BY MARGOT BUTCHER REPUBLISHED FROM OUTRIGHT #53
What do professional cricket and the New Zealand Defence Force have in common? A lot more than you’d think, says the person best placed to advise you.
Derek de Boorder won’t need an introduction to most of our members after a solid Domestic career that spanned 103 first-class, 101 List A and 99 T20 games, chiefly with the Otago Volts, after early doors with Auckland. But after having upped sticks to Wellington in 2018 to take up a managerial role with ANZ, you might be surprised to find out what he’s doing five years on.
As a Massey finance graduate, de Boorder had worked part-time for the bank in Dunedin during most of his cricket career so his initial post-Volts segue from customer services into a full-time job in the capital as a commercial and agribusiness relationships manager seemed a perfectly natural and logical fit.
But by the end of that year, he realised he was really missing the tight teamwork of his old life — and things in the credit management world were just a little too static. His thoughts kept turning back to another career option he had seriously contemplated: joining the Navy.
His father-in-law always spoke positively about what it had done for him, having joined mid-career as an experienced manager. So with wife Natalie’s support, de Boorder took the plunge: he took six months’ leave without pay from ANZ to move up to Auckland (home of the Devonport Naval Base) and be a stay-at-home dad for their two preschool sons, Ethan and Harry, for six months while he went through the assessment and selection process.
By July 2019 he was straight into five months’ intensive training on the base, in the Junior Officer intake. Camps, activities, fitness, exercises, being outdoors, learning set-piece military exercises and leadership, with a great bunch of people. Right back in his element.
“I found it really fun, it was like a big preseason!” says de Boorder. “I was also personally quite conscious of seeking out leadership opportunities, and the Navy really invests in growing your leadership capability at each step along the way.
“I guess as someone in my 30s — a little bit older than most of the group, I was well aware that my peers outside cricket and the Navy were all by now in management positions. So, I really enjoyed that I was put in positions to lead teams quite early on, and given a lot of responsibility where I was involved in strategic change.”
His new life as a sub-lieutenant would also bring an ocean of variety. His core duty is as a logistics officer, but each project is typically completely different to the last.
One of his first assignments after graduation was in the Navy’s strategic personnel planning cell, focusing on an engineer training reform project. He was also deployed aboard HMNZS Otago, then HMNZS Wellington — which included a three-week voyage to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to Tokelau and the Cook Islands. As an assistant supply officer, his job included making sure all the vital stores were on board and tracking the mission-critical items. He had another big, pandemic-related role on dry land, when the Government commissioned the NZDF to provide personnel to support the Managed Isolation and Quarantine operations.
“I worked for that task unit, running logistics over the last couple of months of lockdown and looking after personnel for 18 MIQ hotels. We had around 400 NZDF people in Auckland at the time, and my responsibility was getting them to and from Auckland on a six-week rotation, flying them in from around the country, housing them, getting them to their place of work each day.”
De Boorder found the disciplines and tempo of his erstwhile professional cricket career had prepared him well mentally for his new lifestyle.
“There are some high tempo periods, for instance your time on ship, or when you’re deployed on a specific project. You’re busy, fully focused and need to put in extra effort. But like cricket, there’s a flipside of downtime at other points to recover. That ebb and flow was very familiar for me, and I was also finding the Navy provided quite similar things to the things I had most enjoyed about cricket.”
The big difference was that structured approach to leadership training.
“The Navy has a leadership framework right from the gate through to the top of the organisation. Each time you get a promotion, you go through a new leadership training module for that level, in order to give you the best chance of succeeding: orientate, build and advance. They don’t expect you to know everything before you gain the experience, and they don’t expect you to work it all out for yourself, either. There’s the acknowledgement that you are learning at each step, so they provide the support and safety net to learn without drowning.”
As a former captain, it’s made him ponder whether active players might benefit from formal opportunities for leadership training, too. “I’d certainly encourage younger players to explore those options. Joining the reserves could be one way to access those opportunities, and provide some work-life/cricket-life balance as well.”
After having journeyed off to Wellington and then Auckland, the de Boorders are now back in sunny Dunedin, after Natalie got an appealing job offer. “I had always said to Natalie that after cricket I would support any move she would like to make — because she made a lot of sacrifices for me and my cricket career.”
The broad scope of the NZDF enables de Boorder to continue to work from Dunedin, out of its recruitment office. Part of his current job is specialist recruiting: flying around the country to university towns and careers expos with a view to recruiting engineers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, chaplains — anyone with a professional qualification who might find a good fit with the NZDF, just as he was. “It’s easy for me to relate my own career-change story to them."
Cricket, that lifelong love affair, hasn’t entirely disappeared from view. The NZDF has its own longstanding culture of service teams of course, and he’s twice been called up for the Navy’s cricket team — only for Cyclone Gabrielle to get in the way of an actual debut. That tournament is postponed until later this year.
He also got stuck in assisting at North Shore Cricket Club while in Auckland, and now at North East Valley in Dunedin, to give back as a volunteer — particularly, passing on his knowledge to young wicketkeepers. Specialist keeping coaches always having been few and far between at club level. “That’s been really rewarding. It’s the kind of input I would have really loved as a young keeper myself.”
De Boorder was marooned on 99 first-class caps for Otago, one milestone left hanging — but there are zero regrets. He can take solace that his Otago record of eight first-class catches in an innings will take some beating (sorry Max Chu). It was simply the right time to make tracks, and his door is open if any current players want to hear more about what’s turned out to be a stimulating new career and chapter of life.
“A lot of the things you deal with in defence are relatable to cricket. Even in my current job selecting people to join the NZDF, the same principles applied to selecting a cricket team, and thinking about how people interact with a team and achieve a goal. It’s not a new thing, either — that correlation between team sport and the Navy.
"Buck Shelford was in the Navy. We have other people within the defence forces who are professional sportspeople, women rugby players, cricketers. Each service has their own cricket, rugby, netball, volleyball team and so on so you also get to travel internationally through those to play as part of your job. That’s a pretty cool fringe benefit!”
It does take some courage to start thinking seriously about life after cricket, de Boorder adds.
“I’d definitely encourage players to start exploring those post-cricket options sooner, rather than later. It means you have a plan. And if you have plans in place, it just means you’re in a better position to act when the day comes.”