Hockey: Affie’s Hockey On The Up And Up


Sheldon Rostron took up the post of Hockey Organiser at Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Affies) in October last year and his position entails the management of all hockey activities (fixtures/tournaments/tours), being the first team coach and a number of other functions that include the growth and development of the sport, mentor and coach development, video analysis and much more.

A daunting, hectic challenge; so SA School Sports asked Rostron how exactly does he approach these myriad roles, what inspires him to believe he can make a difference?

The school has entrusted me to make a difference in their hockey,” says the easy-going yet highly competitive, Potchefstroom-educated Rostron.


The first year, how tough has it been? “It has been a learning experience,” says the immediately likeable, humble new hockey man at this great school. “I have been involved with other schools, but none on the level of Affies. I think the biggest challenge is always to take over from someone, as they have their manner of doing things and it is tough to come in and stamp on the foundation that has been laid.

“Change is always a challenge; some welcome it and some don’t, but I am at Affies to do a job and to make a difference; one can’t always please everyone. It has taken some time to settle in and get people to appreciate my vision; I am looking forward to what we will achieve.” 


One tends to forget that Affies’ hockey – and the culture of hockey amongst young, predominantly Afrikaans-speaking boys – is still in its infancy when compared to South Africa’s traditional, top hockey schools. Maritzburg College, for one, has had hockey as an official school sport for 40 years, while other top schools like Kearsney (50 years this year) can claim a longer heritage. Rostron says top hockey schools have proven that with attention paid to the correct areas, a culture of success can be created, but it takes time.

“Things are changing and a bright future lies ahead for Affies’ hockey,” Rostron says with undisguised enthusiasm. “It is my responsibility to ensure that the new culture is developed and that Affies hockey is put on the map, but the focus was never on what we could achieve this year, it is rather on what we can achieve consecutively in the years to come; this is the only way that you can create a ‘powerhouse’ of schoolboy hockey.”

Wise words indeed from a hockey man through and through who counts amongst his many inspirations the current Malaysia and former South Africa and University of North West coach, Paul Revington, who mentored Rostron – a former North West goalkeeper – while both were at Pukke, as well as current Investec South Africa women’s hockey team head coach Giles Bonnet.

Rostron, who is also the national women’s team’s goalkeeper coach – his speciality – says both have given him the passion to succeed in his chosen profession.


Was one of Rostron’s first goals to put good structures in place through the U14A, U16A and first team age-groups? How is this achievable?

“Structures are always important, some are needed right away, some will fall into place. Our flagship teams –  U14A, U15A (new age-group this year), U16A and first teams are the ones that we need to push to excel as quickly as possible. However, a good foundation will need to be in place. The focus will be placed on the intake and development of players in the junior age groups for the next few years, giving us the foundation. Further steps will be put in place, similar to an ‘academy’, enhancing the skills and talent that we will have throughout the ranks at a High Performance level. In time the flagship teams will run well, achieving and succeeding, pulling the others with them.”

And what is the Sheldon Rostron hockey model being implemented? How does it work? And does it work?

“I don’t know if I want to give away my recipe just yet,” Rostron says with a smile. “But it is driven towards creating a competitive environment for all, pushing everyone involved to take part on a high performance level, developing their potential to a level that has never been able to be produced at the school. Quality, quantity and feedback are currently very important right now.”


Talking quality, the quality of Affies coaching at the A- team junior levels – how good is it?

“I believe the coaching team I have right now has done a tremendous job during the season, I also think that it has been a challenge for them working with me, as I always demand more. It is very important to have the correct staff working with and around you, and I am sure that in time we will have the team that will make it all happen. There is a lot of passion, drive and belief in what we are doing – and this makes us all excited for the possibilities to come.”

