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Back You are here: Home Sports Hockey Kwa Zulu Natal Hockey: Northwood Knight- Shaun Baker
Monday, 24 July 2017 09:31

Hockey: Northwood Knight- Shaun Baker

Written by  Jonathan Cook
Hockey: Northwood Knight- Shaun Baker Photo credit TRISTAN LEWIS

AT Northwood, a boy ascends from being a squire to the ultimate accolade, a Northwood Knight – a proud member of the Durban North schools’ community of Old Boys.

 


In the Middle Ages, a knight was an Englishman who served his sovereign or lord as a mounted soldier in armour.

In a sense, that is the part being played in the service of Northwood hockey by this talent factory’s director of the sport, a position he got his teeth into this year.

Shaun Baker, one could imagine, is the right man in the right place at exactly the right time. And like so many good stories, it began with a realisation, then a dream, followed by a plan…

The Shaun Baker hockey tale beganas a six-year-old in a fun tournament in Estcourt, the town where he grew up. The GeorgeForder seven-a-side tournament was where the love affair was born.

“As far back as I can remember, hockeydictated my life … and continues to do so with my career. I played for KZN Midlands [now KZN Inland] U13 and soon found myself atMaritzburg College where my passion for success in hockey grew and was nurtured, particularly by Mike Bechet. Iwas lucky enough to have played for four years under Bech, from grade nine as a bench boy/water boy/ bag carrier/ballcollector to my matric year in 2002 where I had the honour of captaining the Red Army.

“Bech taught me many ofthe skills I own and have developed in my coaching and playing career. He is undoubtedly one of my role modelsand I can’t thank him enough for the support I continue to receive from him.”

Post-school, Baker’s teaching degree was part of the plan – a plan that he was ultimately going to coach professionallydown the line. The journey began in earnest when Bakes played and coached at several clubs, schools and in the KZN provincial teams before deciding to further his career as a player and coach in the UK.

“It was there where I gained so much from the experience life had tooffer both on and off the pitch in many different countries through playing, coaching and travelling.”

A director of hockey position at Bryanston School ensued in 2012. A season in the Brisbane Premier League and a coaching stint in the Gold Coast Premier League in Australia added to the Bake hockey armoury. But home is where the heart is.

“I madethe decision to move back to South Africa for the most important people in my life, my parents. Seeing them atmost once a year, was just not good enough. Things fell into place and I was fortunate enough that the Northwoodfamily saw the value I could offer … the decision was an easy one.”

So what has this hockey soldier’s time in Europe and Australia taught him?

“My time over there has broadened my mindset on many factors of life in general and this has filteredthrough positively into my coaching. In 2009, I went over assured and confident in my abilities as a coach but I wasvery quickly eaten alive by some of the best coaches England and Australia had to offer. It was a sink-or-swimmoment in my career, particularly in Australia where the style of hockey and the perception of the game is sodifferent to anywhere else I have experienced.”

The effect was that it made Mr Baker question his coaching structures, planning of training sessions and opened his eyes to a new way of seeing the game.

“I now see the game so much more simplistically andhave a better understanding for it - and a higher respect too. I am up there with the biggest hockey nerds in theworld and I am always trying to test my limits, learn new ideas from other coaches at every opportunity I get.”

Having been away for some time, what does he see in the current SA schoolboy hockey set-up?

“I believe there are two main points I have seen with fresh eyes, coming in after eight years out of the circuit…

“South African schoolboy sport in general is too focussed on the national ranking for theirschools and are therefore results-driven rather than performance-driven. It is no different in hockey, manyplayers and coaches only care about the win/draw percentage rather than how well their team played. Process-based hockey will reap profitable rewards and I experienced this in both the UK and Australia.”

An example of this can be found in these comments: “Our matches with Maritzburg College (2-2) and Jeppe (0-1) were two of the best games of hockey I have seen at school level. The Rondebosch (2-4), SACS (3-1) and Paul Roos (4-2)matches at Founders Festival were high-end performances from both us and our opponents as well.”

 

Baker is pleased with the speed that his players’ hockey outlook is evolving.

“I have changed the way my Knights think about the game. It’s been in a short space of time and it is showing in our performances; they understand that if they play, well the

experience is enjoyable regardless of the result. I used to have a win-at- all-costs mentality myself but that is not how life works. Hard work and a good performance - even when the result doesn’t favour you - is way more powerful to any team and coach, if it is understood and harnessed.

“Willingness to share coaching ideas and plans. South African coaches by nature do not share ideas andcoaching techniques yet we have some seriously talented coaches. Again, this was my approach but, beinginvolved in two internationally established hockey playing nations, I learnt to share. It is a major part of thenational development for coaches to share coaching ideas, structures, team building ideas etc with coachesfrom other clubs, schools and academies.

“When I was at the KES Easter Hockey Festival this year, I askedseveral coaches of teams that Northwood played if they were happy to share their game plan theyimplemented when playing us, for the most part, their facial expressions were priceless! I wasn’t asking toknow how their respective schools play structurally, I wanted to know where they were trying to exploit us or limit our strengths.

“That provides me with knowledge of potential ‘blind-spots’ that I can then developand eliminate in areas of weaknesses and develop and grow areas of strength. I am happy to sit with anycoach and go through how we played against them and why, all it means is that the next time I face thatcoach, I have to be that much better. Surely that is a good thing?”

What is your ‘game plan’ to attract the rich talent that Durban North has to offer when the quality of KZNschools is so good?

“Haha…! So you are using my above answer to make me share my biggest secrets? Clever! Durban North is acommunity and communities look after and out for each other. That will be my catalyst to attract boys from withinthe community to Northwood. The fact that Northwood is literally in the heart of the Durban North communityshould make it the school of choice, which for many Durban North parents’, it is not.

“I understand that there will beallegiances to other schools because dad or brother went there etc, however, I will create a legacy throughNorthwood Hockey and Northwood School that will attract players because they want to be a part of somethingspecial, not because they were offered the biggest scholarship because they were the superstars of the local prepschools, but because they see the value in what I plan on doing for the school over the next 5 years.

“There aremisconceptions about Northwood, however, being in the trenches myself and an employee of the school, I speakthe truth when I say they are just that, perceptions without substance. For me, that is a great starting point, as Iknow how many families already send their boy/s to other schools based on this, it is therefore my priority to showthe Durban North community the truth about this fine institution that is Northwood School.”

Best wishes to a fine hockey man.

At the time of writing, May 16, there were the results of the Northwood firsts:

Northwood 2017 Fixtures

11th March        DHS (W 8-0)

18th March        Kearsney (D 3-3)

25th March        Westville (L 1-5)

30th March        Glenwood (L 1-2)

1st April              Queens (W 2-1)

2nd April   SACS (W 3-1)

                   Paul Roos (W 4-2)

3rd April             Dale (W 4-0)

                   Potch Boys High (W 3-0)

4th April    Rondebosch (L 2-4)

13th AprilSt John’s College (W 3-2)

15th AprilAffies (W 3-1)

                   Menlopark (W 3-1)

16th AprilKES (W 1-0)

17th April Grey College (W 3-1)

22 April    Jeppe (L 0-1)

26th AprilCollege (D 2-2)

6th May    St Charles (W 3-1)

12th May  Pretoria Boys (L 1-2)

13th May  St Alban’s (W 3-1)

20th May Parktown Boys (W 8-2)

27th May  Clifton (0-0)

3rd June    Michaelhouse (L-2)

10th June Hilton G(L 1-2)

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