Q&A: David Pala’amo (Head coach – Aotearoa Men’s)

SOMEWHAT of a pioneer in men’s netball, Aotearoa Men’s head coach David Pala-amo is a striking figure in New Zealand netball, as this week’s upcoming Cadbury Netball Series between the New Zealand Silver Ferns and Aotearoa Men’s netball team is set to showcase some of the best netball talent the country has to offer. The former New Zealand Men’s and Mixed Netball Association (NZMMNA) President is bringing his coaching expertise to the forefront once more, set to coach the Aotearoa Men’s team in a trio of test matches against the Ferns on October 10, 11 and 12.

Draft Central senior editor Sophie Taylor chatted to Pala’amo in the lead-up to the series, previewing both the Aotearoa Men’s squad and overall series, as well as delving into Pala’amo’s netball background for a question and answer (Q&A) special.

>>READ: Cadbury Netball Series just the beginning for Aotearoa Men’s midcourter Josh Eriata Vercoe


Q: What has been the hardest part about preparing for the series, obviously with locational changes and the like? 

A: Well, I guess the hardest part is not knowing, all the uncertainty, COVID in New Zealand obviously in the last couple of months has taken off again. So we’ve been in lockdown for most of the country, then some of us come out of it, and then some of us have gone back into it. So the uncertainty is not knowing what players we have available, depending on what level of lockdown they’re in. In New Zealand, you can’t travel under certain lockdown levels, and it’s just a waiting game to see who can get out on what day or having to apply for an exemption to get players out.

A few days ago you added a heap of top up players to the main squad – was that because there were players from the main original group that weren’t able to travel to play the series?

Yes, that’s correct. So what happened was we had our original group, and some of them were stuck in the levels of COVID that they could not get out of. So we had to have a backup plan, a contingency plan in place that would allow us to bring in players, mainly from areas that weren’t COVID affected too much and also that we knew could step up to the job.

How have those players in particular slotted into the team? Obviously, there are a few debutants, plus having different names in there can kind of change different dynamics across the court in general.

There’s a couple of newbies, young players to the New Zealand Men’s team for this series, but they would have been in the team regardless of whether they were brought in or not, so they were in the original 14 – but we have also bought in a couple of players in the pop up players that are new as well. Everyone’s fitted in really well, some of the players we brought in play together in their own regions so that’s very helpful. Some of them have played for New Zealand before, so they know what’s expected of them. So we’ve got a good mix of experience; present day experienced players, past experience and a couple of players there for the future.

So can you just tell me a little bit more about the playing group that you’ve selected, and I guess, who you’re expecting to play significant roles?

Well, we’ve got four players that are returning from last year – that’s Dan (Jefferies), Jaryn (Tainui), Nick (Grimmer) and Ben (Smith), so we’re expecting them to be able to step up to the plate. They were there last year, and Dan was there the year before. So this is Dan Jefferies, now the captain, this is his third series in a row. So we’re expecting him to step up to the plate. We’re also expecting the players that have been part of New Zealand before to be able to take that step up at this level, so we’re expecting big things for some of the players. The newbies? They’ve come along really well on the training, and we’re 100 per cent positive they are going to be able to step up as well.

Can you tell me a little bit about your coaching journey, how did you kind of get to this position here?

Well, I’ve been around netball, men’s and women’s, for some years now. So my history of netball is that I first got involved umpiring. So I’ve been an IUA (International Umpire Award) umpire for INF (International Netball Federation, now World Netball), and then I played netball in New Zealand and I captained New Zealand Men’s netball. Then I took on various coaching roles in my region, which is Canterbury in New Zealand, and had a very successful coaching stint for Canterbury Men’s; we won nationals 18 years in a row. From there I just progressed really to coaching the New Zealand Men’s team, and then I had a little bit of a break when I did a lot of work with my umpiring part of netball as well. And then I’ve just come back to coaching the last couple, two or three years so it’s been a long journey, one that I’ve gone sort of in and out of, but also one that I’ve also been able to use in conjunction with umpiring because umpiring is a big part of my life as well.

What do you think that you bring to your coaching game from an umpiring perspective, is a lot of it to do with the way that you see the game?

I think you have probably hit the nail there, what you said is very important. I think that good coaches really need to understand the rules properly so that they can deliver the messages. The most important thing about understanding the umpires is that you can teach your players how far they can go in the game, and how and what they need to do before they start really breaking the rules. It does help you show the players what the umpires look for. I think understanding the rules is a very important part of coaching these days for any sport.

How does regional coaching compare to coaching teams ready for an international match against the reigning World Champions?

Well, that’s – you’re right. That’s a good question. Well, it’s a huge step up, especially because regional coaching in New Zealand, we don’t have the exposure of men’s netball to the high media level that they do for the Silver Ferns. So this is a whole new area for us, the last three years has been very new to New Zealand men’s and mixed netball. So we’re getting used to it. I mean, with these things, the more events like these that we’re involved with, the more we’ll become accustomed to them. But at the moment in our regions and New Zealand, we don’t have the high level of exposure that the Silver Ferns do. 

How do you prepare for game day for this kind of series where you have very little downtime between the matches over three days?

Well, we’ve prepared, we’ve only been together, this is our second day together. So we’ve got tomorrow. So we’ve only had two and a half days to prepare for the first test. But basically, we’ve chosen a group of people that are very skilled, so we don’t have to work too much on the techniques of the sport so much as the game plan. So we’re spending a lot of time playing a couple of games here and there just to work on that court play to make sure that we just get the combinations working well together.

What can we expect from the men’s team this year?

What can we expect from the men’s team this year? Well, we’ve got players from all over the country, even though Auckland and the Waikato are locked out. We still have a couple of players from the upper North Island. And then we have a lot of players from the South Island and here in Wellington, so we’ve got a good mix. They’ve got a good mix of skill and flair, and I think we’re going to see a bit of both of that. We’re going to see lots of skill, a lot, hopefully a lot of speed, but also a little bit of flair in our game in the next three days.

The three-match Cadbury Netball Series between the Aotearoa Men’s and New Zealand Silver Ferns is set to kick-off at 7:10pm local time (5:10pm AEDT).

>>READ: Silver Ferns, Aotearoa Men’s squads confirmed for Cadbury Netball Series

Picture credit: Netball New Zealand

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