South African triple Olympian hockey player, Jen Wilson, has taken on the international coaching scene by storm over the past few years and she hopes to continue to use her experience and acquired knowledge to positively influence the future generation of hockey players.
Wilson has had a strong and varied coaching career, including spells as an assistant coach with Scotland from 2015 to 2017, in addition to high level domestic experience in England, in both the men’s and women’s game.
The South African had five seasons in charge of Ashford men’s 1st XI in the Kent/Sussex and South Premier League. Wilson also led Canterbury women to top spot and two second-placed finishes in the Investec National Premier Division, as well as two successful campaigns in the EuroHockey Champions Cup.
Her grand coaching CV is preceded by some incredible feats as an international player. She represented South Africa at three Olympic Games (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012), three World Cups (Australia 2002, Spain 2006, Argentina 2010) and three Commonwealth Games (Manchester 2002, Melbourne 2006, Delhi 2010). At the 2004 Games in Athens, she finished as the top scorer.
In her exceptional international career, Wilson scored 65 goals in 180 appearances for the green and gold.
Today she celebrates two years as head coach of Scotland Women’s Hockey. What better time for the gsport team to catch up with coach Wilson.
Jen, good to talk to you after many years. How is work on the international scene treating you?
Hello gsport community! I’m Jen Wilson South African triple Olympian hockey player. I’m delighted to be able to spend my time with you today, hopefully I can give you a little bit of insight into what I’m up to at this stage in my life. Coming to you all the way from Canterbury in the United Kingdom, and I think it’s played to true weather-style, with not much sunshine, unfortunately today. But I’m looking forward to
spending some time with the gsport community, who have always been
incredible supporters and promoters of female athletes, and coaches, and women in sport. The international scene is treating me very well, keeping me terribly busy, and it seems to be helping me accumulate a lot of grey hairs too!
The Covid-19 lockdown has impacted global sport. What does your new normal look like?
Normal at the moment is very square and one-dimensional and, I suppose, remote programs must exist for a little while, so, a lot of what we’re doing now
is through a computer screen but looking forward to returning to some sort of normal pretty soon. This time with the Scotland women’s team has been incredible!
You are celebrating two years as head coach of Scotland Women’s Hockey, how are you enjoying the experience?
I’ve learned a lot about coaching, as an international coach, I’ve learnt a lot about the players, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and so, it’s been it’s been very intriguing, and I’m delighted to be a part of this journey.
Did you see it as a natural progression being appointed Scotland women’s hockey head coach in 2018, having served as assistant coach for three seasons?
“However, until the opportunity was actually presented to me, I probably didn’t think it might be a reality…However, when it was there, and it was possible, I knew that I wanted to grab hold of it with both hands! And I’m absolutely delighted I did!” – Scotland Women’s Hockey Head Coach, Jen Wilson.
Probably not initially. I think when I got involved as an assistant coach, I was delighted to be given the opportunity, and spent some time in that environment and I suppose you always consider what could be the next step stepping-stone. However, until the opportunity was actually presented to me, I probably didn’t think it might be a reality…However, when it was there, and it was possible, I knew that I wanted to grab hold of it with both hands! And I’m absolutely delighted I did.
What were your five seasons like in charge of Ashford men’s 1st XI in the Kent/Sussex and South Premier League?
The five seasons working with the men’s team was superb. I look back with very fond memories. I was lucky enough to have an incredible group of players, who were extremely dedicated, and keen to learn, but it was also a very fun enjoyable environment, so for a for a female coach to be working with the men’s team, was quite unique at that stage, but they’ve had so much respect for me… I’m incredibly grateful to all of them, and I’ll hold those memories for an exceptionally long time.
How highly do your efforts with Canterbury women feature in your achievements internationally?
My time with Canterbury Hockey Club feature very highly in my level of achievement as a coach. I feel that as a team I had the opportunity to work with some very high calibre players, and the team had the opportunity to also play in a club setting, at the top club setting within a European environment and the quality of players that we came up against were some of the top Dutch, German, Spanish, Irish players in the world also, so yeah, I think it probably created a good platform for me to springboard into international coaching.
What did you learn about yourself as a coach when you worked in both the men’s and women’s games there?
