7 Jun 2020

Dame Lois Muir: Why success is more important than winning

From Sunday Morning, 10:33 am on 7 June 2020

Former Silver Ferns coach Dame Lois Muir has only just retired at the age of 84, and has a few lessons on leadership to share with RNZ's Sunday Morning.

Dame Lois Muir coaching in 2002.

Photo: Photosport

Dame Lois, who only retired from working at her friend's pharmacy in Dunedin last year at the age of 84, spoke to RNZ about the new book she features in called Will to Win, New Zealand netball greats on team culture and leadership.

The book investigates the evolution of the Silver Ferns over the decades and leadership at an elite level.

Dame Lois played in the first Netball World Cup in 1963 and went on to coach New Zealand at four world championships, winning in 1979 and 1987. By the time she finished her 14 year career as Silver Ferns coach, she had a record of 91 wins, 10 losses and six draws.

The wide ranging interview touched on today's Silver Ferns, their form slump in 2018, and compared how the Silver Ferns spent five weeks travelling by boat to England in the 1960s while the All Blacks got their by plane.

But the main focus was on her leadership style and philosophies for both sport and general life.

She told Jim Moira one of her former players, turned Silver Ferns coach herself, Waimarama Taumaunu, that pointed out to her what makes a good coach.

Taumaunu had asked Dame Lois to read over a speech she was making at a seminar and one quote in particular stood out.

"'No one can be a leader if no one wants to follow you'... and I thought how jolly true that is... you've really got to put your heart into it and believe," she said.

"A coach has to have a philosophy, I believe, that the team are interested in and ready to back it and go in with you."

Dame Lois has coached and mentored many of New Zealand's greatest netballers, not that Muir herself likes singling out individuals, rather focussing on the team aspect of the game.

She said she spent her early coaching years studying the minds of the NBA and NFL coaches to gauge what makes them great leaders.

One former NBA coach who has garnered a lot of attention recently due to the hit Netflix documentary 'The Last Dance' is former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

Dame Lois said his style resonated with her because of how confident he was in his own abilities and of those he coached.

She said guiding players to their potential, like Jackson did with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, was easier for her and the Silver Ferns than what people might think.

"Everyone comes with skills, no matter whether they be in sport or work and this is the secret - they're important and cherish them, but show them the opportunities that are there if they want to try some other things, but it's up to them to try them.

"Coaches are the master of tweak and that's the fun of it all, you just give them those little things and when you've given them some advice and they've improved and got some success themselves, they're eating out of your hand."

Speaking of little things, and in particular negative little things, Dame Lois said teams can't function if little irks between teammates are left to fester, so it's best to nip it in the bud early.

"They're never a little thing, never, everything is important. Little things, they're nothing, but they've (coaches and players) have got to sort that out otherwise they grow bigger, but they can't take anything from that onto the field.

"The little things have got to be dealt with, you cannot brush them under the carpet, they're a little thing today and a big thing two weeks later."

Whether big or small, winning or losing, Dame Lois says learning to grow from experiences is one of the keys to success.

"I believe the word success is so important and that word success covers winning or it covers growing," she said.

She recalled one particular series in Tasmania after her team had just lost a match when that growth was pertinent.

"I came into the dressing room and they (the players) threw their bibs down and their hair down and all that and I just said 'right, I'm not sad that we lost, I'm sad with your attitude. We've gained nothing from this loss because you're wallowing in self pity'. If you don't analyse and improve on what you're doing and keep your marbles and keep your brain intact, that's important for coaches too.

"I always said you're not going to see handfuls of my hair on the sideline, I'll do it later in the dressing room."

As for the current Silver Ferns, Dame Lois says the couldn't have a better leader in another Dame - Noeline Taurua - who she admits she's a big fan of.

"Noels knows how to press the buttons and unless you know that, and work with the whole person, you don't do quite as well.

"I always say 'a coach never discovers the player, they only help the player discovers themselves' and Noels does that."