Plum­mer’s Proteas Start­ing to Bloom

SLOW Magazine - - Must Go -

In 2015, as the Spar Proteas net­ball team were about to run onto court against their arch-ri­vals, the Malawi team, the Proteas’ Aus­tralian coach, Norma Plum­mer, said to them, “This is where you find out who your friends in the trenches are.” Make no mis­take, net­ball is war in Plum­mer’s mind.

The leg­end of Aus­tralian net­ball takes to the court with one pur­pose in mind: to win. If you’re not go­ing to win, then your op­po­nents will at least know they’ve been through a hell of a fight for their vic­tory.

Plum­mer coaches the Spar Proteas in the same tough-as-nails man­ner that saw her lead world cham­pi­ons Aus­tralia to two World Cham­pi­onship ti­tles. She has re­ceived death threats in her ca­reer, and she has been likened to Sir Alex Fer­gu­son in her re­lent­less pur­suit for per­fec­tion, but she is al­ways fair. She may not smile very of­ten, but she has a soft spot for a good Chardon­nay. More than any­thing though, what Plum­mer has brought into the Proteas team is far more than just a bet­ter game plan and skills.

There is a self-con­fi­dence among the Proteas that is ac­tu­ally bor­der­ing on a bit of a swag­ger. Whereas be­fore they took on the top teams such as Aus­tralia, New Zealand, and Eng­land with trep­i­da­tion, they now take to the court look­ing for­ward to do­ing what they do so well: be­ing a prob­lem for the world’s best. “I cer­tainly know now that Aus­tralia, New Zealand, and Eng­land don’t see South Africa as a pushover any­more,” says Plum­mer.

She is re­al­is­tic enough to know that the Proteas are not go­ing to sud­denly start beat­ing the afore­men­tioned top teams on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, but the mar­gin of vic­tory that th­ese teams have en­joyed in the past is clos­ing. “My ex­pec­ta­tion is that we keep chal­leng­ing and im­prov­ing. I don’t want to be tak­ing a step back­ward. I think we’re the sort of team now that is ver­sa­tile enough to take on any chal­lenge. And if we don’t get chal­lenged, we don’t im­prove.”

One player who has rel­ished Plum­mer’s in­put is de­fender Karla Mostert. Since Plum­mer has been work­ing with the Proteas, Mostert has gone on to play in the top leagues in Eng­land and Aus­tralia, and is now recog­nised as one of the best de­fend­ers in world net­ball. “As a player, you want to im­prove all the time and you can never learn enough. Since Norma joined, we’ve just im­proved with every tour­na­ment, and net­ball in South Africa is re­ally mov­ing for­ward,” Mostert says.

Plum­mer also sees a depth in tal­ent in South Africa that she feels is al­most un­ri­valled. “The ba­sis is there. As in­di­vid­ual ath­letes, they’re just sen­sa­tional. The chal­lenge has been more to get the com­bi­na­tions work­ing on court. It’s that ex­tra 1% you’re look­ing for against the top teams.”

There is no doubt that there is a sense in­ter­na­tion­ally that the Proteas are the team to watch. Even as early in the Plum­mer era as the 2015 Net­ball World Cup in Syd­ney, this was be­com­ing ev­i­dent.

Af­ter the Proteas were beaten by Aus­tralia, Aus­tralian goal shooter, Caitlin Th­waites, said, “I think if this South African team con­tin­ues to build over the next cou­ple of years, we could be in trou­ble.” Now that does bring a smile to Plum­mer’s face.

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