Margaret Forsyth’s appointment as Kia Magic assistant coach has handed the former Silver Fern her biggest career challenge yet as she makes the leap into the semi-professional ranks of netball’s ANZ Championship.
Best remembered for her exploits as a player, Forsyth carved an indelible niche in netballing folklore when she formed half of a dynamic Silver Ferns shooting combination with Margharet Matenga during the 1980s. Dubbed the ``two Margs’’, the pair completely changed the way shooters would play the game in the future with their skill sets, athleticism, flair and instinct.
Forsyth now forms the other half of the Waikato/Bay of Plenty team’s coaching staff with Australian Julie Fitzgerald, the trans-Tasman duo preparing to lead Magic into a new era following the retirement of long-time mentor Noeline Taurua earlier this year.
A prominent figure in her home province of Waikato, Forsyth has a long coaching pedigree at lower levels and is excited by the opportunity of working with the experienced Fitzgerald, who has an extensive resume at the elite level and has been signed on as Magic head coach for 2014 and 15.
``I haven’t got any pre-conceived ideas,’’ Forsyth said. ``I’m just really excited to be involved in this level of netball. It’s exciting on lots of levels……to be working with somebody like Julie Fitzgerald, to be working with the calibre of some of those international players which includes Silver Ferns and (England international) Jo Harten and then there’s the exciting opportunity to be working with the young up-and-coming talent that we have as well.
``It’s fantastic being involved in our whole campaign, just the depth of knowledge and the depth of preparation that’s needed for a competition such as this, for me, I’m so enthusiastic and there’s so much to learn.’’
Forsyth has recently emerged from a successful national championship campaign where she guided a well-drilled Hamilton to a close second, pipped 54-53 by Otago in the final.
First bursting into the Silver Ferns as a 17-year-old school girl in 1979, netball has long flowed through Forsyth’s veins with both the playing and coaching sides combining in equal measures on her resume.
``I’ve always coached,’’ she said. ``When I was playing, I was player/coach and then when I stopped playing I continued to coach.’’
Those roles included coaching the Waikato seniors, the Verdettes club side in the early days of the national league and co-coaching the New Zealand A team.
Forsyth took time away from the game to raise three sons, returning about 10 years ago where in the interim she has coached at secondary school level, HamiltonCity under-17s, HamiltonCity under-21s and this year the Hamilton City NPC team.
She has also been a New Zealand selector for three years, relinquishing that role when taking up the Magic opportunity.
In looking to build her mentoring skills at the higher levels, Forsyth is grateful for the rare opportunity of being able to work with an Australian coach. Fitzgerald is just the third Australian to become a formal part of New Zealand’s coaching structures in the semi-professional era following Natalie Avellino (Southern Steel) and Vicki Wilson (Silver Ferns).
``For me to be able to work with Julie who has got great credentials, I just feel really privileged and very excited about such a unique situation,’’ she said.
Fitzgerald was in New Zealand for a couple of weeks recently where she spent time at the national championships in Dunedin while also engaging in more behind the scenes planning in Waikato and Bay of Plenty and touching base with some of the 2014 Magic team.
``She stayed for some time at my place and it was great,’’ Forsyth said. ``It gave us another opportunity to talk some more netball and get to know each other a little better as well and I’m very confident that we’re going to make a great team.’’
Fitzgerald will relocate from Australia to New Zealand for her two-year stint with Magic immediately after Christmas.
``I’m just going to go in there pretty open minded and see how things pan out,’’ Forsyth said.
``This is a new experience for me. I have been an assistant at under-21 level, but certainly not at this level, so I’m quite open and willing to slot into the roles that I am given and I also think that other things will emerge in time once we get to know each other better and the roles that we have.’’
Forsyth does, however, have a cast iron overview of a coach’s role and its place in wider society.
``Winning is a huge thing but there’s more to coaching than winning, it’s creating an environment, it’s about teaching things that are bigger than netball, really,’’ she said.
``It is very much a big picture thing. The netball thing is part of the expression of how you go about achieving that stuff and all the skills that you learn are transferable, they are life skills as well.
``I’m aware of all that and the integrity side is so important to me. If you’re teaching people and you’re espousing something then you’ve got to be able to walk the talk as well yourself.’’
Forsyth has had a varied career outside of netball, where her roles have included teaching, professional coaching with the Waikato Sports Foundation and policing. In recent years, she has been involved with local body politics and has been a HamiltonCity councillor for the past three years.