JOHANNESBURG – More than just a pinch of perseverance and a dollop of introspection have seen Jenny van Dyk’s netball teams go from chokers to undisputed champions in three major leagues in South Africa.
When UP-Tuks beat North West Pukke 43-41 in the Varsity Netball final, it marked Van Dyk’s third major title in 2017.
Van Dyk has made South African netball history becoming the first to coach teams to win the Brutal Fruit Series, the senior provincial tournament and the Varsity Netball in the same year.
“We are very happy. Winning has given us a lot of energy; the girls rested for a week and we are already back in training,” Van Dyk said.
“It was a great year and we won everything. The players are highly motivated and just want to improve.
“I gave the seniors an extra week off and they said ‘no’, they want to come and train. At the end of November, they will be on an eight-week off-season programme.”
Success did not come easy for Van Dyk and her team before bitter disappointment from the last three years turned into sweet victory this year.
Before this year, they had earned the reputation of always being the bridesmaids, but never the bride.
In the preceding three years of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League, Van Dyk’s Jaguars side featured in as many finals, but stumbled at the last hurdle.
But after losing their third straight final in 2016, Van Dyk and her players decided to turn their fortunes around.
“Last year when we lost the match by one point in the final, we decided not to rest and instead carried on training until the December break,” Van Dyk said.
“By the end of last year, we were the chokers – we played in every final, and it just shows the human potential where they are seen as chokers the one year, only to have the perfect season the next.
“We would usually have given them a three-week break, but during that time, we drilled them during the hottest time of the day to ingrain mental toughness.”
Van Dyk said it was important for the players to gain mental toughness and hoped it would come to the fore this year.
“I wanted them to see not only as athletes, but as people that when you put in the hard work, you reap the benefits.”
Van Dyk traces her success back to an epiphany three years ago, thanks to Proteas coach Norma Plummer of Australia.
“When she started out with the SA team, she said the issue with our system is that the players are spoon-fed from an early age, whereas Australia encourage them to think for themselves on the court,” Van Dyk said.
“My first session I sat in as analyst during the Diamond Challenge I thought Norma was going to give the players sage advice. But she didn’t bark out any orders; instead, she asked questions, and the players had to say what they saw.”
As a young coach, Van Dyk overcompensated for her age and tried to show off her knowledge with the players and ended up over-coaching them.
She admits she fell into the trap of spoon-feeding her players, who in team talks sat quietly and listened attentively.
“But I realised three years ago that I needed to teach my players how to think for themselves – it was a struggle, because we constantly fell short in the finals. I tried to allow them to do more of the thinking, but it didn’t come naturally because they’d been conditioned to leave the thinking to us.
“This year we started to operate on a completely different level, where I don’t say a word before a match about the game plan.”
The coach does motivate them, but then asks the attacking players and the defenders to explain to each other what is expected from them.
“During the week, we train according to what we want them to do based on our analyses, but in a sense, you also need to make the players feel that they are actively involved in coming up with the plans,” she said.
“We analyse the other team and tell the players how we will counter, but they then work out their own game plan.”
Van Dyk is building an impressive résumé, but is the first to admit she still has loads to learn.
But it’s that willingness to apply introspection that is likely to cement Van Dyk as one of the country’s best netball coaches ever.