Youngsters learning fast, says women’s hockey coach

2012-10-02 00:00

FABIAN Gregory, the assistant coach of the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team, is expecting a competitive match when the women in green and gold take on Scotland at 4.30 pm (SA time) in the Champions Challenge today.

Taking a break yesterday and reflecting on Sunday’s 4-2 defeat against the United States — which followed the 1-0 loss to Ireland the day before — Gregory pinpointed one of the reasons.

“At 2-1 up against the USA we had enough goal-scoring opportunities to put the game out of reach of the opposition, and it’s a case of the players developing the mental strength to do so. But there were lots of positives,” said Gregory.

“Our young players are growing in experience and in their contribution on the field, and special mention must be made of Izelle Lategan’s performance, which included her first goal for South Africa.

“We are making it difficult for teams to defend against us and it is a question of converting those opportunities.”

The coach said SA’s senior players in Dublin were starting to make telling contributions, and again praised captain Lenise Marais for leading by example.

Goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa was doing her job in keeping South Africa in the game when the team was under pressure, Gregory said, but he pointed out that the squad need to work on defending penalty corners.

“It was poor, and work also needs to be done on defending free-hits around our circle,” he said.

For various reasons, seven London 2012 players plus a reserve are missing from the team.

It is perhaps one reason why Gregory is not fazed by the defeats. There is a bigger picture than just this tournament.

“The SA team is in a new Olympic cycle and we would be failing as the coaching staff if we were not starting to build up young players for the Rio Olympics in 2016,” he said.

“The youngsters are learning quickly, while two players who just missed out on London 2012, Jade Mayne and Kelly Madsen — whose performance against the Americans was especially encouraging — are starting to put their hands up.”

The coach said a number of players were being tried in unfamiliar positions where management felt they had potential and it was also a case of a new group of players gelling as a unit. The bigger prize was further down the road.

“Having said that, we have been very competitive here and obviously want to win matches, but this is process-based and you can’t expect to have an automatic right to win when you are throwing youngsters in at the deep end,” said Gregory.

“Our sponsorship by Investec has been of paramount importance in allowing us to build a programme to grow the team to a high level of performance, and the result will be evident at the 2012 Hockey World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Rio 2016.”

At the highest level, seemingly small decisions on the field can have a match-losing impact. The link-up with Neurozone and the ongoing work, which begins this week, in developing the individual and collective mindset to make better decisions, could play a significant role in reducing those mistakes.

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