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Tuesday, 09 July 2019 10:51

Hockey: Spotlight on Menlopark's Girls

Written by  Jono Cook

Menlopark hockey is making many people sit up and take notice, so SA School Sports magazine and website decided to find out more.


Warren, it’s great to talk with you. How do you see the mind-set of the Menlopark girls’ first team?

“Thank you, Jono. The Menlo girls carry a massive culture of responsibility and discipline. So, everyone involved needs to work together and do what needs to be done for the end result; in other words no ego or ‘I know better’ attitudes.

“A Menlo first team girl understands that the saying, ‘look after yourself first before you can become a part of the team’ also applies.

“In saying that, parents and teachers need to assist in helping the girls become better people; help them become role models. This leaves an exciting and motived culture in the side.”

With 33 matches having been played at the time of writing, it's been a busy Menlopark girls first team season so far – and it’s by no means over yet, what with the much-prized Super 12 Tournament hosted by Oranje Meisies in Bloemfontein a prized goal.

SA School Sports asked Warren as to how does he manage the players to ensure that they are in a good space mentally and physically?

“The players appreciate that the responsibility of looking after themselves is the key to minimising the illnesses, injuries and so on.

“The squad also understand that we protect each other - and especially when times are tough. If someone gets injured, depending on the duration of the injury, the team know that everyone needs to work a bit harder to make up for that player until she returns.

“It is also important to bear in mind that even though they are successful hockey players, they still remain people, people with emotions, people who have other goals, people who still need to balance their own lives. So the first lesson is to take ownership in their lives- with absolutely no short cuts or passing on of their responsibilities.

“Also, creating an environment where they all feel valued for their dreams, their hard work, even their failures, is key. One-on-one conversations happen regularly, so they always know where they stand with me, their team and hockey.

“Lastly, rewarding them for their hard work is so important. If they have trained well and performed well, I will give them two-to-three days off, so that they can get their lives outside the white lines in order again.”

Warren, these young girls are still in the development stage in terms of their emotional maturity. In that regard, a major challenge is that they have to contend with the pressures that encompass being a first team player and the attention that brings.

I found Warren’s response to this point my personal favourite in what was a fascinating interview:

“Social media and people’s opinions can lead to the quickest failures of a team. As a team we have set dreams - ‘the impossible turned possible’ - and goals – ‘what we will definitely work for’.

“We also understand that academics is important; that it leads to varsity entrance, which means it leads to the rest of their lives.

“It is all about internal factors versus external factors. We really do appreciate the support from the wider spectrum, it’s a massive reward for all the hard work. But, we still owe all our efforts to the smaller group of people believing in us and directly supporting us.”

Quality, winning hockey - is this one of your primary goals?

“Yes, dreams and ambitions are alive in our team. We want to eventually lead girls hockey in South Africa. It’s what we train and strive for.”

In your coaching, how do you try to marry the Menlo pre-match game plan with the players’ ability to react quickly to what’s actually happening in match play?

“Too many coaches put talented players in boxes within some type of game plan. For me, coaching is a lot about managing talented players, helping them understand their game better, helping them grow as individuals to become successful in a group of people who believe in each other.

“It’s about challenging their hockey and talents to improve their skills and thinking. Tactics definitely play a massive role in hockey, but to me, I need to trust the person to achieve or adapt the tactics – I don’t want a chess-piece hockey player.”

To my mind, the next question is directly related to the previous one. Each team needs a leadership group, as in any given match situation the momentum and “run of play” can change very fast and it is those senior team personnel “in the heat of battle” who need to respond immediately and direct their team-mates in finding a solution.

“Well I guess that’s why sports gambling is such a successful business because, pre-match and even during-match,no one can say with any certainty what the outcome will be.

“I have four players in my leadership group. They are the link between the team and I. When the team donot perform or someone in the team misbehaves, the leadership group need to answer for it because it is their team-mates and they are the players I need to trust when it’s game time.

“The leadership carries the team - team planning, team fun, team dynamics.In the end, it’s their story to tell. I’m just there to help in any way I can to make sure it comes true.”

Bottom line, hockey is about scoring more goals than your opponents.

“Yes, in the end the reward for all the hard work, fitness, skills and overall time on the Astro has to be goals, as it is goals that bring the maximum enjoyment. Turnover, ball protection, possession, opportunity, chances,bringreward on the scoreboard.

“Having said that, goals scored is the most difficult stat to improve on, so shouldn’t that mean adopting a more attacking mind-set and train it more?”

Warren adopts an interesting philosophy in measuring each player. And it’s not about statistics and percentages.

“Jono, each player is measured by their courage and dreams. You can’t right off players if they have never been taught. As coach, it is my job to get the best out of them and make sure their dreams still remain a reason for their success.”

I next asked Warren as to how important is the development of the U14 and U16 age groups to him, as well as to the immediate future of Menlopark girls’ hockey?

“Jono, it is very important. We are one school that only plays with players in their age groups. In other words, we don’t pull players up from younger age groups,so it’s very important to prepare those age-group players for their two years at first team level.”

Again looking beyond Menlo for a moment, if one looks at SA schoolgirls’ hockey on a broader scale, any of many schools might only have one or two staff members who are really clued up on the sport.

So do Menlo have regular discussion groups among the various teams’ coaches?

“Jono, our model is more practical, attending training session and matches. It’s about building an active interaction with coaches as well and players.”

Taking Warren away from the focus on Menlo for a moment, I asked him, if one looks at SA school hockey in a wider sense, what in particular would he like to see happening?

“Jono, two things:

“1 - Funding: The national age-group teams’ coaching staffs and selectors cannot select national age-group sides based solely on watching a week’s hockeyatthe annual Interprovincial Nationals Tournaments (IPTs).

“The pressure of selecting a national side based on just one week can result in a player, or players, falling victim to what other people say and sell. A trusted management team needs to be given the funding and freedom to tour the country to watch the major tournaments and festivals.And players need to put on a data base, which is based on what the senior SA hockey team needfrom their players in order to become competitors at Olympics and World Cups.

“2 - A trusted and believed-in SA coaching staff and management: A political decision will always be frowned upon. It is imperative that the SA coaching staff and management are a team of people who the players, the schools and the provincial coaches know are successful.

“In the current schools’ hockey world, well-respected personnel and good management skills are needed.”

Going back to the Menlo girls’ first team, do the squad have a set of core values whose purpose is to instil in the players an appreciation and understanding of the Menlopark hockey culture?

“These are the values we stand by:

-          Look after yourself first

-          Responsibility - in putting the team first

-          Discipline - for ensuring a professional environment

-          Sacrifice -if you really want it, you will find a way; if you really don’t, you will find an excuse

-          Always remain a ‘student’of the game

-          Fear; turns into excitement

“That is the essence of who we are.”

Menlopark girls’ first team squad

Goalkeeper Lindi Siboza

Defenders Dete Schutte, Anine Louw, Simone Potgieter, Jade Penning, Izette Louw

Midfielders  Hanrie Louw, Maricia Theunissen (vice-capt), Emmere Steenkamp, Noelle van der Walt; Lindi van den Berg

Strikers Lise Prinsloo (capt), Ulrica Blom, Inaldi Uys, Danelle van der Walt, Ritasha Theunissen

Head coach  Warren Sangster

Assistant coach Wayne Coetzee

Manager Andrea Swanepoel

Conditioning coach JJ Smith

“I must also mention that the headmaster plays a massive role in creating support from the school and we are grateful for his interest and input.”

Thanks for your time, Warren. It is much appreciated by SA School Sports.

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