Increasing the prospect of winning


Dr Lana McCarthy graduated with her Doctor of Philosophy last week. Her research investigated ways in which captains and coaches have constructed the culture of our national netball team, the Silver Ferns.


Media coverage and research about female high performance sport falls short compared to male sport in New Zealand, according to new research from Massey University PhD graduate Lana McCarthy.

The 32-year-old, who graduated with her Doctor of Philosophy last week, found this lack of information on women’s elite sport an opportunity to conduct a very necessary major study.

“The purpose of this research was to investigate the ways in which captains and coaches have constructed the culture of New Zealand’s national netball team, the Silver Ferns,” she says.

Dr McCarthy investigated ways in which captains and coaches have constructed the evolving culture and leadership of the team, highlighting team values of work ethic, pride, and good behaviour on and off the court.

Originally from Masterton, Dr McCarthy is a high-performance netball coach and is currently working as a regional sports advisor for Sport Manawatu.

“This research is the first major study of a high performance women’s netball team and partially addresses this research gap through a case study involving the Silver Ferns from 1960-2015, with netball being considered New Zealand’s most popular female sport,” she says.

The research unearthed some major findings. “There were three main values that were considered vital to demonstrate when one was a Silver Fern. These were possessing a high work ethic, pride, and good behaviour on and off the court,” Dr McCarthy says.

“Coaches and captains also held immense pride in the black dress and the silver fern as a symbol, and the sense of pride in selection as a Silver Fern and in the legacy of those players before them. It was also identified that effective leadership approaches played a crucial part in the level of success the team experienced.

“There has always been a strong Māori cultural element within the team. The Silver Ferns have a long history of being multicultural and therefore all players from various ethnic backgrounds were celebrated. This research also identified that there was no one single model of coaching across the years, and that a mixed-methods approach catered far better to the players learning styles and increased their chances of winning,” Dr McCarthy says.

She hopes the insights and findings from her research will educate current and future best practice in elite-level female sport teams. “This study could be used by female athletes to help achieve further consistent high quality performances, thereby increasing success,” Dr McCarthy says.

“What initially surprised me was how female sport in general, and female high performance sport specifically, is not well served by the media compared to male sport,” she adds. “Receiving even less coverage and insights is the scholarly work on women’s elite sport investigated from the perspective of team captains and coaches. Therefore, this is a unique study that provides an historical insight into a New Zealand female high performance sport team, the Silver Ferns, and its evolving team culture and leadership.”

Dr McCarthy’s research findings are going to be made into a book, The Silver Ferns: Leadership & Legacy, co-authored by two of her PhD supervisors, Professor Andy Martin from the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition and Dr Geoff Watson from the School of Humanities. It is due to be released early next year via Massey University Publishers.

Dr McCarthy holds many qualifications, all from Massey University, including a Master in Sport and Exercise, Graduate Diploma in Education and a Postgraduate Diploma in Sport Management and Coaching.

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