SA hockey women aim high at Olympics
23 April 2012
The South African women's hockey team finished 11th at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but are hoping a strong work ethic and busy build-up programme will see them competing closer to the medals at London 2012.
Last month, South Africa's Olympic soccer and hockey teams received enthusiastic support when they paraded through the streets of Soweto to celebrate their qualification for London 2012.
Captain Marsha Marescia, a veteran of two Olympics, told BuaNews the parade with Banyana Banyana was "special".
"For the first time we were recognised for what we had achieved, and also to celebrate the impact that we can have on South African sport and in the average woman's life," said Marescia, who is based in the Netherlands where she plies her trade for the Rotterdam Hockey Club.
Looking back on the qualifying tournament in India, she said: "The Olympic qualifier was a tough tournament for the Investec ladies' hockey team. We had an intense preparation period with a number of international games, which paid off in the end as we entered the final being the most prepared team for the event.
"It was tough because psychologically each player knows that we would only get one chance to qualify. But once we had done it, we were thrilled.
"We feel that we deserve to be in London and our results prove it, and now that we have the chance to participate in London, we are looking forward to another tough tournament, but hope to do better than we have done at past Olympic Games," she added.
Playing for South Africa means a lot to experienced skipper and teammate Kate Woods.
"Representing your country in itself is a great honour, but once you have competed at Olympic Games, it really does take your career to an all-time high," Woods said. "It is an experience of a lifetime and I will cherish the memories forever. One was incredible, two was overwhelming, and three would just be an absolute dream come true.
'I want to make a difference'
"I always want to make a difference on the field," the defender added, "and contribute towards our performances. If I am not doing this, then I shouldn't be there anymore. To be training for a goal such as the Olympic Games makes all the training, hard work and sacrifices worthwhile."
Woods said a top-six finish in London "would be a fantastic result. It will be incredibly tough to achieve, but I think it is within our reach. Personally, this will be my last tournament for the national team, so I would love to finish on a high."
Marescia added that experience would help the team in setting their goals and managing their expectations.
"The experience definitely helps us to focus on the job at hand. While we spend a lot of time focusing on ourselves, we also spend hours analysing the opposition and their structure, the style and their key players and set pieces."
Coach Giles Bonnet, who took over as coach in 2010, agreed that experience would help the team in London.
"Thirteen of the 28 squad members have been to an Olympics," Bonnet said. "It is more about the distractions around the hockey matches that exist at an Olympic games and having a large proportion of players who have experienced all the distractions will make a difference.
"Technically, an area of major focus will be leading and receiving skills," Bonnet said. "A secondary focus, but by no means less important, will be passing out of the run with lifted skills.
"We will also continue developing specialist skills by area, like goal scoring and passing with deception."
Bonnet said he felt the qualification process that his charges had been through had helped toughen the players' mental approach.
"Linked to this is the excellent programme that we have in place to prepare us for London. In combination with these factors is the work we are doing on 'peak performance' - searching for the detail in the process to win games."
A stronger team
A few factors have helped the team become stronger - key support staff, specialist interventions, change in the methodology from process to performance, and the work ethic of the players and their commitment to excellence - have all been contributing factors.
"Working with Giles has been amazing," Marescia said. "He is extremely professional and manages the team well. His hockey knowledge and experience is unbelievable and he has introduced a more competitive environment to our group."
And Marescia's philosophy of leading by example is one of the things that has kept her at the helm of the team.
"I am extremely passionate about South African hockey, and I think this shows in the choices I make and the dedication that I have towards to the team," Marescia said.
"On the field, I just want to play and make a difference. Sometimes making the difference means being the supporter of the others when they are playing well and sometimes it means standing up and making the difference myself.
"Playing for South Africa is extremely special," Marescia added. "It is something that I treasure and I will always work hard to ensure that I never miss out on the opportunity to put on the green and gold and sing our national anthem with pride."