ANZ Premiership: Sam Winders talks leadership, learning and writing books
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 14/08/20 7:03am
At the heart of any sports team lies a captain; the individual who knits the group together and drives them on. The person who has a handle on what motivates every person and whose performance levels are (almost) guaranteed.
For New Zealand side Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic, Sam Winders is their captain and she's someone who leads by example, every week in ANZ Premiership.
Winders is partaking in her seventh successive season for the Magic and came to it, off the back of the missing the cut for the Silver Ferns' Netball World Cup team last year and in January.
From the very beginning, it was clear that her response to this disappointment was going to be to put consistently high performances out on court and show the growth in her own leadership abilities as their captain.
I’ve been doing lots of different things this year to try and add to my toolbox; things like mindfulness and being aware of what you’re actually feeling, but not putting a label on it or judging yourself.
Last season, Winders was in the Magic's leadership group alongside Silver Fern Casey Kopau, and cites the defender as someone that she's has learnt a lot from.
"Casey is a firm believer in action over words. She wasn't necessarily the one who had the inspiring speeches but she'd always go out there and get the job done. She leads by her actions on court.
"I've also been lucky enough to play alongside Laura (Langman) and she's quite similar in that, she's high-performance 24/7. She doesn't stop!
"Laura is super-fit and is the epitome of doing the hard work away from the team environment. Those are the types of people you want to take things from. You always try and take something off everybody, just a little bit here and there.
"In our team, Erena (Mikaere) is a great one because she connects with people on a personal level and always checks on them. She'll always be the first to text someone to find out if they're okay, and that's just not a big deal for her."
Part of my personality is that I'm not afraid to say what I think… if I do have something to say I'll say it! In that respect, it (leadership) does come quite naturally to me.
On court, the 2020 season has been a challenging one for the Magic. Three draws, two losses by a goal and one by two in 12 matches, shows just how much they have been the 'nearly' side of this year's ANZ Premiership competition.
"There were so many games which could have gone either way and we wouldn't have had an eight-game losing streak," the captain said
"However, us not having a very successful season in terms of winning, has meant that I've really learnt a lot from what we've been through. You always learn a lot more from 'failures' than from anything else.
"I've learnt that everybody needs something different but, at the same time I know that I'm not going to be able to please everybody all of the time.
"If I'm trying to be the person that this person needs or that person needs, then I'll never be myself.
Tough ending to a good game. Think McPhee at GS has been great for magic overall this season. Reliable, quietly going about her business & strong to post. And sam winders I have run out of positive words for her on & off court leadership 🙌🏻 https://t.co/Rm1tXZOB6G— Nikki Lloyd (@Nikkinetball30) August 9, 2020
"I really have enjoyed all of the mental tools and developing them. We all put so much effort into our physical training and getting our bodies fit, I just feel the mental side is a space which can be tapped into even more."
There were 20 weeks between Magic's first victory of the 2020 season and their second. Needless to say, Winders remembers getting over the line well.
"That whole game was like a rollercoaster of emotions," Winders said of their 37-36 victory over the Steel.
"Tipping over onto the right side of the result, just brought so much relief. At the same time, you can't just think that you're great after one win.
"A home game day made such a difference, everything about it was different. There are a couple of girls in our team for which it's their first year ever playing, so they'd never experienced playing at home.
"After the first game of the season being in front of nobody in Dunedin, then moving to a small crowd in Auckland's Netball Centre, I said to them nothing compares to being at home."
Alas for the Magic, they do not have another home game to play. Instead they will be keeping an eye on news from Netball New Zealand after Round Ten was cancelled due to the change in COVID-19 alert levels.
When they are able to take to the court, hopefully still for the Finals Series on August 23, Winders always asks her team-mates to give one thing back to her during matches.
"I will give so much energy in a game, that's just how I am, and that team know that I operate on high [energy] at all times," the midcourter said.
"All I need from my team-mates is acknowledgement of my energy! It's that little bit of feedback."
Following the ANZ Premiership's conclusion, the spotlight will turn to the national side of Dame Noeline Taurua's selections for a main squad and a development squad.
With the ever-changing world in which we live in, the opponents for those players may be changeable. However, the coming months could still feature competitive matches and after a season of such consistent individual performances, Winders has certainly put her hand up for selection.
For those who sit outside of the national sphere, there may well be gap another to fill before the 2021 ANZ Premiership season stars. Winders hopes that all players took something from the time when netball wasn't able to be part of their lives.
"I've done my studies and I'm currently studying again but there are players out there who don't have anything other than netball," she said.
"So, the lockdown period probably hit home [for them] quite hard. Hopefully, they used the six weeks to have a think and put plans in place.
"I did my bachelor's in management and marketing and now I'm doing a one-year course which is focused on writing stories for children. It's so different but I'm so passionate about reading and writing, it's so much fun.
"It's something completely different to netball and if netball finished, I wouldn't need to go and sit in an office!
"It's difficult to write during the netball season I have to say, but I love doing the picture books and the rhyming stories. We have 12 assignments and alongside them I've been writing my own books in my own time I'.
"I've always loved children, whether that's coaching or going into schools. I did a brainstorm about what I loved and found my way to the course.
"There's a massive niche that's pretty much untapped in terms of sporting kids' books," she added.
"You go into the library and there are a lot of biographies, lots of rugby books but barely any netball books out there. Whether they can be little chapter books or short stories...there's definitely an opportunity there I reckon.
"I also like books where there's an underlying meaning to it and you get to the end and there's a little message."
The final chapters of the Magic's season will be written shortly and from there, Winders will see what words Taurua writes down on her Silver Ferns selection list in order to find out how the rest of 2020 will look.