Off The Court: Karin Burger on her journey from South Africa to becoming a world champion
Defender joins Off The Court to share her story of 'raw' beginnings in New Zealand, getting sent off on her Silver Ferns debut, and World Cup glory
By Sky Sports Netball
Last Updated: 25/05/20 11:30am
From South Africa to New Zealand, and hopefully back again in 2023, Karin Burger joins Off The Court to discuss her journey towards becoming a world champion with the Silver Ferns.
The 27-year-old defender connected with Tamsin Greenway and Caroline Barker for a chat after enjoying her first day of training alongside her club teammates at Central Pulse in New Zealand.
After training alone due to the restrictions that COVID-19 precautions require, even a task that most netballers dread was an enjoyable experience.
"We started with fitness testing and to be honest, I did it with a smile because it meant that we were able to do it with other people and I didn't have to do it by myself anymore!" said Burger.
"I love training," the defender added. "But when you're used to training in a team and having that encouragement around you, transitioning to doing it by yourself all of the time is draining."
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Not being in the usual training environment has proven to be a challenge but with a challenge also comes opportunity. To be creative, have discipline and think outside the box. It has allowed a new outlook on training. Not just seeing it as an obligation/task that must be completed but rather finding ways to enjoy it. (Sometimes easier said than done, hah) Variety is key and also creating/finding a session that will challenge me but doing it with a joyful, thankful mindset because I’m healthy and blessed to be doing it. Here’s to a few more weeks of finding new ways to suffer and come out stronger on the other side. @pumanewzealand @pumawomen
The ANZ Premiership will be the first of netball's professional leagues to recommence on June 19 and for Central Pulse, it marks the continuation of them trying to retain the title they won last year.
"Now that we've won it, we need to try and figure out how we can be different when we need to be different, and not just stick to one game plan," she said of her team.
"Ultimately, we want to have that gold again, it's just about how we're going to get there because others will start knowing us and they've got great talents in their ranks. We need to be smarter in what we do."
ANZ Premiership confirms return date
The competition will recommence on June 19 and a revised schedule of matches will be announced by Netball New Zealand shortly.
Another aim for all players in the ANZ Premiership is to develop themselves as individuals, and prove to the Silver Ferns' head coach Dame Noeline Taurua that they are continuing to have the qualities needed to wear the black dress.
Burger's journey to becoming a Silver Fern #171 didn't take a traditional path. She was born and grew up in South Africa and after arriving in New Zealand at the age of 18, she didn't overburden herself with pressure.
"It's quite interesting because when I first moved, it wasn't necessarily to move with this determined thought that I was going to be in the Silver Ferns one day," she recalled.
"I guess as a youngster, anything exciting including moving to a different country is great. I grew up wanting to do something extra with my life... I didn't want to do the normal things all of the time. Sport gave me that opportunity.
"When I got the opportunity to move to New Zealand, I took it. I guess, you do have to have that in the back of your mind - to one day play for the Silver Ferns - but it was a seven-year journey for me to get there."
I never told myself I was good enough to be in the Silver Ferns. I said I was going to give it my all... and if it doesn't work, then it is what it is. That was the only thing I could control.
Burger set about building a life for herself in New Zealand and on the netball front, she found that she had some developing to do in order to make the jump up from the secondary school netball she had left behind in South Africa.
"I was very raw," she admitted. "There were a lot of small things that I needed to work on.
"I came from a very small town in South Africa and there weren't huge resources put into netball coaching there, so you just had to get by with what you had. You relied on your talent.
"When I moved here [to New Zealand], I moved to a club that embraced me and helped me develop those small things - like landing on the left and turning on the left - the really basic things!"
I had to go back to the basics and learn all of those things over again to make sure that I could put a quality game out... It took me about two years to feel confident in what I was delivering.
Burger remained dedicated though, not only developing her on-court skills, but also studying and working. For her, 12-hour days were the norm; the road to the top was a challenging and intense one.
"There were a lot of times when it felt really hard. The times when I had to study, work, and get up early to train, and then go back to training in the evenings. Looking back now, I can't imagine myself doing that again," she said.
"I don't want to go back there, but I'm grateful for it as it really built my character into what it is today."
Her character was tested further when she was handed her Silver Ferns debut against England in 2018. It was a debut that was memorable for the wrong reasons, as she was sent off the court.
"It's not something I would have planned to have in my career, but I've done it, learned from it, and it won't happen again.
"I had a really amazing coach who pulled me in after - we had a discussion about why it happened, what my thinking was, how I was processing it, and how it eventually happened.
"I think that she understood my point in that there wasn't any malice in it, it was an honest mistake and just a lot of adrenaline rushing through me.
"She trusted that I knew what I did and that I knew not to do it again. She gave me that opportunity in the next game, which I'm very grateful for."
As Burger said, further caps were handed to her including a place in Taurua's squad for last year's Netball World Cup in Liverpool.
The Silver Ferns arrived in England came off the back of their worst Commonwealth Games result in their history - fourth on the Gold Coast - and with head coach Taurua having taken over from Janine Southby, just 10 months prior.
Despite acknowledging Taurua's brilliance, many weren't sure that she had sufficient time to take the side back to where they believed they ought to be; winning gold on the world stage.
"Internally, there weren't any doubts," Burger said. "It's understandable if they came from outside as they didn't get to see what was happening within our group.
"It got instilled in us, not to listen to those kinds of things and even more so, to use them as encouragement to do better and prove them wrong.
"I think the mentality side of things, and how that progressed, was more [important] than the skills side of it. We had the skills, we just needed to fine-tune them, but it was really the mental stuff that we built on and worked on together as a team. That gave us the extra edge."
With the 'fossils' in their squad - Laura Langman, Casey Kopua, and Maria Folau - providing great experience and the Silver Ferns' trademark zone throwing teams off course, the result was a remarkable world title which was won in style.
The presence of Langman, Kopua and Folau added tremendously in Liverpool but the Ferns' return to England for the Vitality Nations Cup in January showed that their systems run deep.
They were dominant, despite playing most of their games with only 10 players due to injuries, and alongside Jane Watson, Burger was a standout performer.
As a 27-year-old, but one who only made her international debut in 2018, it's no surprise to find out that Burger has her sights fixed on the sport's major competitions in the coming months and years.
Due to the global pandemic, the schedule in the immediate future is currently uncertain but longer-term, the Commonwealth Games are scheduled for 2022 and beyond that, there's the 16th edition of the Netball World Cup in South Africa.
"When it was announced that it was going to be in South Africa, so many friends and family were onto Mum to get tickets! It's going to be pretty awesome," she said.
"I grew up in a family where there was always support on the sidelines for me, so moving to New Zealand, not having that was a big adjustment.
"It's awesome to know that I could play again where they would be so many personal supporters on the sideline. Fingers crossed I'll be hoping to be in the team to play there."