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Netball: Mystics' assistant coach Rob Wright - total recall

Most elite coaches won't go anywhere without a notepad, but Northern Mystics' assistant coach Rob Wright doesn't need one.

It's not something he can really explain but he's able to remember pretty much every second of every quarter of netball; he surprises people with the details he can recall.

Experienced netball coach Rob Wright.
Experienced netball coach Rob Wright. Photo: Supplied by Simon Leonard, Netball Scoop

He's not sure how he possesses an almost photographic memory or where some of his quirkier habits stem from but whatever it is, he sees it as an asset.

"I don't know where I sit in terms of that stuff ... but yeah I'm probably quite fortunate I remember everything. Like I don't need to write stuff down in games and that. I know exactly what I need because I've seen it," Wright said.

"It probably just means I'm a bit odd and I've embraced that and the players know I'm a bit different, and they accept me as I am, which is really cool.

"And it's something that I've always tried to embrace ... I don't try and change anyone I coach because sometimes the very best people, they're a little different and when you allow people to be themselves, you get the very best of them."

He's particular when it comes to colours he doesn't like.

"I don't like white and I don't like pink and I don't like purple, they're the only three colours that I don't like.

"White's a bit plain for me so I'm always at the players about their white sneakers. I always think you know, don't you want to have a little bit of colour, want to be a bit different."

He's also known among the players for his penchant for coke zero, which Wright says he "limits" himself to 16 cans a day.

The experienced Australian coach joined the Mystics last year, becoming New Zealand's first male coach at the elite level.

Wright grew up in Sydney, where his mother and two sisters played netball for their local club.

He told the Kiwi Netball Show that he became a student of the game watching it as a kid.

His mother volunteered thousands of hours to the local netball association and coached school teams for over three decades.

"She was a life member and when she passed away in 2019 she had been with the association for 50 years.

"That was really where I got all my learning and background from I guess, spending hours down at the courts while growing up."

The Mystics celebrate victory.
ANZ Premiership netball final, Northern Mystics v Tactix. Spark Arena, Auckland. Sunday 8 August 2021.
The Mystics celebrated their first title last year. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport Ltd 2021

Wright played netball for a while when he was younger but reckons he was "hopeless".

"That helped me to decide though, I thought 'I'm rubbish as a player' and I always had a fascination with the game so it made sense to get into coaching."

Wright had a serious accident in his last year of high school, needing months of rehabilitation after he was struck by a car when he was on his bike.

"That put me out of action for quite a while. I ended up with head injuries ... it took time to get back to where I was but I wasn't killed so I think there's a positive.

"I've actually had a couple of accidents ... I've been run over twice. But I always believe everything happens for a reason and I obviously wasn't able to play during that time, so that's when I started taking up coaching, it allowed me to get into coaching, so yeah lucky me I think."

In 2014 Wright created history becoming the first male head coach in the old trans-Tasman netball league when he took over at the New South Wales Swifts.

It was the culmination of years of working his way through the coaching ranks from school teams to club, to age group reps, to the elite levels.

Wright is regarded as one of the game's most technical minds and a tough coach who pushes players to achieve their full potential.

His motto is simple - make players better, faster.

Former Australian Diamond captain Sharni Norder (nee Layton) in her book 'No apologies' wrote about a phone call with Wright that convinced her to move to the Swifts for the 2014 season.

"'Sharni Layton, you are good,' he said, 'but you are not great. Your footwork needs a lot of work. If you come to Sydney, I'll work with you to make you the best defender in the world.'"

In 2016 Norder had scooped all the awards going that year and was voted the world's best netballer.

Experience netball coach Rob Wright.
Experience netball coach Rob Wright. Photo: Supplied by Simon Leonard, Netball Scoop

Norder wrote about doing extra footwork sessions with Wright to make sure she could move her feet more quickly than any other goal keeper in the competition.

"He would hold a big blue crash pad and stand between me and a ball. The game? I had to use quick footwork to get the ball without letting him whack me with this giant crash pad. It was hilarious."

Wright said he likes to find drills that have real purpose.

"I still use that kind of stuff because I think it really mimics what happens in a game and really challenges people to find a way to do things ...I just come up with ways of trying to make people better, and hopefully that works most of the time," Wright said.

"I love that stuff because defensively I think the game is really designed for attack. And so it's hard on defenders and often it's that you've just got to keep going and finding ways and you've got to grind your opposition down at times."

Grace Nweke (left) and Elisapeta Toeava
Grace Nweke (left) and Elisapeta Toeava Photo: Photosport

At the Mystics, Wright now focusses on the attacking end, working with talented shooters Grace Nweke, Monica Falkner, Filda Vui, and feeder Peta Toeava.

Wright got to know former Silver Ferns' defender Michaela Sokolich-Beatson last year when she was battling her way back from a second achilles injury and is thrilled she's back on court.

"Michaela is the ultimate competitor, incredibly driven, and I think that shows in the work she did to get back from those two achilles ruptures. I think a lot of people would have maybe pulled the pin, but I reckon that was never an option [for her].

"She is one of those players that just wants to be better so whatever it is that she needs [to improve], she wants to know it.

"You don't always get what you deserve sometimes in sport, but I'm really pleased to see her back on court, and she's just going to get better and better over time."

Wright, who recently became assistant coach to the Jamaican national side, said the athletes he works with want to know how they can be better and sometimes it means being blunt.

"I think if it's around something that they need to improve ... they might not like it at the time when you first say it, but I think it's also about the player and knowing what you can say.

"There would be certain players in the Mystics who, I would put it in a different way, because you have to know your player because there's no point just being blunt to someone, if it's going to destroy them, or it's not going to help them.

"I'm still refining that but that's why I think I'm so impressed with netballers generally, because they always want to be better."

As for how the Mystics are going so far this ANZ Premiership season, Wright said it was hard to read too much into the results after a Covid-disrupted start.

The Mystics lifted their maiden national netball premiership last year and sit on the top of the ladder.

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Rob Wright talks to Grace Nweke from the sideline. Photo: Supplied by Nicole Mudgway, Netball Scoop

But several games have been postponed so far, and it's impacted on teams differently with the Mystics getting through five games, and the Stars just two.

The only game going ahead this weekend is between the Pulse and Steel on Monday.

"It's really hard to know where anyone's actually really at. You can't look at the table at the moment because it's a bit pointless really, because there's just huge gaps."

Wright said the Silver Ferns' selectors will have a tough job picking a side for the Commonwealth Games with players putting their hands up all over the court.

"It'll be really fascinating to see as the season unfolds gut feeling is the team that will go to Comm Games will be very different to the team that we've seen previously. And it will all depend on hopefully that everyone's fit and well and ready to go.

"The mid court is always fascinating because there's some seriously good midcourters across the competition.

"And it's the same with the goalies because all of a sudden you go okay, well what sort of combos are they looking at, what's the mix they'll go with?

"At the moment you couldn't pick who will end up in the team ...that means that there's real competition for positions and when you've got that you're in a good place."

Rob Wright coach of the NSW Swifts with the team during the former trans-Tasman ANZ Netball competition.
Rob Wright coach of the NSW Swifts during the former trans-Tasman ANZ Netball competition. Photo: Photosport