In the expansive realm of South African sport, a flame burns fervently, illuminating the corridors of indoor hockey. It’s a light that not only shines for the sport itself but also for the undying spirit of the women who partake in it, women like the trailblazing Robyn Johnson.
Earning her stripes on the field with 66 national caps in just six years, Johnson’s journey encapsulates what it truly means to don the green and gold. As part of the formidable Spar Women’s SA Indoor Hockey Team, her passion, determination, and skill come together, painting a vivid picture of the state of women’s sport in South Africa.
In a significant recognition, the team recently made waves at the 2023 Momentum gsport Awards, being bestowed with a Ministerial Recognition of Excellence Award.
Not just a token of success, this Award mirrors the resilience, unity, and unyielding spirit of a team that’s bound by more than just their love for the game.
The team’s journey hasn’t been without its trials. From intense training regimens and the unwavering support of sponsors like Spar, to the electrifying boost of playing before a home crowd, every moment has been a stepping stone leading up to their astounding fourth-place finish at the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup.
Yet, the indoor hockey scene in South Africa is still on its path to full realisation. Hosting the FIH Indoor World Cup has been a leap forward, but there’s much left to traverse. Johnson’s dream is clear: a nation where hockey, both indoor and outdoor, is celebrated, watched, and cherished by all, offering opportunities for many more to forge a career in the sport.
For young aspirants, Johnson’s advice is simple yet profound: you’re never alone in this journey. It’s the unwavering support, the mentors, the companions, and confidants that elevate one’s game. It’s about harnessing the collective strength, making informed decisions, and constantly evolving.
As we celebrate Heritage Month, Johnson’s message reverberates with the spirit of unity, celebrating the unique tapestry of cultures that weave the South African identity. Amidst the festivities, she remains a beacon for indoor hockey, her eyes set on a brighter, more inclusive future for the sport.
In this candid chat, journey with us as Johnson delves deeper into her experiences, aspirations, and the roadmap for hockey in South Africa. Prepare to be inspired.
What did it mean to you to represent the SA women’s team at the momentum gsport awards where the team won a ministerial recognition of excellence award?
I was so honoured to accept the Ministerial Recognition of Excellence award on behalf of the Spar Women’s SA Indoor Hockey Team. Thank you to Momentum gsport and all the sponsors for recognising all women that are achieving in sport. Fittingly, She Owns Her Success logo is in the shape of a circle and Diane Mariechild once said that “A women is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform.” All sporting codes that received the Ministerial Recognition of Excellence Award have created, nurtured and transformed this year and I look forward to what the future holds for women’s sport!
Why are recognition platforms like momentum gsport awards important?
Recognition platforms provide athletes with an opportunity to feel appreciated for all the hard work that has been put in and for us to share our stories and journeys to success to inspire the next generation to achieve.
What was the key to success of the team during the FIH indoor hockey World Cup?
I have been part of the Indoor women’s national team since 2017 and have represented South Africa 66 times over the past 6 years there have been many keys leading up to our success at the Indoor World Cup.
The first key is having a sponsor like Spar, who has supported us along the way with training camps and international test series’s against top teams in the world, along with the teams coaching staff, lead by Lennie Botha.
The second key was that we had a rigorous training camp before the World Cup, and there was a training session where I felt that we figured out exactly what our game plan was and in a game like indoor everyone needs to understand their roles – within our team we had a strong bond amongst each other, and I felt that we played for each other no matter what.
The third key was playing in front of a home crowd – we all had our family and friends supporting us and that just made the experience so special for all of us.
Before the Indoor World Cup we were ranked outside the Top 10 and after finishing 4th at the Indoor World Cup we are now ranked 6th in the world! We made history as no indoor and outdoor team, men or women, has ever done so well in a major tournament.
How would you describe the current sport of indoor hockey and what needs to be done to improve the situation?
After hosting the FIH Indoor World Cup I think that the spirit of indoor has grown. The Indoor World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport and I believe that we have proved that we can compete against the worlds best and that we have inspired the next generation of indoor hockey players.
