When selection comes knocking, who’s answering?

The Hockey World Cup gets underway in just 24 day’s time in The Hague, Netherlands. This past week our men’s team should have been in Malaysia competing in the Champions Challenge, but with it being a World Cup year the funds to attend this tournament were sadly just available.

So in place of the Champions Challenge we attended a week-long, intensive selection camp in Pretoria. It was the first time since the 2012 London Olympics that we’ve had a full compliment of players to select from and from what I felt, it’s been the most competitive we’ve been as a squad for many years. The gap between the so-called ‘fringe players’ and the current team is now completely blurred. Our core group hasn’t change too much over the past few years for a number of reasons but the main one being the lack of funding to have these types of selection camps and to give players opportunities to prove themselves in tournaments other than the major ones.

Earlier this year in February and March the team had matches in Argentina, Cape Town and Malaysia which was kindly funded by the host nations. That meant players were able to get valuable experience ahead of the selection camp and, even more importantly, the World Cup which begins on May 31.

Selection camps are no walk in the park. The competition is fierce and everyone is trying to prove to the coach and selectors during training, fitness tests and inter-squad games that they deserve a place in the 18-man World Cup team. An added change is the appointment of our new coach, Fabian Gregory. Suddenly players who used to feel comfortable with their position in the team are being put under extra scrutiny and there is a real sense that we all need to earn our place in this team once again.

Your mental approach to a selection camp is different to approaching an actual game. The pressure of knowing that this is your only chance to prove to the selection panel that you deserve a place in the final 18 can be your downfall if you let it. Being able to channel that pressure into match-winning performances, quality training and the high fitness test scores in what is necessary to make it in this robust environment. I think this sort of scenario is just what we need because when pressure begins to mount at the World Cup, which it invariably will, we need the players who can handle it the best.

I am still a firmly believe that a strong squad makes a strong team. In the past we haven’t had enough pressure on players in the team to retain their place. It meant that too often poor performances or ill-discipline from players was brushed aside purely because players 19 and 20 and so on weren’t good enough to take their place.

As players we have done all we can to earn a place in the World Cup team. All we can do now is wait for the announcement at the end of the week and hope our preparation and performances this year have been enough to participate in what is more than likely going to be the best World Cup of our playing careers.

SA Men's Hockey Team after the final selection game with the Dutch ambassador

SA Men’s Squad meeting with the Dutch Ambassador during the selection camp