On the brink of a significant milestone in her netball career, Dee Leggat is grateful to her legendary late mum. 

Throughout her teenage years, Dee Leggat had to share her mum, Monica, with the Silver Ferns.

It wasn’t a hardship or something she resented.

No, having a mother who was one of the great New Zealand team managers was something she treasured.

“I was at an age where it was quite exciting, and I was a bit of a fan girl,” Leggat recalls.

“There would be training camps, where the team would come round to our house. Or Dad and I would be doing their washing, while they were staying on mattresses at the local netball courts.

“I’d go to trainings to watch, and I even got on court with them a couple of times. I remember playing against [Ferns shooter] Marghie Matenga. I was the kid they’d put on and say: ‘Let’s see what she can do’.”

“I still have great friendships with those players through Mum’s relationship with them.”

It was one of those players, former Silver Ferns captain and coach Wai Taumaunu, who thought Dee Leggat might also make a good netball manager. Like mother, like daughter.

Dee was living in the capital, working in event management, and playing goal attack for the Wellington East club’s top team. Taumaunu asked if she’d manage the Wellington provincial side.

“She just said to me: ‘Well your mother was pretty good at it, so you’ll know what you’re doing, you’ll be fine’,” Leggat laughs.

When Leggat told her mum she was entering the world of team management, Monica went rifling through her cupboards.

“I remember Mum saying: ‘Oh this is great’. And she gave me her little kit from a Johnson & Johnson international series. It had a tape measure and plasters – I’m sure they’d lost all their stickiness,” Leggat says.

“And there was a little ball pressure gauge. Never used it.

“But it was quite fun that she was excited for me.”

The woman known as ‘Mons’ continued to encourage her daughter who would follow in her monumental footsteps, managing three of the country’s six franchise teams (for 99 games so far), as well as the Silver Ferns.

Silver Ferns manager Monica Leggat (far left, under cover) at the 1987 World Cup in Glasgow. Photo: Netball NZ

It’s a just over a year since Monica Leggat passed away, at 86.  She was revered by New Zealand’s netball community, and still active in the sport – in the season before she died, she’d be down at the Hamilton City netball courts on winter Saturdays, helping out in the control tower or the kitchen.

During her nearly 70 years in netball, everything she did for the game was voluntary. (She also worked as a teacher and guidance counsellor at Fairfield College).

The loss of her beloved mum is still raw for Dee.

“We had a really close relationship anyway, but when I started managing teams, it made us even closer on a different level. We shared the same understanding,” she says.

“We talked netball chit-chat rather than handing on advice – but out of that, the advice came.

“If we had a player who was a bit stroppy, I’d ask her how she used to deal with them; we’d just talk it through. She’d say: ‘When I used to do it, it was like this… but you’ve obviously got more resources now’.”

Monica took care of the Silver Ferns from 1985 to 1991, winning the 1985 World Games and 1987 World Cup with coach Dame Lois Muir, and the World Games again in 1988 with Lyn Parker.

The lifeforce behind Waikato netball for decades, Mons was also Netball NZ president and a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to netball. 

“She was special,” says Dee, her voice breaking.

Dee Leggat and the little red wagon she uses to tow gear for the Northern Stars. Photo: Suzanne McFadden

Days after returning home from England in January, as the Silver Ferns’ ‘caretaker’ manager in their Nations Cup victory, Dee Leggat was straight back into organising the ANZ Premiership season for the Northern Stars.

After stints managing the Tactix and the Mystics, Leggat helped set up the Stars franchise four years ago.  

At every Northern Stars training at Pulman Arena in Papakura, you’ll spot her pulling her little red wagon filled with ice for the players after their workout. She’s probably worked an 80-hour week, but she will still wear her trademark smile.

Leggat never imagined becoming a netball manager: “Not in a thousand years. I never saw it coming.”

And yet here she is, poised to hit a milestone as a manager of New Zealand franchise teams – tonight’s game against the Magic (postponed by the coronavirus) would have been her 100th.

