From learning from the New Zealand police force to embracing pressure and balancing risk, Yvette McCausland-Durie lifts the lid on Central Pulse’s workings as they look to defend their ANZ Premiership title this season.
The Pulse, like every one of New Zealand’s domestic franchises, have had to endure a truncuated campaign so far in 2020.
After a tough pre-season, which included the Super Club competition, they took to court for Round One back in mid-March. Then, COVID-19 struck and an almost 100-day hiatus followed.
“The players took a huge amount of individual responsibility and showed their commitment,” McCausland-Durie said of her squad’s work during in lockdown.
“That’s all that it takes, really. You can put programmes in front of people, encourage them to do them and make sure they know it’s important. However, until it’s important to them, it won’t get done.”
The group’s hard work resulted in an impressive return to competitive netball on June 21. It was a 24-goal victory over last year’s runners up, and yet McCausland-Durie’s analysis tells you everything that you need to know about the heights of their ambition.
“We’ve talked about what our best potential would be, and whether we can reach that. I’ve set pretty high targets for the squad and I believe they can hit, them,” she said.
“They showed that across a couple of quarters but the overall wrap up, is that we didn’t quite nail what we needed to. Of course, that’s not taking away from the work they put into it, there were some lovely moments and amazing pieces of netball.”
In the Pulse, we’re just one big family. I love it so much; I’ve never been in a team where I’ve felt so comfortable. We’re all just one team that gets along so well. We’re a big family and we have each other’s backs, no matter what.
This year marks McCausland-Durie’s fourth with the group.
Alongside arriving with a wealth of domestic netball experience, she brought even more to the role having been assistant coach to the Silver Ferns assistant coach and New Zealand’s U21 coach and assistant coach.
In short, McCausland-Durie knows her sport inside out and back to front, but she’s not one to forge ahead with blinkers on and ignore others. Instead, she’s inclusive and is passionate about providing the best possible experience for her players.
“For me, my role as the head coach is to facilitate the best process for individuals to learn and grow [in], in order to form the best team outcome.
“I saw that there were people in Wellington (where our training base is), who are active coaches with an absolute passion for the game. They had been experts as players and are now coaching, so I saw that it was my best way to give the group the best opportunities and experiences possible.
“Varied voices are important. We probably all see the game the same way, and all want to play it pretty much the same way, so in the end, it comes down to how we can manage and facilitate the process of understanding with our athletes.”
Pulse’s specialist coaches include Waimarama Taumaunu, who was the Silver Ferns head coach from 2011-2015. Irene van Dyk was present last year and Sandra Edge is a former Silver Ferns captain too.
Indeed, it was Edge who also introduced the Pulse and McCausland-Durie to another avenue for personal development; working with the New Zealand police force.
“Her [Sandra’s] husband works in that field and has been in that area for a really long time.
“Through talking to him, I realised there were a lot of things that he was doing in terms of training his personnel which we really thought would work well for us.
“We did some physical [fitness] aspects and also, sitting down and having a look at ourselves as individuals. We looked at how we respond and how that contributes to the collective.”
If you’re going to make progress, you’ve got to really understand yourself. For us, it was about understanding where we were at as a team and what our history and our past brought us. It allows us to be somewhat vulnerable at times, but also courageous in going forwards.
Courage will be a big part of the Pulse’s 2020 season – not only the courage that it took to come back strongly after an enforced hiatus, but the courage to enter each round with a target on their back as the defending champions.
Across many sports, both individual and team-based, there are countless examples of how being ‘the favourite’ has negatively impacted performances. Athletes and teams enter the arena undercooked and as a result, trip up when they’re supposed to fly.
Of course, being the favourite can boost performances and when it came to this year’s campaign, McCausland-Durie was eager to address the situation and all possible outcomes.
“I think the important thing is not actually ever forgetting about anything,” she said.
“Instead, it’s about seeing every challenge and taking it head on. For us, it’s not making a big deal of it [being the defending champions] but being very realistic that we want the pressure.
No matter what pressure is there, we need to be taking it on board and not shying away from it. We need to be really clear about what parts of it we own. We’ve learned how to embrace the pressure and now it’s about how do we respond to it, on a weekly basis.
“The New Zealand police force are under pressure all of the time. They go into situations where they don’t know the results and where they certainly can’t control everything, but they still prepare as best as they can.
“We’ve learned a lot from understanding how they approach situations, that’s given us insight and allowed us to take things from the synergies.
“We’ve really enjoyed them challenging us and saying that there’s actually a lot that we can control and manage in terms of pressure.”
It’s important that everyone feels valued and that they have a place to contribute. It’s not just about me saying, this is where we’re going so follow me. That’s not my type of leadership nor do I think that’s necessarily successful.
Self-analysis and personal reflection are not reserved for purely for McCausland-Durie’s players. The head coach herself wholeheartedly takes it on board, and knows that her own personal development is just as important.
“We all have an ego because you can’t be in competitive sport without having one,” she reflected honestly.
“But I don’t know everything. I don’t wish to think that I know everything, therefore I also need to be seeking support or clarity and really showing to players that I’m willing to learn.
“I’m willing to push them but also to walk in those uncomfortable spaces myself as well.”
We’ve been really clear that we want to make the Grand Final this year, we know that won’t be easy but we want to win the Grand Final. So whatever it takes and whatever is thrown in front of us, we find solutions. We don’t see things as problems and instead continue to forge forwards.
With a limited number of top athletes in New Zealand, and a whole host of sports for them to choose from, McCausland-Durie feels a responsibility to ensure that they entice fans in with their work.
“Netball has got a pretty huge place in peoples’ hearts and souls here. That makes a big difference, but we have to work incredibly hard to keep our players in our game.
“Coming out of lockdown, we want to put a product together that people would tune in to watch, and want to watch every week.
“We’ve worked really hard at putting that product together. It comes with risk though, because we want to play at pace and challenge ourselves. If you become too risk-averse, it becomes a little bit boring so finding that balance is the art.
“That decision making comes down knowing that you’ve got a good base, understanding each other incredibly well and having simple plans which have room for creativity off them.”
Watch the Pulse’s double header on Sky Sports
The Pulse will face the Steel on Saturday and then line-up against the Magic on Sunday. Both matches will be live on Sky Sports Mix.
Pulse’s next chance to show their style will be a double-header of matches in Round Four, before a second meeting of the season with the Steel in Round Five.
“We feel confident, we feel that we’ve got clarity around our task and that we have got individual responsibility,” McCausland-Durie concluded.
“We’ve got leadership and most importantly, we’re enjoying what we’re doing, and are prepared to continue to try and find ways forwards. The most enjoyment comes when you put it together on court. I want players to come off and say that they really enjoyed playing in that game.
“As a young girl, when you first started playing netball, the enjoyment that you got from it was what made you turn up. It wasn’t about money or crowds, it was loving the game and playing with your team-mates. When you can get to that [at the elite level], the expression really shows.”