South African Junior Women’s Hockey team head coach, Lenise Marais, believes their focus is on executing individual skills and collective game strategies will help them perform to the best of their ability at the 2021 Women’s FIH Hockey Junior World Cup.
The international event set to take place at North West University from 5-16 December will see teams from around the world battle for top honours.
Marais, who was appointed as national junior coach in 2019, is also head coach of the Maties Hockey Team where she is playing her part to develop future national stars.
From the tender age of 9, Marais started playing the sport and during her time as student at Stellenbosch University, her passion for the game accelerated.
Apart from her love for hockey, Marais also has a keen interest in cricket and says she would love to have chance to chat cover drives with Momentum Proteas’ Laura Wolvaardt.
Speaking with Tlamelo Kganakga, Marais calls on the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and corporate South Africa for support and reveals her greatest ambition.
Lenise, thank you for chatting to us. Please tell us about yourself.
I am a hockey nerd who enjoys reading (the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series are my favourites) and watching sport. I’m a huge cricket fan and would jump at the chance to chat cover drives with Laura Wolvaardt. I also support Everton Football Club. I am a focused and determined person who aspires to make a difference each day.
A typical day in my life starts with a commute along the R44 whilst taking in the picturesque-rugged mountains, beautiful vineyards and rolling strawberry fields from Somerset West to Stellenbosch.
As Maties Hockey Head Coach, I have meetings and planning sessions in the morning and afternoon, and then practice sessions in the evening. My days can become quite long, and I do sometimes get lost down the hockey-rabbit hole, but I am exceedingly privileged to be in the position that I am.
Please tell us about your love for hockey and the difference between playing and coaching?
I started playing hockey when I was 9 years old. I was shy, the “new kid” at school and was honestly just hoping to make friends. As it turned out, I could play a bit and so I stuck with hockey. Whether it was training sessions, playing games, or even fitness – I enjoyed it all growing up. My love for the game grew even more during my time as a Stellenbosch University student where my hockey development accelerated whilst representing Maties Hockey Club.
For me, one of the big differences is that as a player, I was directly impacting a game or phase of play during a game by my actions. Whereas as coach, those actions during games are sometimes more subtle and thus my bigger impact moments take place in practices and other team preparation moments. As a coach I am more methodical and continuously considering and trying to manage the macro and micro moments that affect the team both on and off the field. Switching off whilst playing was also a little easier for me (during off time/holidays) but I am becoming better at powering down hockey-mode as a coach … slowly but surely.
When were you appointed as coach for the SA Junior team and how have things gone to date?
I was appointed at the end of 2019. The pandemic has impacted our JWC preparations significantly, but we have adjusted our plans as and when needed to. The staff and players have displayed such resilience throughout these times and can only be commended for their commitment and willingness to adapt to the changing circumstances when required to. We have been fortunate to have had several training and selection camps and are about to enter the final phases of our Junior World Cup (JWC) preparation shortly.
Looking at the squad or talent pool in this age group. What are your thoughts on how you believe we may perform?
The talent in this age group bodes well for the future of women’s hockey in South Africa. The camaraderie within the group speaks to the shared values and culture the staff and players have committed to from the outset of this journey together. Our focus will be on executing our individual skills and collective game strategies to the best of our abilities.
Please tell us about the countries participating in the tournament.
It is sometimes difficult to judge nations at the Junior level, however we are mindful of and will be guided by how nations typically play at Senior level. The Netherlands will undoubtedly come into the tournament as favourites whilst many of the other European nations will also be tough competitors. Canada won the Pan America qualifier and seem to be a well-organised and capable team. Argentina will be up for the battle of defending their title as current JWC winners. The Asian teams will also be skilful and very well organised. Games will be challenging but it is going to be exciting to witness the future stars of our game in action.
What is the greatest challenge that you as a coach face with the Juniors?
Our program is completely self-funded. This places huge financial pressure on the players and many of them have had to source funds via sponsors and/or supporters thus far. We desperately need the government through the guide of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture and corporate South Africa to step in and financially assist these young women now and in the coming years. Our athletes are full-time students, high-performing athletes, and positive ambassadors of our game and country. We are grateful for the goodwill of our current sponsors and supporters and hope through our upcoming performances to attract further partners along our journey.
Who are some of the key people that support you and make your job easier?
Our team manager, Lynn Abrahamse, has been a pillar of strength and support. Organising events these past eighteen months has been extremely challenging, due to the dynamic lockdown levels and restrictions, but Lynn has remained calm, focused, and admirably executed her role regardless of the numerous changes to our program. She has been a rock for the players and staff.
The coaching staff of Marcelle Keet, Bevan Bennett, Luke Makeleni and Marcel Lamont have been exceptional in their roles thus far. They have worked tirelessly in their areas of expertise, and I am grateful for all they have contributed to the players and team environment. I am thankful to the Maties Hockey Club Staff who have supported and encouraged me this year and Maties Sport High Performance Unit for assisting in my journey as a high-performance coach. My family, friends and Kary Sharratt are my biggest cheerleaders, and I could not have done this job without them in my corner.
What are your thoughts on the Junior World Cup venue – North West University?
The facilities at North West University are outstanding and they have hosted countless previous events. I have no doubt they will deliver a successful and unforgettable event. I am looking forward to December and the hospitality of the NWU and local community.
Your thoughts on LOC Head, Sheldon Rostron, and his team.
Sheldon will have a clear goal in terms of what he and his team will aspire to deliver with regards to this event. The NWU community and LOC are passionate people and will work tirelessly to ensure a successful event. I wish them all the very best in this final preparation phase and would like to thank them on behalf of our team for their support thus far and for their efforts in organising this event.
Who are the sportswomen you admire and why?
Venus and Serena Williams – their journey from where they’ve come from to the pinnacle of their sport. They exemplify grit, hard work, complete determination to succeed in and then dominate their sport for a period.
What is your greatest ambition?
To make a positive contribution to hockey in South Africa.
What do you think of gsport and its impact on women’s sports?
I think gsport is an outstanding platform and admire it for the work it has done in its coverage of women’s Sport in South Africa. We need more media outlets to focus on the achievements and journeys of female athletes, coaches, and sports administrators.
What do you think we as media can do to amplify women’s sports coverage?
There needs to be equitable coverage of women’s and men’s sports. Daily and weekly coverage of women’s sports is vital – we need to get to a point where women’s sports stars are acknowledged, their achievements celebrated, and they become recognisable by the South African public more often and not just around the time of major sports events.
Photo 1 Caption: South African Junior Women’s Hockey team head coach, Lenise Marais, believes their focus is on executing individual skills and collective game strategies will help them perform to the best of their ability at the 2021 Women’s FIH Hockey Junior World Cup. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: Lenise Marais (right) pictured celebrating SA’s goal against Belgium in January 2013, with (from left) Sulette Damons, Marsha Marescia, Pietie Coetzee and Tarryn Bright. Photo: File