Leggat spent two seasons with the Capital Shakers in the National Bank Cup, two with the Tactix, one with the Mystics in the ANZ Championship, and she’s now in her fourth season with the Stars. 

She also helped kick-start the trans-Tasman ANZ Championship, spending three years as a sponsorship manager for ANZ in Melbourne. “It was a really big job, and I loved it,” Legatt says.

Like her mother before her, Leggat managed the the New Zealand U21s, including the 2013 team who won the World Youth Cup in Glasgow. 

When Silver Ferns manager Esther Molloy took maternity leave in 2016, Leggat was asked to come in as her cover.

It’s been a regular occurrence ever since – Leggat coming in as ‘caretaker’ manager whenever Molloy has needed time with her family (her seven-year-old daughter Charlotte has juvenile dermatomyositis – a rare and complex autoimmune disease, where the body attacks the muscles and skin).

Leggat has stepped in to look after the Silver Ferns in a string of international series, including the Constellation Cup and two tours to England on either side of the 2019 World Cup.

Molloy gets emotional talking about what Leggat has done for her family, and the strong friendship they’ve built.

“She’s always been so incredibly willing to switch in and hit the ground running. She’s slotted in doing everything as I would, and running an absolutely seamless, professional operation,” Molloy says.

“It gave me the chance to take a breath, it eased the pressure on me. With Netball NZ’s full support, it meant I got to keep the job I love, but I could be by Charlotte’s side when she needed me.

“Dee’s always been one of my main supporters, regularly checking in and looking out for me. I am so incredibly lucky to not only get to work with a fantastic team manager, but to also have an amazing friend.”

Leggat says taking on the Silver Ferns is ‘all care and no responsibility’. “Esther does all the work putting the whole programme together and I just deliver it,” she says.

“But if anything [goes wrong], I’ve become really confident to just wing it, or make the decisions because I have the knowledge. Esther and I operate exactly the same way, we think the same way, so it’s not too hard.”

With the Northern Stars, however, it’s all Leggat’s planning. “I put my own personality into it,” she says.

Stars coach Kiri Wills grins when she’s asked what Leggat adds to the team.  “She brings a lightness. When you’re on logistics, you can get a little ‘school-teachery’, but that’s definitely not the case with Dee,” she says.

“She’s conscious of making sure the players are well looked after, which all good managers are, but there’s a high tolerance point with Dee. If there’s rubbish left around, she’ll be like ‘Hey guys, I’m not your slave’.”

At Monica Leggat’s memorial service last year, former Silver Fern captain Tracey Fear described her as “a modern-day Mary Poppins” who did everything with a great sense of humour.

That’s her daughter, too. Silver Fern and Stars shooter Maia Wilson vouches for that. They’ve been in teams together since 2016, when a 19-year-old Wilson made her Ferns debut.

“I call her Doris, and she calls me Maude. She’s a cheeky little thing; one of the funniest people I know,” Wilson says.

“But she’s also one of the most hardworking. She will have a laugh at herself, but when it comes down to business, she’s definitely there to do the job.

“She has a genuine love of netball, and that comes from her mum’s influence, and she’s always walking around with a smile. I know I can text her and she’s always going to be there. We’re riding this wave together.”

It can be netball seven days a week for Leggat during the ANZ Premiership season. And even with the coronavirus cloud overhead, and the league now postponed for two weeks, the Stars have tried to keep it like business as usual – carrying on with training and using “hand sanitiser up the wazoo”.  The social distancing part is difficult, though. 

Leggat says she’s a manager because she loves the people. And plenty will tell you she’s great at it.

“It’s just a matter of being organised and having a bit of flexibility and fun. If you take it too seriously, you have to take a step back and say ‘It’s still a game and there’s more to life’.”

The best advice she took from her mother? “Be true to who you are as a person, 24/7. It always annoyed us both that some people can be different in different environments,” Leggat says.

“And the duck thing… paddling like hell underwater but gliding calmly on top. That’s us.”

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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