WHEN the Scottish Thistles netball coach Gail Parata talks about professionalism and demands commitment from her players, it’s not hollow rhetoric. It’s the very least she expects.
And it’s not a case of “do as I say, not as I do” because the New Zealand coach, who took charge of her first match last night, in a friendly against Surrey Storm, has shown tremendous dedication already.
Her partner and four-year old daughter will follow her to Scotland in the new year but with so much work to be done ahead of the World Cup qualifiers and the Commonwealth Games, she couldn’t wait that long and will spend Christmas on the opposite side of the globe from her loved ones.
“It is a big sacrifice but we wanted to wait until the end of the school year, but we have a long way to go to get the players ready and with the games against the Silver Ferns so early in the year, I will spend Christmas here.”
The Silver Ferns are the New Zealand national side and reigning Commonwealth champions and they arrive in Glasgow in January and will test the Scots in two exhibition matches at the Emirates Arena before travelling south to take on England. It will be an appetiser for the summer’s Commonwealth Games. The Scots have been drawn in the same group as the team who took gold medals in Delhi and while Parata, pictured right in her playing days, warns the home support not to expect too much from the warm-ups with some of the best in the world, she does want to see her new charges compete.
With the task of whittling down the current squad of 20 down to 12 for Games, these matches will be the perfect platform to impress.
Although only moving to Scotland this month, the former elite performer was appointed to the head coach position several months ago and has been keeping tabs on the players’ since then.
“I have been working with them since May and have been back and forth twice. I wanted them to work on their fitness levels and I am pleased with the response. Now they look like athletes and that gives us a foundation to build from. I wanted them to work on the fundamentals, so as well as fitness, I wanted to see improvement in the passing, catching and basic skills and there has been a huge improvement so I am very excited to finally be here so we can work on those things further.
“We can see the intensity in training now and they all know that they are vying for positions and a place in the squad and that is very pleasing to see.”
Coming from a country where netball is the top sport for women, she admits that there is still a massive amount of work to be done if Scotland are to have any hopes of closing the gap on the top half-dozen sides in the world. Countries such as Australia, Jamaica and England join New Zealand in the upper echelons of the sport but, given the paucity of participants in this country, the fact that numbers drop off after school age and the lack of high-profile role models, Parata says it is not comparing like for like.
“Being realistic, it’s going to be a number of years before we can even think about closing the gap. In countries like New Zealand, the sport is so well established and already has a following and huge number playing. Netball is the No.1 female sport in New Zealand and we have huge participation numbers. It’s very popular and when you have a team like the Silver Ferns, who are competing at the height of the sport, they are role models and encourage other youngsters to come and play netball.”
With a contract that initially runs to March 2015, the aim is to guide them to the World Cup and extend her stay for another two years, as she furthers her own international coaching development and tries to leave Scotland better placed to move up the ranks.
“Another role is to help develop Scottish coaches so that I can leave a legacy throughout the sport,” says the former assistant coach of the Silver Ferns.
Despite leaving her homeland and her family behind for now, she says her partner’s ties to Scotland mean that he is supportive of her move.
“The good thing is he has Scottish heritage. His family are from Uist so if I was going to coach anywhere other than New Zealand, he is happy it is Scotland!”
Parata shares the enthusiasm. Already with a vested interest in how her adopted homeland progresses, she is determined and focused. Those who want to go on the journey of improvement with her and going to have to show the same qualities.