SA not there yet, but we can be proud

Field hockey is becoming more and more professional in South Africa and also around world. Countries like Germany, The Netherlands, India and Argentina already have fulltime hockey programmes, which players are paid to be part of. There are also lucrative club competitions. The addition of the Hockey India League in 2013 was an added incentive for players who are trying to make a living out of hockey. So is it possible for South African hockey players to make the step up to the professional leagues?

Winning the Hockey India League in 2013 with fellow South Africans Gregg Clarke, Dave Staniforth and Justin Reid-Ross

When I was twelve years old, my grade seven teacher - an absolute hero - Murray Anderson, was the typical example of a South African hockey player. He had to hold down his fulltime teaching position at Pinelands North Primary School, and on the side maintain peak fitness levels and use his leave to compete with the national team.

When I think back to how rough he had it - having to apply for leave from his job to play for his country - I’m reminded how far the sport has come in our country. It’s easy to look at our current situation and compare it that of The Netherlands and feel despondent. The old adage, “the grass is always greener on the other side” certainly rings true here, but if we look back in time instead of comparing our current situation I think we can see that we have indeed made tremendous progress.

2013 HCDB Huldiging  -0453

Current players in South Africa now have the option of playing overseas in the top leagues right alongside the world’s best. South African players, who were once a ‘last resort’ and had to sell themselves short in contracts, are now being contacted by these top clubs and institutions.

What an exciting time for current and younger players. Suddenly, not only is the option of extending your career and playing into your late 20s and early 30s a real possibility, but you can actually earn a good living while doing so. Young players can stop dreaming about becoming professional and just get on with training because the opportunities are there for those who really want it badly enough.

A far greater percentage of our current team are now playing hockey in some sort of professional capacity. A number of players still choose to live and work ‘normal’ jobs in South Africa - which I fully respect, because going abroad is not for everyone. I’ve certainly had my own fair share of ups and down living and playing overseas. (Here’s an old blog post about my time abroad http://www.austinsmith.co.za/blog/playing-overseas-is-it-for.html)

At this stage, playing professionally and being based in South Africa IS possible but it’s NOT easy. The real opportunities are overseas in the big leagues of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

As South Africans, I think we are quick to judge a situation but that’s only because we want to be the best and even more so, we want to win. But if we look at what we have achieved as a hockey community we can be proud. Agreeably we are still not where we would like to be but we have managed to keep pace with the top countries that have continued to develop over the years.

One thing is for certain, though... If you’re determined enough, brave enough and unrelenting enough you can become a professional hockey player and I only see the future for South African hockey players becoming brighter.

SuperSport

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