I think I…if I reflect on my time working with men’s and women’s teams, I think it’s important to acknowledge that it probably isn’t a significant difference working with men’s or women’s teams, it’s more recognizing that every player is a person, and is a different individual, and it’s more about getting to know each individual, and how you can make each individual better, but also understanding what they have going on in their lives, alongside their hockey careers, so I suppose that’s probably one of my biggest reflections.
Looking back on your international career, you had some great high points, including finish as tournament top scorer at Athens 2004. What is your overriding feeling when you look back at your playing days?
“I know that in the time that I’ve committed to being a national hockey player I gave absolutely everything I could to be the best that I could be, and made sure that every minute on the pitch mattered to the team, and being able to represent my country so I’m delighted that I was afforded that opportunity.” – Wilson speaks on playing days with the South African Women’s Hockey team.
I think, when I look back on my playing days, I can feel immensely proud about them. I also have no regrets at all. I know that in the time that I’ve committed to being a national hockey player I gave absolutely everything I could to be the best that I could be, and made sure that every minute on the pitch mattered to the team, and being able to represent my country so I’m delighted that I was afforded that opportunity and I also appreciate that I put a lot of hard work, time, and energy into achieving that too!
What does it mean to you to be a triple Olympian?
That makes me feel extremely proud. I think just to be an Olympian, to go and represent your country at one of the games is a huge achievement for any athlete, and it’s something that most athletes really want to achieve, so to know that I had the opportunity to represent my country on three occasions, it most certainly makes me extremely proud.
How can we improve the state of women’s sport globally?
I think it’s important to keep speaking about women in sport in a playing capacity, in a coaching capacity. I think there are many talented female athletes and coaches out there, and it’s communities like gsport that help promote all of these women in sport, so I think the more that we can all pull together to continually put our message out there, that we are there, we are a part of making sport, in general, very successful, and we can also inspire the younger generation to see what is possible.
Who are the women in sport you look up to?
Well, it’s an interesting one! I think over a period of time when I, well if I had to look back upon a name that springs to mind immediately, I suppose it would be Penny Heyns, and I remember watching her as a young athlete, and see her represent our country at the Olympic Games, and I suppose that made me recognise that it is possible. But I think throughout my career there are many women who have inspired me, and I think most importantly a lot of those women would be some of my teammates. When I see some of my teammates who have played in the SA national hockey team, the things that they’ve been able to achieve, that’s inspired me, as I played in that team over a long period of time.
What does it mean to be a South African that is succeeding on the global scene?
It means a lot to me, I think it shows again what is possible, to be working with the Scotland women’s team, I mean, I’m incredibly proud to be a part of that program. But I also will never forget my roots… I’m South African, through and through, and although I’m working with the Scottish women’s team, I appreciate my journey getting there and be a part of it! And, my role is to help make that team the best that they can possibly be. But I’ll never forget where my journey started.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of gsport and the role it plays in women’s sport?
I think gsport have been incredible supporters and promoters of women in sport, and I think to have a support system like that is incredibly vital to helping athletes and women in sport be successful, so I think they play an especially important role.
What is your message to young hockey players?
I think my message would be never give up, dedicate as much time, effort and energy that you possibly can achieve your goals! There will be some bumps in the road but that’s all part of the journey, and helps you reflect on what a wonderful opportunity it is, and most importantly, I think don’t forget the enjoyment factor! You play the sport because you love the game, and that keeps you well-driven and balanced throughout!
We here at gsport are inspired by the never-ending ambitions of women in sport pioneers. What is Jen’s greatest ambition?
I suppose I want to ensure that I am continually being successful with all elements within my life. Anything that I’m dedicating a large portion of my time, I want to know that I’m achieving something. So, I do juggle a fair amount of work commitments, however I appreciate it is all worth it, and my ambition is to ensure that I’m still able to contribute in all of those areas to the best level of my ability at times.
Photo 1 Caption: South African triple Olympian hockey player, Jen Wilson, has taken on the international coaching scene by storm over the past few years and she hopes to continue to use her experience and acquired knowledge to positively influence the future generation of hockey players. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: Wilson has had a strong and varied coaching career, including spells as an assistant coach with Scotland from 2015 to 2017, in addition to high level domestic experience in England, in both the men’s and women’s game. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: The South African had five seasons in charge of Ashford men’s 1st XI in the Kent/Sussex and South Premier League. Wilson also led Canterbury women to top spot and two second-placed finishes in the Investec National Premier Division, as well as two successful campaigns in the EuroHockey Champions Cup.