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After six years overseas, Gail Parata is back on home soil and ready to take the Pulse to their third straight title in this year’s ANZ Championship. She talks to Matthew Casey.
Taking over the role of head coach for the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse from back-to-back championship winner Yvette McCausland-Durie, Gail Parata has a steep road in front of her heading into the 2021 season. All eyes are on Parata, a former national champion player for the Pacific Islands Presbyterian Church netball team, to see if she can emulate her success this year as a coach.
Growing up in Hawera, Parata moved to Wellington at the age of 20 to pursue her netball dreams. After spending much of the last decade in Scotland, Parata is back home and ready to take on this year’s ANZ Premiership. “This is my hometown. I’ve played and coached in this region for over 20 years. To be able to come back into the Pulse and be the head coach is really exciting for me.” Having played for the Newtown-based PIC as a player-coach, and then assistant coach for both the Capital Shakers and the Central Pulse, Parata’s local netball credentials are impressive. Scotland’s world ranking, soaring under her guidance from 15th to 7th, is testament to her ability.
Parata has no doubt about what she wants to accomplish this year – “the third title.” To helm a team of such a high standard will need bravery, and she’ll be bringing her own experience to a winning formula.
Alongside defending the ANZ Premiership, she’s concerned to make sure the individual players perform to the best of their abilities. As coach her first task has been to “build relationships with these players.” This is about more than just what is happening on the court. One of her tactics, she says, is “bringing the families in. It’s about the whole person for me and understanding who their whānau is.” The Pulse is a big, diverse group, including the likes of University students and Silver Ferns. “For a lot of them, their family means the world to them, and we want them included as well.”
Her own parents have followed most of her netball journey, and will attend the powhiri for her at Te Wānanga o Raukawa. She has ancestral connections with the zone the Pulse represents: “I am a Wellingtonian but my iwi is Ngāti Ruanui which is up in Taranaki and Ngāti Toa which is down here.”
She credits her husband as one of her biggest champions, but admits he does joke that netball is her “life.” Time with family is a priority for Parata. She acknowledges the support of her mother-in-law and her own parents in making this possible.
Family was part of her coming back to New Zealand, she had just finished the World Cup and was thinking more about family as her daughter was about to go to high school, though found herself coaching in Townsville for the Queensland competition on her way home. According to Parata, the Pulse coach role “wasn’t on the horizon”. Since returning to New Zealand in the wake of Covid-19, she has been able to continue her work with Netball Queensland, with a specific focus on coach development in the Pacific. When she found out that McCausland-Durie wasn’t returning for the head coaching role, she knew she had to apply for it, putting the opening down to “luck, I suppose”. Before moving to Scotland, Parata had worked under McCausland-Durie for two years as her assistant coach with the Pulse, and now saw the role as a return “home”.
Parata says that, with the range of age and experience among the players, “the talent is already there,” and all she needs to bring to the system is her “knowledge of how to bring a team together.” The task then is to close the gap between the five Silver Ferns and the others “in terms of skill and conditioning”. With an intensive schedule of four training sessions a week, Parata feels privileged to have so much time to work with her team.
Although she has played and coached at top level, Parata doesn’t believe that such experience is essential to being an effective coach. She cites the likes of Lisa Alexander (the Opals) and even Steve Hanson as examples. As long as you’re a student of the game and always willing to learn, she feels it should fall into place. “Fifty percent is building key relationships,” Parata says. “The on-court stuff, the coaching stuff, is the stuff that I love because I just feel at home there. But it’s all the other stuff that you have to manage behind the scenes with athletes and management and everything.” Her experience as a player helps her “learn on the job” about little tricks of the trade.
After time in 2020 as the assistant to Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua, Parata notes Taurua’s role in nurturing the game in New Zealand: “A great thing Noeline has done is bring all the zone coaches together and also provided the opportunity to coach in netball quad series.”
In the long term, Parata wants to help make her players as skilled as possible so that, when the World Cup comes around next, her players will be able to help the Silver Ferns take out the title – “making them great female athletes, and women.”
Ultimately, Parata wants to help keep netball the number one sport for females in New Zealand and ensure people’s continued support for the game.