Just a kid from Porirua

Don Tricker is one of the finest coaches to come from Porirua and is cur­rent New Zealand Rugby Union high per­for­mance man­ager. He spoke to Kris Dando about grow­ing up in Porirua and his golden run with the Black Sox.

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

So you’re Porirua born and bred?

I was born in Els­don, grew up on Cham­pion St, went to Can­nons Creek School, Bran­don In­ter­me­di­ate and Porirua Col­lege. I live in Pa­pakowhai now. Grow­ing up was ex­tremely un­com­pli­cated, play­ing sport, go­ing to school and spend­ing time with friends. My ab­so­lute best friends to­day are guys from Porirua Col­lege, even though we’re a di­verse group.

Was soft­ball al­ways your game?

My grand­fa­ther was Buck Laws, who helped bring the game to Wellington and was a lead­ing um­pire in the early days. I played foot­ball and rugby briefly, but in Porirua in sum­mer it was soft­ball or ath­let­ics. It matched the de­mo­graph­ics.

How was the coach­ing in your early years?

There were two coaches who made a big im­pact on the way I later thought as a coach. Neil Tuf­frey — we used to call him Mr Tuff – and Phil Reeves, who ev­ery­one called Hag­gis. Peo­ple in Porirua would know those names well. Mr Tuff brought a group of us kids all the way up un­til we were 15 and taught us some amaz­ing life lessons, es­pe­cially the value of be­ing part of a team. Hag­gis coached me in the years when soft­ball got hard, when I was play­ing adults – he taught us about hav­ing class in vic­tory or de­feat, and that, to me, is very im­por­tant in sport. Sport is about mak­ing life­long friend­ships and learn­ing about your­self.

Was it hard to move from Porirua to play for Poneke-Kil­birnie, at 22?

Porirua was my home town, but I needed a change. I’m grate­ful to PK be­cause it was there that things started to hap­pen [ re­gional and na­tional ti­tles] that helped me get into the na­tional side.

How did it feel to make the New Zealand side in 1986?

I was 26 when I was called up. It was a great time to be in­volved in soft­ball be­cause the re­gional and na­tional scene was thriv­ing. Games were tele­vised and there was huge com­mu­nity support for the sport. It was a great feel­ing to rep­re­sent your coun­try. My high­light in the na­tional team [ 1986- 91] was the 1988 World Se­ries, when we won sil­ver. We lost to the US and it was bit­terly dis­ap­point­ing, even though the US had an amaz­ing team.

How did you be­come in­volved in coach­ing?

I re­ally got into coach­ing with Poneke-Kil­birnie in 1996. I did that for a while [win­ning re­gional and na­tional ti­tles in 1997-98] and New Zealand came call­ing. It wasn’t easy go­ing in there be­cause I was coach­ing very good friends. Re­la­tion­ships had to change.

What sort of Black Sox team did you in­herit in 1998?

Mike Walsh had laid an out­stand­ing plat­form and there were play­ers like Mark Soren­son, Dean Rice and Kere Jo­han­son. For me, it was about un­der­stand­ing the big­ger pic­ture – cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that peo­ple wanted to be in and be­ing flex­i­ble enough to cater for any­thing that hap­pened. I was lucky I had a group of play­ers who were in­cred­i­bly tal­ented and wanted to max­imise their po­ten­tial.

Did you have a par­tic­u­lar coach­ing phi­los­o­phy that you tried to in­stil?

My fo­cus was un­der­stand­ing the needs of the play­ers. The risk that I al­ways con­sid­ered was that if you be­gin to lever­age your own ex­pe­ri­ences on play­ers, you can run into trou­ble. I wanted to raise their aware­ness of their own per­for­mances and trans­fer re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to each player – if you get th­ese two things right, they can de­liver un­der pres­sure. The cul­ture we had was built on in­tegrity and re­spect – for each other and the team.

Two world ti­tles, in 2000 in South Africa and in Christchurch in 2004. There must have been chal­lenges in each tour­na­ment?

South Africa wasn’t the eas­i­est place to go to and much was made about this. But it’s about con­text. Yes, we had to travel a long way and yes, the ac­com­mo­da­tion wasn’t the best. But we pre­pared for that and we de­ter­mined what was re­ally im­por­tant to the team be­fore we left. So, when we ar­rived we got on with it. In Christchurch it was about love. We loved hav­ing fam­ily close and win­ning in front of our home crowd was spe­cial. We lost [pitcher] Marty Grant to an in­jury and another player had a trau­matic mar­i­tal break-up, but we over­came those.

Was it easy to walk away in 2004?

It ac­tu­ally was. I’m in­debted to soft­ball, al­ways will be, but I had a ca­reer on hold and needed to be a hus­band and a fa­ther. I had got a job in high per­for­mance with Sparc [Sport and Recre­ation New Zealand] in 2002 and wanted to be a dad. I didn’t miss soft­ball as much as I missed my fam­ily.

Are your three teenage kids into soft­ball?

I never pushed them, but they grew up with it. There’s al­ways a glove around the house. I looked to coach what­ever sport they were into – soft­ball, rugby, netball, foot­ball, golf or cheer­lead­ing. It’s what dads do coun­try.

You co-au­thored the re­port that looked into the All Blacks’ fail­ure at the 2007 World Cup. No pres­sure, then.

It wasn’t easy. Peo­ple were re­ally griev­ing [after the loss to France in Cardiff]. I was try­ing to draw in­for­ma­tion and not be judg­men­tal, and for­mu­late key themes on what went wrong. I wasn’t in­vited into any All Black meet­ings for a while.

You’ve been in a high per­for­mance role with the New Zealand Rugby Union since 2011. A busy role?

I’m in­volved in strat­e­gy­build­ing, tal­ent iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and per­for­mance con­sult­ing right across the board in New Zealand rugby, from the un­der-15s to Su­per Rugby, ref­er­ees, coaches and the All Blacks. I’m still coach­ing peo­ple, it’s just in another con­text. The tech­ni­cal side of sport is not what I’m in­ter­ested in – it’s the peo­ple.

Your job must make one heck of a con­ver­sa­tion starter among your mates.

My friends don’t be­lieve I have a real job. The cool thing for me is I’m in an in­dus­try I’m in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate about and ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent. I do get to go on All Black tours — not all of them – but I am work­ing.

What’s harder, be­ing a coach or a player?

A coach. When you see what play­ers go through and how tough things might be, it’s hard for you as coach. All you can do is put the best strat­egy and prepa­ra­tion in place and teach re­spon­si­bil­ity and val­ues.

Do you get to see much rugby played around the traps?

I get to a few games at Norths, and go to Pare­mata-Plim­mer­ton and Tawa on oc­ca­sion, too. I find it hard to just sit and watch a game though – I’m watch­ing it to un­der­stand how the team got to a cer­tain point. Of­ten I’ll watch a game twice, know­ing the re­sult, so I can an­a­lyse it with­out the anx­i­ety of need­ing one team or another to win. Do you still coach soft­ball? I love do­ing it and will con­tinue to do it for Pare­mata-Plim­mer­ton. Even when I was play­ing I coached kids. That’s just the na­ture of the sport – it cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for you and gives you rich ex­pe­ri­ences, so you want to give it back.

How much did grow­ing up in Porirua in­flu­ence you?

It all started in Porirua. It was where I grew up, went to school, played my sport, made my friends. It’s where my fam­ily is. If I’m ever get­ting too big for my boots, my friends will al­ways sort me out. At the end of the day, I’m just a kid from Porirua.




Don Tricker: ‘‘Sport is about mak­ing life­long friend­ships and learn­ing about your­self.’’

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