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Netball is about whanaungatanga

Netball New Zealand’s Volunteer of the Month, Mark Ashmore-Smith, says netball for him is about whanaungatanga. We talk to Mark about the connections he has made through volunteering.

When Mark Ashmore-Smith saw other volunteers working hard behind the scenes of the Ohoka Netball Club, he knew he had to get involved somehow.

With his young daughters already playing the sport, it was easy for Mark to step forward – firstly as a coach but later putting his hand up for the club’s committee and as club president.

What unfolded is many years of volunteering for Ohoka and with it the joy and satisfaction of seeing his children grow up loving the game of netball and a healthy lifestyle.

“Netball for us is all about whanaungatanga (close connection between people),” Mark said.

“Not all girls aspire to be Silver Ferns, realistically, but my girls, for example, have played since primary school, they have all coached and they have all stayed loyal to the club.”

Mark said through that connection he was now seeing the next generation coming through not only as players but as coaches and committee members.

“I have young women in my team that I started coaching 20 years ago as school kids, and I have coached many of them on and off since that time.

“Many of those players are now at university, working or starting families and many of them are giving back to the club on the committee, umpiring, coaching and supporting one another. Our club and our Centre are like a family – we are still growing up together.”

When he first ventured to the netball courts to watch his young family play netball, it became apparent to Mark that the same volunteers were putting their hands up to take on a number of roles.

“A lot of work fell on the laps of just a few people,” he said. “I just wanted to help spread the load, and it was pretty easy as I was down there watching my daughters play anyway.”

He took on a coaching role when his third daughter, Michaela, started playing as a nine-year-old and went on to guide the team of his youngest daughter, Rosalie, also for two years.

“I didn’t know much about netball but felt that as a primary school teacher, a keen sportsman and a Dad, I might be able to offer something useful to the team and the club.”

Mark has found plenty of joy in coaching teams – starting with primary teams and this year taking on both a senior and senior reserve side – but went further by joining the committee and the position of Club President from 2005-2009.

He also helped on the North Canterbury committee and coached some of the region’s representative teams. Mark was made a Life Member of Ohoka Netball in 2014.

He said he never expected any recognition for what he has done on the sidelines – his reward coming from the satisfaction he sees on the faces of those on court.

“And it’s always lovely to spend time at the end of a season with the team, sharing a meal or drink together, relaxing, reminiscing and talking about the summer ahead.

“I think that’s when you realise it’s not just about sport – it’s about people.”

Cadbury Volunteer Mark.jpg