Mark Hopkins will receive a baptism of fire as head coach of the national men’s hockey team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia in April.
The newly appointed mentor of the Proteas has been thrown into the deep end in a season which includes two major international tournaments.
The team will look to gain some valuable momentum at the Commonwealth Games ahead of the FIH Hockey World Cup in India later in the year.
“It’s been a challenge in terms of the time we’ve had in order to prepare for the Commonwealth Games,” Hopkins said.
“It would be very dishonest of me to say we’ve had very good prep as it has been far too short.
“Having said that, we won’t use that as an excuse. It is the reality of what we are dealing with as a self-funded sport.”
Hopkins recently took over the reins from Sheldon Rostron, who coached both the SA men’s and women’s teams to title victories at last year’s African Hockey Cup of Nations.
“The prep in terms of access to players has not been ideal but we got around that with a significant amount of communication with players,” Hopkins told The Games.
“We are focused predominantly on culture and getting the guys to play with a little bit more freedom.”
Due to a lack of resources, the England-born Hopkins said he had to find creative ways to prepare his charges for their first assignment.
“One of the most important things we talked about is supporting each other to be awesome,” Hopkins said.
“Instead of competing internally we’ve completely changed the mindset of what we are doing to support each other and be the best we can be. At training, we ask each other to give direct and honest feedback.”
The squad was set to leave for Australia over the weekend and, given the limited time he had to work with the players, they were targeting ‘rapid growth’ in the team culture.
While they were looking to perform at their best at the Games, Hopkins said they also had one eye on the World Cup later this year.
“We need to put the foundations in place now which will ensure we are as competitive as we can be by the time we get to the World Cup,” he said.
“For me, it is about getting a balance between going all out to make South Africa proud of this hockey team at the Commonwealth Games, but also making sure we don’t do that at the cost of a long-term 2018 plan, which is the World Cup.”