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Back You are here: Home Sports Hockey Western Cape Hockey: Somerset College One of SA’s Best Teams!
Tuesday, 07 January 2014 11:36

Hockey: Somerset College One of SA’s Best Teams!

Somerset College’s first girls team  enjoyed a superb season in 2013,  and much of that success can be attributed to their coach, Mark Pickering, who has been at the school for seven years, is a full-time teacher, and the school’s premier hockey team’s coach for three years.


Somerset College HockeyPickering has earned his spurs, having coached the U16A and B as well as the U14A boys’ side in this co-educational school.

SA School Sports ranked Somerset third in the country?

Pickering told SA School Sport in an exclusive interview that it was a great honour for the school and the girls to have done so well this year. “We have chased and worked for the dream of becoming a top hockey-playing school in the country for the past three years,” says the History teacher (grade 9-12) and Life Orientation mentor (grade 11-12).

Good structures were key to Somerset’s success. “First and foremost was to have a sound general fitness. From this point we could build aspects of our attacking style. We also went on an overseas tour to Holland and this added energy to the season [from the start]”.

The U14A and U16A age-groups are “hugely important”. Success comes from the work that coaches in the younger age-groups are putting in. “Both our U14A and U16A girls’ teams had successful seasons.”

“The standard of coaching at Somerset College is very high - from the U9A coach upwards. We have a great balance of teachers that coach - and players from outside the College that coach, with some of our coaches coming from Maties hockey club. Many of our coaches at the senior school are still playing the game themselves at club level, which is beneficial as they provide knowledge and current insight to how the game is played. At the College we have a great passion for the game.”



‘Our movies over the past two years have been blockbusters!’

What is the strength like of the domestic school first team hockey in Boland and Western Province? “It is strong and I feel that with the increased media coverage hockey is getting in South Africa, the sport is getting more and more professional in terms of approach to the game. This is most exciting for the sport and our future national success.”

Pickering says he has been very fortunate over the past three years in that the girls in his side have been a self-disciplined group.

Does he take into account the different personalities in the team? “Definitely - and this is one of the reasons that I love coaching, as our team is made up of such a spread of personalities that keep us all entertained and inspired, which in my opinion is the best combo! Yet within our personality-rich team, we all shared the same vision and desire, which allowed our girls to gel into a potent unit.

“At the beginning of the season we will get together and chat about what we want to see our team achieve over the year and plot a ‘movie’, so to speak, of what we envision our team doing. Our movies over the past two years have been blockbusters!”

‘We aim for attacking, fluid and enterprising hockey that is fun to play and fun to watch.’

Who are the school teams Pickering most admires in SA and why? “That is quite a tough question but I would have to say St Mary’s Waverley, as they play the game with such passion, such belief in their team and its ability - and is something I feel is similar to our team. I must also say that I admire St Andrews as they play a very tactically sound game, utilising their team’s individual strengths.”

‘I focus attention on strong points with players and on improving them [the strong points]’.

“We aim for attacking, fluid and enterprising hockey that is fun to play and fun to watch, and while I have to admit that winning is important to me, it is not everything. What is everything to me is whether my team wanted to win - and tried to win - with all that they have. This is something that we did this year and as a result we can be forever proud of the way we approached every match of the season which was with the desire to give our all in order to achieve all we could.”


A match that Somerset lost against Oranje gave Pickering the greatest satisfaction.

Pickering has a refreshing approach to technical skills: “I do try to iron out mistakes in technical areas as far as possible with individuals, but I must say that I focus a lot of my attention on strong points with players and on improving them. This approach often irons out other areas that need attention, especially when working with the whole team during a practice or half-time discussion.

Which match gave Pickering the greatest satisfaction? “Well it was in fact a match that we lost against Oranje. This may sound weird but may explain my opinion stated earlier on winning. Unfortunately for this all-important match the turf that we were meant to play on was flooded; as a result the match was delayed by more than 90 minutes. Despite the appalling match conditions our school turned out in mass support, so much so that they were the ones ‘sweeping’ the water off the field with tennis court apparatus. The game went ahead despite the turf still being flooded. The game would’ve been cancelled on any other day of the year, but that particular afternoon was the only possible time that the match could happen. I still admire Oranje for agreeing to play us in such appalling conditions.

“During the match, however, it started to rain even more and the turf became literally unplayable just before half-time. At half-time the question was asked by the umpire to my girls whether they wanted to abandon the match as a draw or play on. My girls were unanimous in their desire to play and to try and win the match, which would result in us being number one in the country.

“Unfortunately this was not to be our day in terms of result as we lost the match 2-1 to Oranje. But the biggest victory for me was the desire shown by my girls to go for it despite the challenges that day presented, and, trust me, it was challenging beyond challenging in those conditions. So, that victory of spirit and belief is one that will live on in my mind forever, as well as Oranje’s, as well as our supporters that day. The best season in my opinion is where your belief remains unbeaten - and that day it did just that.”

