Giles Bonnet Backs Funded High Performance Women’s Hockey Programs

In his second stint as coach of the Senior Hockey Women's team, Giles Bonnet has highlighted the importance of funding high performance programs to produce a squad that can compete with the highest-ranked sides in World Hockey. Photo: RayChaplin.Photography

Coach Giles Bonnet, a long-time stalwart of South Africa’s Women’s Hockey, returns for his second stint with a renewed focus on the importance of funding high-performance programs. 

In his own words, Bonnet reflects on the team’s journey, from past successes to present challenges, and underscores the critical role of funding in propelling the women’s game forward.

Since returning to lead the team in 2022, Bonnet has observed significant differences from his previous tenure. He reflects, “The last cycle I had a lead time to set up very good funding with Investec, and we were able to accelerate our program and play the 100 games we needed to in this period. 

“The other difference is that we started with a group of players that had played for a period of time but wanted more, the senior group was larger, and as a result we were able to make tough but good program decisions that had the buy in of a motivated and committed group of athletes. 

“Some of these decisions were relocating the team/squad to Holland and playing in the Belgium and Dutch competitions and training in a high-performance environment three times a week as a National team.”

South Africa’s Women’s Hockey Head Coach, Giles Bonnet

He continues, “We have followed a similar journey in the last 24 months (which is my contract term) and identified what we consider the most exciting young talents that can become world beaters by LA2028 and are providing a platform for them to develop themselves. 

“To do this, we need to show these athletes what being a professional is all about, and stimulate them to work hard to maintain this talent. It was only in 2023 that we started to work through the selection and the players’ positions effectively after a year. When we returned in May from Korea, it was clear that the direction we were on was the right one and that we were slowly getting the player group right.”

Despite the progress made, Bonnet acknowledges the challenges faced by the team post-school. “Supersport Schools has had a major impact in bringing these high-level sports matches into our homes. As a country, we have great facilities and very competent coaches and directors of Hockey in schools around the country. We can compare with any country at all levels form U19 to U14. It’s what happens post-school were the gap widens. 

“Our competition is just not strong enough, or broad enough. I would say at school level, we are growing, and have remarkable athletes and produce great talent. For example, at the recent St Mary’s Festival, fourteen talented players were identified by an expert. This is just one example of how alive the sport is in schools, and that we have talented youth players whom can become World Class, if given the right environments, post-school.”

Discussing the importance of ‘professionalisation’ in women’s sport, Bonnet draws parallels with other nations, saying:

“All the teams in World Hockey are now semi or fully professional. At least as a minimum, training three to four times per week. In 2010-2014, we always could beat Belgium, however since Tokyo in 2021, they have been training four times a week in Antwerp, funded by their Olympic Committee. I feel they will be on the podium in Paris, and are one of only three teams that can beat Holland to the Gold medal.”

“There is a considerable gap with us and Belgium, and this only as a result of their program. Their High Performance program dictates that they now move into the top 5 in World Hockey, where previously they languished between 12-15 ranking. For South Africa this [is] a centralised High Performance program and a funded match program to deliver 30-40 tests per year [that] will ensure that SA can become a top-6 hockey nation between now and LA2028. 

Just to put perspective the USA received $1 million dollars last week for their program to Paris, this is equal to almost R19 million rand. We could run a fully professional program for four years on this value.”

“We have been fortunate that we have had great financial support from Marc Jury at Supersport over these past 24 months, he has been incredible, and through Supersport schools and Kelvin Watt recently a real injection of funding to help us travel to China and India. There have also been hockey people whom have given up their time to source funding for the team and for this we are very grateful, it has kept our program going.”

“There is no doubt having worked in multiple countries around the world in Hockey (China, Belgium, Netherlands, South Africa, Canada and consulted in Ireland) that if the Woman’s team was well-funded and operated a high-performance program, they could become medallists at the Commonwealth Games – in India in 2010 and Glasgow 2014 we came 4th, and in 2022 we failed to make the top four!”

“We are not lagging behind, we have unfortunately taken a detour into a cul-de-sac, if we talk about where we are compared to other countries in the top 20. Coaches and staff are not paid, there are limited specialists attached to the team, and our program is not funded.”

“It’s impossible to compete with other countries, the small details will always be missing. With vision, SA could leverage qualifying through Africa for major World events and become a force in World Hockey with a planned program – the talent exists in our country but once they finish school the gap widens into a chasm that’s not possible to cross anymore, the strong tertiaries are not the High Performance solution for International Hockey. Unfortunately, this is the reality of our sport currently but it’s not the end game.”

In preparation for the Paris Olympics, Bonnet and his team are focussed on maximising their performance despite challenges. 

“We will be setting the priority targets… It’s always in the year before the Olympics that the major work is done. We most probably will target Great Britain, Spain and USA as teams we hope we can get close to, and try to make it difficult for Australia and Argentina.”

“The hope is to stay off the bottom and get a quarter-final opportunity, however, in our pool, this will mean getting points off the three countries mentioned to not only not come 5th or 6th, but to finish 3rd and miss the Netherlands, this in itself will be a massive achievement for this team. 

“There we will evaluate where we are and what improvements we need to make in the short time to our structures. We won’t be busy yet with targets for Paris until we get to the village on 19th July, for now, it’s about making incremental steps and for the team, players to agree on what are the priorities and to deliver on these in each minute in each game in the training moments in China.”

Photo Caption: In his second stint as coach of the Senior Hockey Women’s team, Giles Bonnet has highlighted the importance of funding high performance programs to produce a squad that can compete with the highest-ranked sides in World Hockey. Photo: RayChaplin.Photography

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