June 19, 2024

Indigenous approach taking centre court for Māori and Pasifika coaches

At both grassroots and national level, poitarawhiti (netball) has a huge following in Aotearoa.  From the traditions of Saturday morning sport to the national premier league, the sport and the associated camaraderie is an important connector in the community for players, coaches and wider audiences. 

A project in 2023 prioritised an indigenous approach in poitarawhiti, with Healthy Families Waitākere partnering with Netball New Zealand and Netball Northern Zone to trial a new approach of using te ao Māori principles in the accreditation programme for performance coaches. 

Healthy Families Waitākere Systems Innovator, Ruta Tonumaivao, has been driving this forward over the past year, together with Sport Waitākere and netball’s key organisations.   After providing support last year to the first cohort of Māori and Pasifika coaches to become accredited through the new programme, she says the results have been outstanding.

“Netball New Zealand saw the impact it had on coaches and helped identify gaps in how they facilitate their learning and the resources that were not culturally responsive to the needs of Māori and Pasifika,” says Tonumaivao.  “We have found that poitarawhiti pouako (netball coaches) thrive when they have access to resources and support that reflects their cultural identify, practices and values.”

Working collaboratively with the Healthy Families team, Sport Waitākere’s Community Sport and Recreation coaching specialists have been able to utilise their coach development lens to support the Māori and Pasifika coaches, while sector support guidance has been valuable for supporting Māori club leaders.

“We recognised early on that there were areas where our community sport team could lend their expertise. Working together with our specific skillsets has really added to the wider system,” explains Tonumaivao.

Commentary from coaches around the culturally-responsive and holistic training has been extremely positive.  “This is a safe place to learn and be myself with other coaches who hold similar values,” shared one coach.  Another added: “I love this environment.  I feel supported and can be my authentic self.”

“Implementing whakawhanaungatanga helped to create a sense of belonging and a safe place to share experiences and work together,” adds Tania Heap, Community Coach Lead at Netball Northern Zone.

Learnings from the accreditation programme helped open the door to further conversations around indigenising coaching practices, and in particular, obligations to Te Tiriti.  “It led into looking at Netball New Zealand’s Te Tiriti approach and supporting their journey into applying Te Tiriti-led practice,” adds Tonumaivao.

A November 2023 report ‘Poitarawhiti Pouako Experiences’ lays out insights gathered from netball coaches last year.  The report recognises the importance of, and need for, a culturally specific connector between Te Tiriti and the sport system.

Ensuring this is realised at all levels of the sport has been critical.  One such initiative supporting this is Puni Reo Poitarawhiti.  The annual netball tournament for Years 5 to 13 netballers takes place in West Auckland and is helping tamariki bring te reo into a new arena.  It brings together students from kura kaupapa Māori and mainstream schools to celebrate te reo in a fun environment underpinned by hauora.   It is designed to create a safe space to speak te reo and normalise its use in everyday places.

“The event has been going for six years and has been really successful in supporting the use of te reo in sport,” explains Sport Waitākere Youth Advisor, Jemma Palmer.  “We want to take the learnings from this tournament into how we introduce te reo into broader sporting environments and other sporting codes. 

“We know that creating environments where te reo Māori is used in a more natural setting creates the opportunity for our rangatahi to use te reo in everyday life,” adds Palmer.

To date, the collaborative focus across the poitarawhiti system is helping influence change for coaching as well as at the grassroots level, through events like Puni Reo Poitarawhiti.  The next step is to create a space for coach developers – those who train the coaches, explains Tonumaivao.

“Insights from the coaches we worked with were that they don’t often see themselves in the trainers. We’re now partnering with Netball Northern to create a space to take some Māori through that coach development training so that they are then the face of coach development.”

The ultimate intention is that the learnings from netball will help influence other sports and their commitment to Te Tiriti and their Māori and Pasifika pouako.

“Netball is just one sport but hopefully the work done in this code will influence other sports to look at their own systems and how they can better engage the Māori and Pasifika community both at a school and club level.”