Women's Sport: Former England International Tamsin Greenway - "I miss it, I've missed coaching"

Last Friday Netball Scotland announced that former England International Tamsin Greenway is set become the new head coach of the Scottish Thistles with immediate effect.

Having won two World Cup bronze medals, one Commonwealth bronze medal and four consecutive Superleague titles as a player-coach the news that Greenway would take up the mantle as head coach of Scotland was met with much delight. 

And perhaps no one is more delighted than Greenway herself, who admits that despite her impressive credentials, the call-up from Karen Atkinson, Technical Director of Strathclyde Sirens, came as a surprise to her:

“Karen Atkinson got in touch with me – she’s a friend of mine – and she said, ‘I reckon you know what I’m ringing about,’” explained the 37-year old as she detailed how she was approached for the role, “I said uh nope! She then started to talk about it and we had a long conversation and it all fell into place.”

For Greenway coaching, international netball has long been the dream. Having effectively conquered the Superleague with back-to-back titles, the next step for the ex-Wasps Director of Netball could only be one that challenged her in new ways.

The task is put in front of Greenway will be to push Scotland further by the INF World Rankings. Currently ranked 8th in the world, the Thistles struggled in last year’s Netball World Cup. Their aim going into the tournament had been to finish in the top eight, but 11th was all that they could muster.

Greenway acknowledges that the objective before her, one that is centred on improvement as opposed to simply winning, is different to what she is perhaps used to, “that’s a very different outlook and so changing my goals and getting the players to understand that journey is going to be the key.”

As well as only having full access to her players for short bursts at international camps there are other, tougher challenges lying in wait for Greenway. One of the hardest, she discusses passionately, will be the task of creating an international calendar that fits her aims:

‘It’s something I’ve been quite vocal about before I got this job in terms of the international calendar and how limited the opportunities are for some of the nations outside of the top three that get to play against each other and that is something that has got to change. 

“When you come to a World Cup, you watch a lot of those games with the home nations against teams like Trinidad and Tobago, against teams like Zimbabwe, and the teams that are sitting outside the top five rankings. They’re all very close to each other in terms of standard and abilities and actually just having that opportunity, that tactical opportunity and just that understanding of what it takes to play at 60 minutes against each other like that, it’s only going to help improve those nations so that will be a big part of my Scotland role is going right – how do we get those players opportunities?”

Just how Greenway goes about answering this question will certainly be crucial to her success in her position. Those with similar aims to Scotland will no doubt be watching the new coach intently.

Turning to Greenway, when asked about who on the international netball scene inspires her the most as a coach there was little hesitation:

“You can’t really go past Noeline Taurua just because of the work she has done. I think with coaching there are a lot of coaches but there are very few special people and I think she is special. What she did for that Silver Ferns team in a matter of months was pretty spectacular and the belief the players have in her is the thing I admire the most.” 

What the Greenway regarded as most remarkable about Dame Taurua’s coaching abilities was the team culture that the New Zealander has so successfully manage to foster within the Silver Ferns. At the recent Vitality Nations Cup, many focused on their fitness and how it proved to be the decisive factor in achieving their tournament win, but for Greenway, their stamina and strength are just one part of a whole; it is a tangible factor in the intangibility of team culture.

“It’s so interesting that people have pulled up on the fitness part,” explains the Commonwealth bronze medal winner, “because it is like, ‘oh that’s helped them massively,’ yes, it has it’s one part of it but […] what she does is far more important than that. She got a group of players to go away and get fitter. She dropped players until they were fit enough and it’s just one tiny, a little part of the culture that she has built.”

The investment of belief from the Silver Ferns in the coach is something Greenway similarly talks about wanting from her Scottish players.

“I think the biggest thing for me is the players understanding the journey that they are on individually and they’re on as a team. I’ve gone through a lot of coaches, and a lot of different regimes, and a lot of different strategies, tactical and technical, and of the court team building, and team shields and the works, and the biggest thing that stands for me is just honesty.

“If you can get players to buy into what you want and also understand what it looks like for them – players don’t always like it, you can never keep 12 players happy regardless – but you can get their respect and that’s the biggest thing.” 

Expectant Scottish eyes will now be turned to the Emirates Arena in Glasgow wherein August, Greenway’s first test in charge awaits. With her previous successes as a coach and her willingness to be a vocal critic of netball’s ecosystem the two-time World Cup bronze medal winner is acutely aware that she will be scrutinised in her new role:

“I will expect with me it will come instantly,” the ex-England player said, “I used to talk about it at Wasps and at Storm, it’s us against the world. If you believe all the hype as much as the rubbish that is being said about you then it can all get too much.”

“The reality is this a personal thing for me, it’s a journey I want to go on with a group of players that I’m sure will want to go on with me and I know we’ll have a good time but I’m under no illusions that it will be good and bad along the way – that is sport.”

And that is ultimately the attraction for Greenway, the chance to be involved in the highs and lows of netball at its highest level and to be personally challenged by its stakes.

Reflecting on her recent role in the Sky Sports broadcasting team, for which the Sports Journalist Association recently nominated her in the category ‘Sports Pundit’ of 2019, Greenway explains that it was just one step too far away from the action:

“My job at Sky as an analyst I talk about the game and what happened, what they could have done, why it worked, when it didn’t work and that’s great but the buzz of actually coaching, being in that and changing it and building up to that is the buzz – it is something that you don’t get anywhere else.”

“I could have sat back and done the easy option but I miss it, I’ve missed coaching.” 

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