The indoor national programme has been running for longer than I have been part of the team and we have achieved success at the highest level of the sport in the 6 years that I have been involved with the team. Results in sport aren’t produced immediately – it is a longterm process and hopefully other brands like Spar start supporting both the indoor and outdoor national team programmes.
You also were able to attend the gsport Business Breakfast at the JSE in Sandton – What do you think this moment has done for the advancement of women’s sport?
The historic opening of markets by women in sport at the JSE will be pivotal for all women in terms of gender equality and bridging the gap. Women’s sport in particular inherently stands for something more than just sport itself and with the current success of our national women’s teams – we have players and teams that have been great advocates for taking a stand and fighting for something that will benefit all women now and in future.
What did you learn about being a sponsor magnet where brands just want to partner with you?
Firstly, Kgothatso’s journey has been remarkable and congratulations to all that she has achieved and is going to achieve.
I was invited to the Momentum She Owns Her Success Summit in August and took valuable learnings from there as well as through the gsport Business Breakfast. For me personally there are two parts, firstly for me as a standalone brand “Robyn Johnson”, and secondly within the team in which I play for.
In terms of myself I look at how the sponsor will fit into my life as an athlete and as a person i.e. do we share the same values, what do I put on social media and how I engage with media are all important. I have created a personal professional pitch deck that has information about me, my values, social media accounts and following. I currently have partnerships with the following brands – Osaka Hockey South Africa, Glacier ice baths, Botthms and Sunlife Vitamins.
The main takeaway is that sponsors want to be part of a journey and they want to be part of something meaningful and most importantly what return on investment they will receive.
However, my journey continues with the outdoor programme as I would like to play at the next Olympic Games in Paris 2024 but first our team will need to secure qualification at the Africa Cup at the end of October 2023 and as a team we are trying to find sponsors and support.
As an athlete, how are you supported and what has the journey been like for you?
In an ideal world, I would have wanted to be a full-time athlete but this is not possible for a hockey player in South Africa. The sport is unfortunately not sufficiently professionalised. The reality is that it is a semi-professional sport but as athletes, we are still expected to operate on a full-time basis (which we do).
I largely support myself by engaging in full time employment as a teacher and Head of Hockey – it isn’t easy, and most of the time it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. My family have always been there to support me.
It is clear that I don’t play hockey for money, fame or for awards. I play hockey because I love the sport – it has added so much to my life through experiences and lessons that I wouldn’t get anywhere else.
It has taught me teamwork, resilience, grit and determination, how to manage mental health and how to set goals and work towards achieving them and ultimately how to overcome hardships and that you don’t really know what you are capable of until you get pushed a little bit more.
What is your advice for rising indoor hockey players who want to make it big?
My advice for a rising hockey player is that you can’t achieve success alone (well you I mean you can its not impossible). My success is not only mine because we forget the people who motivated us, inspired us, gave us advice and shared our dreams.
We forget those who were role models, companions and confidants. Many times we succeed in life because someone else neglected themselves to give us exactly what we needed.
I have learnt many lessons and made many mistakes, but have always grown from it, so it’s important to surround yourself with the right people, and you will then have a good stepping stone in making good decisions towards achieving your dreams!
We celebrate heritage month this September. What is your message?
We are like no other country in the world and we must realise the power we have as South Africans because of our culture and diversity of beliefs and traditions – it is a month to share stories about who you are and where you come from. The different cultures is what makes each of us unique and it is also what brings us together.
If you could wave a magic wand for indoor hockey, what would you like to see happen to boost the women’s game?
If I could wave a magic wand it would be for hockey as a whole – indoor and outdoor to be played, watched and enjoyed by all South Africans, and hopefully this will in turn create opportunities for players to make professional careers out of playing or coaching hockey.
Photo Caption: SA Indoor Hockey player Robyn Johnson receives the Ministerial Recognition of Excellence Award for the South African Women’s Indoor Hockey Team from Sport, Arts and Culture Deputy Minister Nocawe Mafu, at the 2023 Momentum gsport Awards on Tuesday, 12 September, 2023. Photo: Nokuthula Mbatha (c) gsport 2023