Sam Winders is back where it all began. It’s nostalgic and surreal to be walking the halls and grounds of John Paul College in Rotorua.
The Silver Fern, who was the Deputy Head Girl here all those years ago, is talking to the next generation of netball players and has a couple of simple messages.
The Splice Construction Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic captain is the perfect woman for the job and around 20 budding young netballers in the school gym are taking in every word.
“The first message is that anything is possible coming from Rotorua,” says the 25-year-old who has played 41 internationals for New Zealand.
“You can do it. Even though it might seem a long way away, it’s right there within your reach, if you want to work hard for it.”
Like all of these girls at John Paul, Winders (nee Sinclair) dreamt of playing for the Silver Ferns when she was a standout in a number of sports including touch rugby, athletics and basketball.
“When you get a little bit older you realise that Rotorua is not the biggest town to come from and there haven’t been too many girls who have made it from here so that makes it extra special. That never stopped me, and I’m proud of that.”
She should be too. Winders is only one of six players to come from Rotorua to play for the Silver Ferns throughout their history.
On the weekend, Winders was at the heart of the Silver Ferns’ effort to beat Australia to claim the Constellation Cup for the first time since 2012.
Her second piece of advice is “don’t take your body for granted”.
It’s important advice as a recent 10-year nationwide review of netball injuries revealed a 120 percent increase in the number of 15 to 19-year-old girls having Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) reconstruction surgery.
The impact of ACC’s Injury Prevention Programme NetballSmart has shown a steady decline in the rate of ACL injuries and overall a decrease in rate of all injuries in netball since 2014. In 2020 ACC increased their investment into the NetballSmart programme to $3.6m over the next three years.
“That investment from ACC is huge for our game,” says Winders, before continuing her advice. “Right now, the body you have as a young person, is awesome and resilient and it recovers fast, but don’t take that for granted.
“Learn how to jump and land properly. It’s not only going to look after your body but it’s a key part of performing at the highest level as well.”
Winders says a serious injury is a massive barrier to furthering your netball career.
As a midcourter, who plays at a million miles an hour, Winders has never suffered a serious injury but has seen her team-mates Monica Falkner (knee), Kelly Jury (shoulder – twice) and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson (achilles – twice) go through lengthy rehabilitation.
“They are all good friends of mine. It’s tragic and heart-breaking to watch,” she says.
“The cost of a major injury is huge. It affects all parts of your life. If you can minimise the risk of significant injury by your activations, good movement patterns and understanding how your body works, then I am all for it.”
Sharon Kearney, the NetballSmart programme director, who was the Silver Ferns physiotherapist for 21 years, says Winders is an ideal role model for the programme.
“Sam plays netball hard,” says Kearney. “But she can because she has prepared herself to do this. What we do not see is all the hard work that Sam does behind the scenes. That is why people like Sam are really important as NetballSmart ambassadors – they help tell the story of what it takes to play netball like she does.”
Kearney says in her younger years Winders had a great role model in Waikato Silver Fern Laura Langman who was a big influence on her career.
“Both Laura and Sam have very hard work ethics, they strive to be better than they were before and very receptive to advice on how to achieve this.”
Winders leads the NetballSmart warm-up for the Magic before every training and game.
“For me it is about being able to perform in the best way and the safest way for my body to be sustainable. I don’t want to get to the end of my career and stop because my body can’t function anymore. NetballSmart encourages players to know their bodies and understand its limits.”
Winders is looking forward to a big season with the Magic and feels with experience she has a lot more to offer.
“My goal is to be the player you want to have on your team, not the player you want to come up against,” she says with a laugh.
“I’m a competitive person so I will always give 100 percent, but I’ve learnt that netball is not the be-all and end-all of my life. It’s just one part. It is finding that balance and knowing why I play and going back to my values and what I stand for.”
Winders is finishing up her session at John Paul College and reminisces as she walks off the grounds. She’s proud of how far she has come since her schooldays here, and so honoured to represent her region on the world stage.
“It has definitely been an up and down journey for me with the Ferns, but it’s so good to be back,” she says.
“It’s the black dress. It’s the legacy and the story behind it. To be part of that is special. I never take it for granted. Every time I pull on the black dress, I know I’m representing my family and friends and the people from this region. That is a huge honour.”
ACC NetballSmart- Sharon Kearney explains how Sam Winders applies the principles
• Preparation – she prepares for the demands of the game and each training
• Training – she ensures she is fit enough and strong enough for the game
• Movement – “If I land well, I play well, and I look after my knees”.
• Warm up and recovery – she uses the NetballSmart warm-up with all trainings and maximizes her recovery so she can go hard the next time
• Wellbeing – she ensures she has balance in her life and netball loading
• Injury Management – if she develops an injury she manages it well.