Leadership by example
Another chapter in the intriguing story of netballer Irene van Dyk was written this week when she was named as captain of the New Zealand Commonwealth Games team in Delhi.
Before announcing the choice of games captain, New Zealand team chef de mission Dave Currie said it was important the person had a long and successful games record and was someone ‘‘ the team would be happy to go into battle behind’’.
The announcement that the captain was van Dyk was rapturously received. No-one mentioned that van Dyk has never been perceived as a leader within her own sport.
The 38-year-old is the most capped netballer in international history. She played for South Africa from 1994 to 1999 and since 2000 has logged a century of tests for the Silver Ferns.
Despite her vast experience there has never been a suggestion she should captain the New Zealand team.
Bernice Mene, Belinda Colling, Anna Rowberry, Adine Wilson, Lesley Nicol, Julie Seymour and Casey Williams have captained the Silver Ferns in van Dyk’s time. When potential captains have been discussed, van Dyk’s name has seldom been mentioned.
She is happy to be one of the troops, winning games with her pinpoint shooting and encouraging others with her enthusiasm.
Van Dyk is a fascinating study. She is unfailingly generous to opponents, a really good sport. Yet because she is such a brilliant goal shoot she is invariably targeted on court and has received some brutal goingsover from opposing defenders. She gets knocked over, and comes up smiling.
Despite her ever-present smile, she is tungsten-tough on court and fiercely competitive. If you’re 38 and still mixing it with the young guns of your sport, it’s clear you’re no pushover.
Off the court she is low-key, quick to laugh and anything but intense.
Not long after settling in Wellington van Dyk decided to play her netball in Waikato, while remaining living in the Hutt Valley. She received remarkably little criticism for the decision to chase the money, even if a few netball officials in Wellington were snippy at having brought her out from South Africa only to lose her to Waikato. Van Dyk is hardly an eloquent public speaker. Her speech to her team-mates upon being named captain began with ‘‘Holy moley’’ and didn’t progress far from there.
But with that said, she was a good choice. There are different ways of inspiring and she does it by her personality and brilliance as a shooter.
When van Dyk was initially chosen for the Silver Ferns by Yvonne Willering in 2000, she copped some stick as a netball mercenary. Such thoughts have long disappeared and these days no-one thinks of her as anything but a New Zealander committed to the cause. She has been honoured in various ways during her decade in New Zealand, from the Sportswoman of the Year award in 2004 to the New Zealand Order of Merit last year.
But this latest accolade is perhaps the most significant.
Van Dyk has long been a legend in her sport.
Her elevation to the games team captaincy shows she is finally being perceived as a leader in her adopted country.
Captain at last: Irene van Dyk led the New Zealand team at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.