What are the challenges that lie ahead in terms Pickering’s goals for Somerset first team hockey in the near future? “To keep building on the platform we have made for hockey at the College and the level at which we wish to play the game in all our teams. This is a motivation more than a challenge, I would say, and is something that will keep the game going forward at our school.”

‘The Cape Town U18 International Schools and Clubs Hockey Festival means a lot to us.’

How many first team players will be back next year? “We are eight first team players in total. The girls coming back are Jade Batchelor, Natasha Furness, Megan Donald, Emma Demes, Ambar van der Wath, Sinead van Eeden and Carlotta Wright Mahon. Further to this, we also have players that played for the U16A team as well as the first team this season – and they will make the full step-up to first team level next year.”

Pickering played for Parel Vallei first team from grade 10 and then Somerset West and Maties when doing his degree. During his high school days he played for Boland B at every level.

But what attracted him to coaching and what satisfaction does it give him? “I love the sport of hockey and love working with children, as they have so much energy for life and this gives me more energy than I often know what to do with. My experiences both at high school level and club level especially were so positive and impacted on my life so much that I wanted to give those experiences of enjoyment to children, just like I had. I loved being part of a team when I was younger and leading one now gives me as much, if not more satisfaction.

“My mother has always been my biggest supporter. She would often talk about the match as a whole rather than how I played individually, which back in the day was frustrating, but reflecting on this now it is exactly what team sport is about. You are allowed to have days when key players don’t perform or when things go wrong. It is during these times that a match becomes a test for your team and I today love that about this sport.

“Further to this, when I was five years old I attended mini hockey, which was a programme run by Cari and Rennie Rose-Innes at our local club, Somerset West Hockey Club. We worked a lot on basics and on playing mini-games, which is the part everyone really loved. Watching their son Eric Rose-Innes at these sessions and then to watch him later on in life playing live on television at the Olympics was something that influenced me beyond measure and inspired me to try and coach children who will one day go on to achieve the same heights in the sport. I hold the Rose-Innes family in the highest regard for the positive, inspiring impact they have had on my coaching life, as it was Rennie who suggested that I take up teaching so that I could work with kids in the classroom and then get them to want to love sport.”


Just 28 years old, Pickering went to high school in Somerset West at Parel Vallei High School, before going on to do a BA Sport Science majoring in Psychology and Coaching at Stellenbosch University. “After this I went on to do a PGCE at Stellenbosch University. Then I went on to study history through UNISA. In terms of relaxing when I’m away from hockey I enjoy the outdoors, gym, playing FIFA, braaing, watching football, hiking and lately playing as much golf as I possibly can.”


What about Somerset College’s boys hockey – can it reach the same success of the girls and why? Pickering’s answer is emphatic: “Yes definitely. They have exciting talent that has already shown signs that they can shine on the first team stage. They also have a highly experienced and enthusiastic coach in Jacques Grobler, who has a great knowledge and understanding of the game. He also coaches at Maties. Boys’ hockey in the future at the College is definitely bright!”

Are there any exciting developments in the pipeline for Somerset College boys and girls hockey? Yes there is! “Through the amazing efforts and donations of parents, management and members of our school board we will be playing on our very own turf in 2014!”

Somerset College had eight girls’ teams and seven boys’ teams this year - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, U16A, U16B, U16C, U14A and U14B for the girls. And 1st, 2nd, U16A, U16B, U16C, U14A and U14B for the boys.

How many boys and girls are there at Somerset College and from what grade up? “Well, when looking at both our Prep School and High School, the numbers read as follows: 602 students in the senior school – grade 8-12 and 508 students in the Prep school – grade 000-7.”

But it is astonishing that Somerset College’s girls’ first team has ended the season ranked thirdin SA yet no synthetic turf at the school. How did Somerset get around this serious impediment to success against all the other top schools that have water- or sand-based turfs?

“It all came down to a shared belief. A belief that we could do it, but more importantly that we wanted to give ourselves the best possible opportunity to do so. Besides this emotional aspect behind our successes this year, it was the school itself and our sports co-ordinators - together with our main sponsor, BMW Somerset West – that made it possible. We travelled to various turfs in the Cape to get in sufficient practice so as to keep our level of play and synthetic turf skills high. I must also state that many of our girls play club hockey in the Somerset West first side and at Maties. This results in more match experience, more turf time and more belief in what we could achieve this year and it is something I promote greatly.”

Aside from their other successes, Somerset College, an IEB Private School, also won the prestigious Cape Town U18 International Schools and Clubs Hockey Festival this year. “It means a lot to us as it is firstly a platform on which we can test ourselves against tough opposition. Secondly, as it is a locally-played tournament we can play in front of our supporters, whether it is from the school or the girls’ immediate family, and this inspires the teams and will continue to do so with future teams. We have won the tournament for the past two years.”

Was it a special thrill to win this year? And why? “Yes it was definitely was a thrill to win it again this year, as it was the last piece of silverware that the matrics in our side could win. Further to that, the fact that we played the then number one-ranked team in the country in the final, so beating Stellenberg 4-3was also thrilling. Also, the way we won it - with Kaira Day - scoring a dream reverse-stick shot was an emotional moment and very, very special.”





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