Mike Bechet’s secrets to success

2012-11-27 00:00

IT is well-known that only a tiny fraction of South African school first-team sports players go on to make national teams in their chosen code.

In South Africa, the hurdle to international glory is compounded by the abundance of talent churned out by our admirable school system every year, generating layer upon layer of fresh talent to challenge the aspirations of those who matriculated the year before, let alone preceding years.

Former Sharks and Springbok captain Gary Teichmann summed it up in a Witness interview after his retirement when he said his experiences playing for Newport in Wales had taught him that while the UK hangs on desperately to the smidgeon of talent that emerges each year, South Africa has flyhalves, batsmen and hockey players falling out of trees like avocados year in and year out, a cascade of quality for top franchises and provinces to sift through and contract.

Accordingly, Maritzburg College first XI hockey and cricket coach Mike Bechet’s achievement in producing 15 Protea hockey players plus two SA cricketers and one England cricketer in the 20 years post-independence in 1992 is nothing short of remarkable. It is also an undisputed fact that SA cricket icon Jonty Rhodes would have been an Atlanta 96 hockey Olympian had Cricket SA freed him temporarily from his contract.

So what is the secret, the model that others can learn from?

Witness: Aside from talent, what do you look for in a schoolboy cricketer/hockey player?

Mike Bechet: The ability to train under pressure, commit totally, display a work ethic that would suggest nothing will interfere with his achieving the goals he has set.

W: Many, many talented school players have come and gone; did some who could have gone all the way give it all away?

MB: Some very talented young men have passed this way and haven’t cut it in the big wide world simply because they lacked the drive, self-sacrifice, self-discipline and application.

W: Is this down to pressure, choices after school, changing priorities or not being mentally strong enough to deal with sport at senior level once outside the sheltered confines of school?

MB: As we progress in life, there are fewer young kids prepared to sacrifice to achieve their goals. It’s a rarity these days and, given the long-term and bigger-picture opportunities these players have, makes it even more puzzling. Maybe there are too many opportunities, leading to an expectation that one doesn’t have to put in the necessary work to get to the next level.

Surrounding oneself with winners is also of vital importance — far too many buckle to peer pressure and end up throwing their talent away, spending time with underachievers who have no “go” in them as far as lifestyle choices are concerned.

There is a famous quote from Robert Half which reads: “Hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy.” The secret is to find kids who are hungry to achieve and have the mental toughness to get out there “when nobody is watching”, who in most part do the extra yards on their own.

You can coach skills, you can’t coach attitude. Attitudes are seemingly inborn, as is character, a hunger to achieve and mental toughness.

Parenting has also changed in many ways and too often parents become mates with their kids and this ultimately leads to an inability to say: “No, you cannot do this or that.” A crocodile tear in the face of an unpopular decision never killed any boy I know of.

W: Is there one common denominator in the make-up of the 18? Is it supreme confidence and self-belief? Or do the 18 have widely different personality traits and temperaments?

MB: If I look at the guys who have passed through this way, the majority, if not all, do have a common denominator.

Some of the traits they all seem to share are plentiful hard work, lots of “dog” in them, self-sacrifice, a commitment to the cause and no short-cuts along the way.

W: As a school first-team coach, how important is technical knowledge of the sport?

MB: Technical knowledge is vital. If you don’t have the technical knowledge you are on a hiding to nothing.

W: Is it more important that boys buy in to the coach’s drive to foster a “family”, a close-knit team rather than him being a technical wizard?

MB: Both are of equal importance to successful teams.

W: What gives you the most satisfaction in coaching schoolboys? Unbeaten teams? Seeing boys going on to international cricket or the Olympics?

MB: At some schools the term “unbeaten” seems to be all-important. No school team goes out to lose deliberately, let alone likes to lose, or worse still likes getting used to losing. Sometimes there are more lessons in life to be learnt when one loses as opposed to winning “ugly”.

It gives me more satisfaction seeing kids go on in the after-school life to compete on the international stage — that’s the ultimate for me.

W: Do you derive pleasure from seeing a “less-gifted” first-team player progress significantly through the year?

MB: It gives me enormous satisfaction in seeing a boy overcome technical or other weaknesses through hard work and application.

These kids are usually those who have an ability to absorb information and then carry out instructions as if it were their last opportunity to achieve.

W: What would your advice be to parents of boys or girls who aspire to go all the way?

MB: I have seen plenty of parents destroy their kids by putting undue pressure on them to achieve. These are generally parents who have either never achieved much in the sporting or business arena themselves and who have little feel for what goes on out in the heat of battle.

My advice is simply this: do not push your kids in the direction that you want them to go.

Let them find their own direction and rather give them your 100% support and encouragement.

All parents should read the book Raising Talent by sports psychologist Tim Goodenough, who is also the author of In the Zone, for excellent advice.


International cricketers: Kevin Pietersen, Jonty Rhodes (U15A), David Miller.

Hockey: Marvin Harper (double Olympian), Steve Evans, Darryn Gallagher, Iain Evans, Tommy Hammond, Geoff Abbott, Wade Paton, Taine Paton (all Olympians), Grant von Mayer, Ryan Shrives, Charl van der Merwe, Gareth Carr, Shaun Davenhill, Matthew Guise-Brown, Grant Glutz.

First XI cricket coach (20 years): 532 matches.

First XI hockey coach (31 years): 661 matches.

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