Joanne Wynyard is ‘mother’ to 23 boys – 23 strapping, testosterone-charged, headstrong, know-it-better-than-you young athletes who collectively are the Papamoa Bulldogs; the Bay of Plenty District Rugby League under-17 grand finalists and champions-in-waiting.
Joanne is ‘mother’ and she is also coach. “It can be difficult,” admits the 32-year-old Papamoa real-life mum to five. ”The boys often think they know more than me, so I just put on my mum hat and say ‘hey you, shush! I am the boss around here’.”
It’s a case of letting them know it’s about perfecting what both coach and players know, bringing it together and putting it on the park on game day.
Hers is a no-nonsense, parental, invest-some-time-and love approach to coaching rugby league that has got her proteges through to successive grand finals. “I think I get more respect because I am a woman,” says Joanne. “They treat me like their mum. And whatever mum says, goes.” And they call her Joanne – “Because I consider myself to be just one of the brothers.”
Joanne’s a coach who doesn’t do the manic coach thing. “I don’t do grumpiness like those vile coaches who have to show their dominance – the yelling and shouting and humiliation.”
She’s a nurturing coach where fuzzies are every bit as important in the game day kit as liniment and strapping tape and oranges.
“I am the kind mum type, give my boys a cuddle and shake their hands, give them what I want back, some love and support. They give it back in heaps.”
On the field and off. “When they see me on the street, they will come up and give me a hug. If I was a male coach they would just give me the bro look and the bro handshakes. But I get a cuddle. It makes me very proud and it makes it all worthwhile.”
And it translates into results. She coached much the same bunch of kids to a grand final in the under 15s two years ago. Make it back-to-back grand finals two years later. “It just says something about their commitment to the game, to each other and to me as their coach.”
She got into coaching rugby league because it was a natural progression. “I had kids playing league; you get drawn into it; you get involved. They needed a coach and so you step up.”
And instead of being mum to one player – “step-baby” Ezra is the team’s Shaun Johnson in the number seven shirt – she has open doors for 23 boys. “When you put on the coaching hat, you have a responsibility to all the boys, to give them opportunities on game day and make it a great experience for them.”
And this coach was shaped by the best brains in the game – the Wayne Bennetts, Craig Bellamys and the Ivan Clearys of the league world. Joanne considered there to be something of a void in coaching development in rugby league, so she turned on the telly.
“I spent every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday studying the NRL to get some pointers, where I needed to be, what I needed to know to coach my boys.”
The Australian competition is the showcase of international league. And from being a settee student, Joanne graduated as game day coach, strategist, mentor, motivator, confidante, counsellor and taxi driver.
Taxi driver was a ploy to get the guys to training. “It’s how I got my team together and kept them together. If they got a bus to training, I would take them home afterwards.” From Paengaroa to Pyes Pa, to Otumoetai and home to Papamoa –a round trip of up to an hour in Joanne’s people mover.
“Respect? Oh yes, my boys have all the respect in the world for me. It makes me very proud; makes it all worthwhile.”
The Papamoa Bulldogs are going into Sunday’s under 17 grand final against the Taupo Phoenix with a season game record of six wins and one loss. And a points differential of 384 for and 163 against.
“Anything over and above what we have already achieved would be wonderful – I will be proud of them no matter what.
And after Sunday’s 1.15pm home grand final at Gordon Spratt Reserve Joanne will go home to the family of five –“four big kids, my step-babies, plus one of my own”– and a mother to them all.
Then she will probably be back at the computer running the Papamoa Bulldogs netball team. The mother, coach and taxi driver also plays netball, of course.