while some were able to draw on experiences they’d had at other franchises and offered them to the group.
One of the key things we focused on was what we were best at and tried to improve those. Some coaching systems refer to them as ‘Good to Great’. We found better outcomes from working on these, rather than putting the same amount of energy into the things we weren’t as good at. We’ll have plenty of time to work on the other things in the off season.
I guess if I had to sum up our 2018 season it was one of great learnings, one to be proud of and one that gives me excitement for what the future holds. We’ve raised the bar, now bring on 2019.