Australia’s aspiring male and female hockey stars have been treated to a special insight from some recently returned Kookaburras and Hockeyroos Olympians.
Kookaburras legend and Hockey Australia (HA) National Athlete Pathway Program (NAPP) Technical Lead Mark Knowles organised two athlete workshops for the men’s and women’s National Junior Squads (Under 21s) and National Futures Squads (Under 18s).
Hockeyroos midfield and leadership duo Jane Claxton and Steph Kershaw spoke to and interacted with the female athletes, with Kookaburras goalkeeper Andrew Charter and defender Tim Howard addressing the male group.
Anchored by Knowles, the Zoom sessions saw the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras athletes speak on four key themes:
- Olympic experience
- Learnings from when they were 18 year old players to now being Olympians
- The importance of dual careers
- Dealing with disappointments
“We looked at how to upskill these athletes better and quicker in making that transition from Futures and Junior squads to the senior national programs,” said Knowles.
“The Olympians talked through their dual careers…work, study and how the national program in Perth encourages and supports those pursuits.
“There was also an important resilience piece in dealing with injuries, disappointments and non selection.”
Upon reflection, Knowles could not speak highly enough of the benefits the workshops provided.
“The feedback I received was really positive, especially from parents,” said Knowles.
“A lot of them saying thank you and noting things like, ‘it is tough for us to work out how best to support our kids and knowing the best language for us to use…and for our kids to listen in on that session was fantastic for them’.
“The inspiration piece the four Olympians touched on was great. They were open and honest, with the guys having won silver and the girls not shying away from the disappointing result in a quarter final after winning all of their Pool matches.”
A total of 118 aspiring athletes attended the sessions.
“This was a fantastic initiative Mark (Knowles) came up with to utilise the Hockeyroos’ and Kookaburras’ time in hotel quarantine and simultaneously add value to our Next Generation programs and athletes,” said HA High Performance Pathways Manager Ian Rutledge.
“For this up and coming group, the opportunity to hear from some of Australia’s world class hockey players who have recently performed on the Olympic stage would have been invaluable insight for them.”
From the time he took on the NAPP Technical Lead role at the start of the year, Knowles has been a strong advocate in developing athletes who are not only exceptional hockey players, but well-rounded people.
Knowles believes this ‘wholistic approach’ will reap benefits on and off the pitch and go a long way to keeping Australia as a dominant force in world hockey.
“I’m a massive believer in that everything is not all about hitting, trapping and running,” said Knowles.
“If all we want to do is send these players to a training camp and think that we’re providing something for them then we’re going to miss out.
“All of these online resources…around bridging the gap between the future and the now, anything that can support this wholistic approach to athletes is really important for me and something that was a focus in my former role at the Queensland Academy of Sport.
“We can’t just have them thinking about missing traps or winning medals every day. We’ve got to provide really good people and I think Steph, Jane, Andrew and Tim are great examples of that.”
So what is next for Australia’s National Junior and Futures squads?
Despite the postponement of the Australian Under 21 Championships and lockdowns in parts of the country, the National Junior athletes continue to prepare for next year’s Junior World Cups.
For the Futures athletes, time will be spent undertaking some online learning and development work around technical and tactical hockey. It is an area Knowles says is crucial for this age group.
“You only know what you’re exposed to. We’ve got some great players but the tactical knowledge is something I think needs improving,” said Knowles.
“This upskilling piece on their tactical learning is really critical for me because I don’t get to see them training on the pitch on a day to day basis.
“The best players I’ve see or played with read and understand the game so well, so this area is hugely important.”