The SA Hockey Lads – a RT Story

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
Albert Einstein

The Raising Talent system emerged from interactions and work done with a series of high performing individuals and teams over a number of years. One of the team‘s that we interacted with most in the last few years was the SA Hockey men’s team and as such they have been taught and used almost all of the core elements of the RT system. We were very interested to hear from individuals within the team, what was their :

a) Personal gain from working with Mike and I and
b) Which Raising Talent tool, technique or principle they found most valuable.

So before we get to their feedback, first some context of where the team has come from and some insight into the challenges that they have (successfully) faced.


In 2009 SA Hockey employed Michael Cooper and I to help take the women’s and men’s teams to the next level. At that stage of the two team’s development many of the fundamentals were in place; hard working talented individuals with committed coaches looking for that one piece of critical high performance that is very seldom taught: how to sustainably jump categories.  How to move from finalists to winners, from middle of the log to top of the log, or in hockey’s case from mid-teens (in terms of World Rankings) to Top 10 and better! In essence they were looking for the Raising Talent system.

By the end of 2009, the women reached the final of their Champs Challenge tournament and the men had improved their ranking by finishing 5th in their Champs Challenge tournament in Argentina – both significant steps forward, and in a relatively short space of time. From the end of 2009/early 2010 the hockey situation changed significantly.  The Lotto funding which was a primary source of financial support for both teams was 100% cut due to a technicality. SA Hockey itself had to downscale jobs, retrench people and change their senior hockey coaching contracts to be tournament based – in effect a full time role with part time pay for an International Coach.

Also amongst the changes: a new coach was appointed for the SA women – Giles Bonnet who bought his own sports psychologist on board, and so Mike and I focused on supporting Gregg Clark and The Lads and their mission.

There are some unique challenges that the South African Hockey men’s team faced. From 2010 to the recent (2012) Olympic Qualifier in Japan, the national men’s team only played 34 test matches, where top-tier teams may play 50 or more test matches a year. We needed to fast track our international experience, with less than half the number of test matches of the teams we were competing against.  Due to budget constraints training camps where held infrequently. The team did not have a title sponsor.  What adds to this difficulty is that the majority of the hockey men decided to move to Europe to further develop themselves as hockey players- the European leagues allow intense competition week-in and week out, and so the cost of travel back to South Africa for training camps was also a significant factor.  In some instances, to fund shortfalls, players were asked to pay to play – the 2009 Champs Challenge Trophy comes to mind, where the players needed to pay R10 000 ($1000) each to make the tour a reality.

In spite of all this, the players created a vision of raising men’s hockey in South Africa to a new level, to become an international force in hockey and to not just go to the Olympics, but to go and play the tournament of their lives there, to make their country proud! They created a compelling team movie of what they were going for, and supercharged that movie with the meanings (What achieving that goal would mean to each individual in the team) of the team – they turned a goal into a purpose.

So how do you improve as a team when your opposition has more support, more budget, more test matches and more training time? Well the answer is you need to have more commitment and you need to work hard AND smart.  Much to the credit of the men’s team, they chose to keep up their commitment in spite of the many challenges they faced; and over time the increasing quality of their mental skills, playing skills and ability to push their performance through the different levels and to quickly and effectively learn the lessons that were on the table resulted in a significant 3rd place in the 2011 Champs Challenge tournament and a historic Gold medal at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kakamigahara, Japan.

South Africa was forced to qualify twice, as the South African Olympic Governing body SASCOC, chose not to recognise the team winning the African Champs tournament (the Olympic Standard) and instead imposed the further requirement of either reaching the final of 2011 Champs Challenge (they came 3rd) or as a last chance, winning the OQT in Japan. Unfortunately there was little to no financial support from SASCOC, and so the significant funds required for the Japan tournament (estimates vary between R750 000 or more) was raised by various private concerns, ex-players and supporters of SA hockey who made a significant contribution and made the tournament possible.  Just before the OQT tournament Mr Price Sport stepped in as official kit sponsors for the team, a significant and welcome contribution.

However rather than focus on what support wasn’t there, it is more useful to focus on what support there was.  Firstly the coach, management staff and players committed to their vision and worked consistently for long periods of time under difficult circumstances. Key people in multiple roles volunteered to work for no pay – Why? Because they recognised something special was happening and they wanted to contribute. Families, friends, ex-hockey players and key hockey administrators all found their way to contribute, to make a difference – however the credit must go to the Coaching staff and the Players – they made a deep commitment and spent 3 years doing whatever they could, wherever they could to become the best they could be. We (Mike and I – Coaching Unity) were privileged to be part of that support team. And the best part is that this story is not over, not by a long shot – there are more records to break and more medals to collect.

