‘Play for the Little Girl Who Fell in Love with Sport’ – SA Hockey Star Cailynn den Bakker 

Cailynn den Bakker might only be 22 but she has already established herself as an important cog in the South African Women’s Indoor and Field hockey teams, and since making her international debut in 2023, Den Bakker has quickly established a solid reputation. Photos: Ray Chaplin

Cailynn den Bakker might only be 22 years of age, but she has already established herself as an important cog in the South African Women’s Indoor and Field hockey teams and, since making her international debut in 2023, Den Bakker has been a soaring success on – and off the field. 

The Durban-born player has hockey running through her veins after starting to play the sport when she was just six years old, but like many sportswomen, she participated in other sports codes including netball and athletics, but found that it was hockey that she was not just good at, but also passionate about. 

Den Bakker says that hockey runs through her blood and is a sport she had always had a passion for but also realises she was blessed with a gift to play the sport. 

“I have often thought about why am I still doing this … but I believe that God has gifted me with this talent and I have working hard at.” 

SA Field and Indoor Hockey Player, Cailynn den Bakker

“I didn’t go to most of my friends’ birthday parties,” says Den Bakker. “I was either on hockey tour or in training sessions. So most of my time was just playing hockey, and I didn’t want to put that aside because of the tough times. I fought through them and I had to realise that I have been given this talent for a reason, and do it to glorify God.”

Den Bakker has become a regular face in the national teams for both indoor and field hockey, but when she initially got her call-up, it came as something of a surprise to her. She made the team last year, and shared that it wasn’t something that she had expected to happen so soon. 

“I was surprised because I was part of the team that went to the Junior World Cup in 2023, I wasn’t really in the team but I was called up. I played the senior IPT that year, then I got the call to say I had made the senior the same year. That was incredibly cool.”

The former St Mary’s DSG student has enjoyed a considerable amount of success with Indoor Hockey in recent months, she was instrumental in helping the team win the Tuanku Zara Cup final back in November, as she was one of the top scorers in the competition. 

With all that Den Bakker  has been able to achieve in the past few years, she has some sage advice for the young hockey players, urging up-and-coming players to show resilience, and to remember why they fell in love with the sport. 

“There will be a log of setbacks on the way, but it’s all about how you overcome them and just keep working hard and don’t give up. There will be obstacles in your way, but just keep going and play for that little girl that fell in love with the game.”

Something she feels that has also been integral to her reaching success at a young age is having mentors who have helped her with the mental side of things when things get a bit tough. 

Well-known SA player, Shelly Jones (nee’ Russell) and St Mary’s Head of Hockey, Kelly Reed, are these people to her. Den Bakker feels being able to lean on someone like Russell and Reed provides her with the necessary guidance when she might be struggling. 

“I got the opportunity to be coached by Kelly Reed and that was amazing. I loved watching Shelly Russell play. I got to play alongside Shelly now in last year’s IPT, and she was one of my biggest role models growing up,” said Den Bakker.

“It’s cool, to see where they were and how far they have come. They have helped me in my journey as well not just on the field but also off the field, with the talks and just showing me the love and pushing me during the tough times to keep going.”

Meanwhile, Den Bakker’s performances have not only made her a favourite on the field but off it as well. Fans tend to flock to her and she feels this is something she doesn’t take for granted and used it to fuel her performance on the field. 

“It does play a huge role, part of the reason I play hockey is for the younger ones. I will do anything I can just to motivate them to keep going, even if showing them what it means to stick through the hard times and just showing that them that they their supports means so much to me.”


Photo caption: Cailynn den Bakker might only be 22 but she has already established herself as an important cog in the South African Women’s Indoor and Field hockey teams, and since making her international debut in 2023, Den Bakker has quickly established a solid reputation. Photo: Ray Chaplin

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