Robyn's rules on the court

02:43, Mar 22 2014
Robyn Broughton
ON THE PULSE: Coach Robyn Broughton with (from left) Joline Henry, Donna Wilkins, Katrina Grant, and Irene van Dyk.

Nikki Macdonald speaks to Robyn Broughton, the coach hoping to take Central Pulse to the top.

This is a woman used to being in charge. Butt has barely grazed seat before Robyn Broughton is laying down the ground rules: "I don't really want anything personal in the paper."

The netball legend and Central Pulse coach says coaching a professional netball team is as much about listening to the players, as it is about them listening to her. But guiding school teams, as she has successfully for 30 years, "I do the teaching, I call the shots".

Clearly we're back at school.

It probably doesn't help that Broughton is still smarting from the team's one-goal loss to last year's trans-Tasman champions Adelaide Thunderbirds.

But they've won their two subsequent games and commentators are talking up the team's prospects for this season, especially with the signing of high profile Silver Fern Irene van Dyk. They've come a long way from the winless wooden spooners of 2008, much of that under Broughton's firm hand.


Broughton - "Rob" to her crew - grew up in the Hutt Valley. But before returning to take over the Pulse in 2012 she'd barely been back to Wellington since moving to Otago to study physical education.

"I was 17, I suppose, when I left here. A lot of it is like you know it but you don't know it."

At the same time as rediscovering the city, Broughton has been rediscovering her passion for the game.

It was a love she discovered early - the lure of the team game winning out over her other sporting strengths, tennis and athletics. Broughton was just 14 when she first trialled for New Zealand, and she's been involved with netball pretty much ever since. She played reps for Hutt Valley, captained Otago, Southland and New Zealand Universities, before moving into coaching at the secondary schools where she taught.

It was working with Southland youngsters, guiding James Hargest and Verdon College teams to national success, that fired the coaching bug in Broughton.

"That was a real taste of kids and what you could do with young players, how I could make them improve.

"I started at the bottom. I started with under 14s, 16s, 18s, 21s. My background and experience is huge in that direction, compared to people that want to come in and start at the top. That's probably my biggest thing - I do not think that people are prepared to do the hard yards early, stick at it and get the skills from it that they should."

Organisation and a supportive husband enabled her to juggle coaching and teaching with motherhood, bringing up sporty Michael, Nicholas and Kirsty. Nicholas played rugby for Scotland and Kirsty played and now coaches netball.

By the time she'd ticked off a phenomenal seven national titles in 10 years with the Southern Sting and another four seasons with its successor, Southern Steel, Broughton's motivation was as ropey as the old right knee injury she's nursing, all strapped up with brace and jelly pads.

She'd had enough of the administration. Even so, it was a big wrench to leave Southland, to leave husband Warren and a devoted support network.

And what she found when she got here was a team and a public who didn't expect to win. "I was at the stage where I wasn't feeling very motivated. But I was when I got here."

And she'd need to be. For the six months Broughton is away from her Southland home and husband it's a seven-day, all-consuming job. The team have just had a game analysis session in the lounge of her central Wellington apartment. Most days there's training, or games, or prep to do. And then there's anxiety about results and the mental strain of always analysing, problem-solving, always trying to keep a step ahead.

Busy-ness is unlikely to be a problem for Broughton - she writhes with restlessness, constantly getting up to stretch or switch positions. But there are enforced breaks - movies, theatre, visits to an old friend in Titahi Bay, hiking. And, when the season wraps up in June, she and Warren will probably take a break at their holiday house in Wanaka.

This is the first year that Broughton won't return to her Invercargill teaching job in the off-season. So is she winding down towards retirement? Don't ask her age. It's none of anyone's business, but she enrolled at Otago Uni in 1961.

There can't be many goals in netball yet to tick off - people commonly ask Broughton why she hasn't coached the Silver Ferns, having been assistant coach to Yvonne Willering. She didn't apply, because she didn't like the way Willering had been shunted aside.

There are no plans to give up just yet, and she's still on the Halberg Trust and chairwoman of South Island Secondary Schools Netball.

So after all these years, to what does Broughton ascribe success?

"It's the hours you put in, the support you have."