If we have to fund ourselves to get to training camps and drink out of a tap, then we’ll do that. At the end of the day we know what our goals are, we know what we want to achieve and we try to be as professional as we can.” Gregg Clark


Working with Tim and Mike has greatly benefitted the team and I. They have been involved for a large part of our journey, and have been able to watch and influence the team develop and transform – and ultimately have provided a number of the tools to facilitate this. It has been a pleasure having them as part of the team.
The technique which I feel greatly benefitted the players and the team were the ‘Why questions’. ie. attaching meaning to what they were doing and why it was important to them. Individually, finding their true driving mechanisms, meant the team was getting the best out of each individual.
Gregg Clark, Coach

As captain of the SA Hockey team I have always tried to think of ways in which to lead the team more effectively. I approached Tim with this at the Champions Challenge after a group session although we had talked about playing movies in my head I hadn’t ever thought about sharing my movie with the team as a way to motivate and energise the group when the approach to a game wasn’t quite where it should be. I have used this method to great effect before a number of games and in general life now. To me sharing a super charged movie with someone can be an immensely powerful way to not only express how much a particular event means to you but also to inspire them to want to join you in your ‘movie’ and be a part of something special!

The most powerful technique I have learnt from our session with Tim and Mike may seem like a simple one but something I had never really considered before, and that is the question of ‘What does it mean to me’? I have done this a number of times now especially when I’m alone in The Netherlands and the energy levels are low or if I start questioning why or what I’m doing here. Unless you know the underlying reason for why you are training and playing I think it’s difficult to push yourself at every session especially when things aren’t going so well. The simple yet effective tool of asking yourself ‘What does it mean to me’? repetitively until you find the core reason  for why you do what you do is extremely powerful in my opinion. It is that reason why you get up each day and train or work to your absolute best. It is that simple question which keeps me playing hockey to the best of my ability!
Austin Smith, Captain

The more the Lads discuss and assist one another with developing our movies in our team mental training sessions, facilitated by Tim and Mike, the stronger our beliefs become and more meaningful our culture. We realise that our movies are well within grasp and what we can achieve as a team is in our control.

Using the supercharge technique to add meaning to my mental movie has helped me cut right down to the core of what obstacles have been in the way of achieving all that is possible. It has helped me to identify, and release, what I didn’t see at first that was preventing me from really creating a detailed solution movie. It has helped me to get my body aligned with my movie so that there is nothing in the way of potentially achieving my movie.
Thornton McDade

With Tim and Mike teaching me different techniques about the way I need to approach games and life in general I found that the movie technique worked well, in a sense that it put you in a situation that you prepare yourself  mentally for and when the situation comes you are 100% ready  for it. This made me more excited to be in the situation. Good example: Play in the final against Japan the last ten minutes I made sure I prepared myself for the worst situation\ scenario so that when that moment came I was ready for it with no panic or anxiousness.

I have received value from both one on one and team sessions. I enjoy both. One on one I went into finer detail in my performance and made me realize not to play on fear. In the group I found that I know more about what other teammates like and what their feelings and emotions are in certain situation. This makes you as a team mate realize what to say to this person in the moment that will make them think positive and keep them focused for the rest of the game to come or for an upcoming game in the tournament and how to go about approaching this person.

The lessons I have learnt from Tim and Mike have benefitted me remarkably since working with them, they have given me another weapon over my opponent and in my working life to give me that extra edge to be better than them.
Lance Louw

I have taken a lot out of our one on one sessions. In which you helped me overcome that struggles of not feeling 100% physically on game day, i.e playing with a niggle. I have learnt to release the negative thoughts of ” I might mess up or not good enough” You helped me to use the technique of visualising when I am at my best and how I feel when performing at the highest level. I use this to also refocus on what/how I need to be performing to be my best more consistently.
Marvin Harper

The most obvious difference to my game is definitely my pre match routine. It is something I used to struggle with as I used to play the game in my head TOO much before I started. Often by doing this I would play the ‘what if’ negative outcomes in my head. With yours and Mikes help I am now able to play a short mental video of one GREAT moment and that is all I need to do on the bus travelling to the field or just before the warm up.

The principle that I found most valuable was when you have something that you want to ‘shift’ for example struggling under pressure. You put your issue through the funnel and come out with a key item, then you convert that key item into a WHY question and then supercharge it. You would end off with something like ‘why do I handle pressure so well ?’…it now looks positive and has meaning to me specifically.
Wade Paton

My personal benefits from working with the two of you is that I have come to terms with the fact that although I have extremely high standards for myself on the field and the desire to produce a perfect performance every time I play, is that it is never always going to be perfect but it will always be the best possible performance I can give. (I hope that makes sense) The small comfort in making a mistake does not mean that you played badly but rather that I am also human. J

With regard to a technique, the one that resonated true for me, was the identification of what mood is the ultimate in order to give my best performance. The connection between mind and body. What is my best mood? How do I feel when I am playing my best? It was easy to identify and even easier to replicate. Ultimately resulting in even more stellar performances than before, and if my performance happens to dip momentarily then I can automatically find the cure within a few small moments.
Rhett Halkett

I have always known that International sportsmen require an exceptional level of physical hard work to remain competitive at an elite level to get results they strive for, but it wasn’t until I met Mike and Tim that I realized that the strongest muscle which requires the most hard work and attention, is the Mind. They have both shown and taught me the unbelievable strength of the mind, and that all sportsmen and people in everyday life have their own individual way of optimizing their mental capacity to be successful. Ever since an individual conversation I had with Tim during a tournament in 2011, I have understood which muscle requires the most work. That conversation has been massively beneficial to me on and off the sports field.

Two techniques that I have applied which have contributed to an increase in my performance on the sports field are; positive self-talk. As I found I was only focusing on the negatives actions or aspects of my game when I played, thus resulting in a poor performance. I noticed this technique is extremely common amongst top sportsman, as they have the ability to immediately move on from failure and not let the failure interfere with their future performance. The second technique is the repetitive question of , ‘What does it mean to me(you)”.The continuing asking of this question has helped me get in to a “zone” before a game where I feel that I am extremely relaxed yet focused on the task ahead. I have personally discovered that it is when I am in this state of calmness that I perform at my peak and make my best decisions at the correct time on the sports field.”
Tim Drummond

Trying to dedicate the necessary hours to realise an Olympic dream as well as attending to a demanding full time day job has not been easy.  Working with Tim has helped me to learn and understand the art of being able to focus on what is priority at any specific moment and manage my time schedules both at work and on tours.  Tim has also brought a renewed focus to me about how vital my mental conditioning and application is when it comes to improving my performance at an elite level and keeping those performances as consistent as possible.

The technique that made the biggest difference to me has been the Affirmations and Afformations. Both have been extremely beneficial as they seem to be able to relate to everything in life and not just on the sports field.
Andrew Cronje

Just towards the end of my school career and the beginning of my career after school I had started to develop a bad temper which lead to a lot of unwanted cards during hockey matches. It was also starting to affect me off the field and the way people saw me as a hockey player. On top of this little problem I had a lot of decisions that were affecting the way I would train and play because they would put me in moods that would directly affect the way I train and play.

I remember my first session with Tim in Durban, my eyes were opened so wide and the weight that was lifted off my shoulders was huge. I was thinking clearly again and the small things causing me to not give my best suddenly became irrelevant. Obviously one session didn’t make me a better player instantly but It gave me confidence that allowed for my ‘Game’ to improve and stay consistent week in and out. Cards stop coming and my frustrations and decisions were not affecting my ‘Game’ at all. I would visualize a screen in front of me that I can move and control like you see in those ‘future’ movies, so I would move all the things I could not control off my screen and leave the things I could control. This cleared my mind when I was feeling frustration or irritations coming along.

I also used the supercharge technique before big matches when I would feel nervous… The best of all is “The Movie Maker” it got me through Japan for sure 🙂 🙂
Taine Paton

Having the ability to not be scared to make mistakes has been very beneficial in the development of me as a hockey player! I used to get really disappointed if I made a bad pass or missed a tackle, and I battled to forget about it! Remembering what I did badly, effected my next decision and I knew that I needed to change this thought process. (I’m pretty sure it was you Tim, who I discussed this with – so it wasn’t necessarily a team thing that we discussed)

I visualised us winning in Japan a few months prior to us arriving there. I had seen what the stadium and field looked like on a youtube clip so when I arrived at the field for the first time, apart from the new stands put up for the tournament, it wasn’t a big surprise for me. I kept visualising us winning and imagining the feeling that we would experience after the final whistle went, knowing that it was a feeling that I had to experience… and that was the best motivation for me.

I also kept visualising myself getting a penalty stroke in the final and knowing exactly what I would do if we were awarded a penalty during the game and where I would flick it, and how I would more than likely celebrate! During training sessions, I kept practicing and visualising exactly what I would do. Although we never were awarded a penalty during the game, I know that if we were awarded one, I was definitely going to score it.

Before I left South Africa for Europe, I visited my grandfather who has been really sick of late. When I said goodbye to him after having discussed how well we will do at the tournament, he kept saying to me: YES WE CAN, implying of course that, yes we can win! Before every game and even moments during the games, I kept saying to myself: YES WE CAN! Thinking of the way he had said it to me, passionately and so determined for us to achieve!
Lloyd Madsen

The biggest enhancement to my game came about when through a coaching conversation I realised that I did not have to accept any kind of preconceived mental limitations in my hockey. Instead I am now committed to achieve new PB’s in everything I do on and off the field.

The technique that made the biggest difference for me was supercharging my movie with meaning and being able to let go to the parts that did not allow me to move forward. This has allowed me to play with much more freedom on the pitch.
Ian Haley

I would just like to thank you personally for all the hard work and belief that you have in our team. Yourself and Mike has made a massive difference in our team and in our personal careers.

You guys taught us how to handle our hunger in reach of achieving our best. You have showed us the the mental path and it has boost a lot of confidence into our game.

You have made us realize the difference in just want to compete to actually winning damn medals!

You have changed “grey” into black or white… and this is what has given us the confidence to know what to focus on and what to put our energies in.

Thanks again
Rassie Pieterse

Thanks for all the mental help you have given us. It is difficult for me to put in words how I feel and what has helped me so far but I know for a fact that you have helped a lot.
Julian Hykes