Chatting further, it becomes immediately clear that Rostron has a lot of time and respect for the Affies hockey staff. “I have a head of hockey at the school, Mr Fanie Grobler, who is a successful ex-rugby coach. He is very enthusiastic about hockey and has come to love the game. He is more than a right-hand man, he is my mentor in terms of school policies and does a lot of work behind the scenes. He takes charge of the motivational side of things and drives everyone to excel past what is expected of them and is an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Among others, Rostron went on to speak glowingly about Earl Kim-Fley (first team assistant coach), Elize Jacquire (U16A Coach), Peter Ross (second team coach) and coaches who are also teachers at the school, including Eric de Almeida, Wian van Staden and Aletta Zietsman. “We need more educators to come on board, as I believe that sport at school level needs people to be involved to help guide the players on the sports field through education and general life skills; this will define what type of player you will be able to produce.”

Rostron says Affies is striving to develop their coaches, and he sees it as a long-term investment. Group sessions in-season as well as courses outside that period where Rostron is bringing in people to help develop their coaching knowledge and understanding.

“I want to create an environment that is open, where people can question, criticise positively and develop a different way of thinking than in the past. I am excited with the passion and dedication that I have from my coaches, and if we can combine this with the correct skills and develop their abilities in specialist areas we can create something special.”


Is the strength of schoolboy first team hockey in Northern Gauteng strong, and is it growing stronger and more professional?

“It’s competitive. The likes of St Albans, Pretoria Boys’ High, Menlopark and various others have good hockey programmes and good coaches. Our league has been very interesting, as it has been quite open in terms of results. Many draws have led to teams finishing on the same points. Many schools around Pretoria have employed new hockey organisers in a bid to improve their game, and it will become even more interesting in the future as their efforts begin to pay off. We also get the opportunities to play against Johannesburg schools like Jeppe, KES and St David’s in friendlies or derbies. It’s great that we don’t have to go far to play competitive hockey. We are also fortunate that through tournaments and annual derbies we are able to play some of South Africa’s best hockey schools, testing ourselves in all parts of the country as it gives us the opportunity to play different styles and learn different things through these games.”

What about a Gauteng U18 League that combines the best of Pretoria and Johannesburg, the best of the Southern Gauteng and Northern Gauteng hockey provinces’ schoolboy teams, with promotion/relegation opportunities for the second-, third- and even fourth-tier league winners? Wouldn’t this promote even more interest, provide schools and players with goals to aim for? And be attractive to sponsors, raising hockey’s profile at Gauteng schoolboy level – where rugby is still very dominant?

“I would like to see a combined league … I think it is possible and would benefit both hockey provinces. Strength versus strength will always create a highly competitive environment and be a great platform for sponsors to get involved and help develop and grow the sport. I think it is just whether administrators would be open to look at something like this, and would the manpower be there to develop a league like this, as most are educators giving up time to run this. In saying this, we need to look past the problems and issues that there are, as everyone is looking to play hockey at a top level and maybe someone should be stepping up and seeing opportunity (not only for the sport but business as well) rather than problems.


Is Rostron working to a plan? “I am working on a three-year plan and this roughly entails:

Year 1 – Transition Phase: “Along with mass participation, getting systems in place that will make the biggest immediate impact, get the ball rolling with ideas and concepts but also learn what is needed and where we need to focus our resources and attention. Build relationships and establish support structures that will help drive the plan.

Year 2 – Transformation Phase: “Bring in crucial changes technically and tactically, and implement structures that will be more focused on the players’ abilities and skills. Develop knowledge and understanding and drive the change in culture.

Year 3 – Performance Orientated: “Pushing to emphasise on creating a winning culture … consistent performance and emphasis on individual performances within the various teams – and emphasis to expose ourselves to large amounts of to quality hockey and achieve results in league, festivals etcetera. Get systems fixed and reap the rewards from quality content and contact, and be professional in everything we do.

“As previously mentioned, it is tough coming in and having to put your foot down and say, ‘change this, change that’. I believe it is about getting all spheres working together and directing all efforts to create a more professional environment, this enhances the efforts of all parties … and mass participation will be promoted. I want us to work hard, but have fun as a family (parents, players, staff and support staff). Things are looking up and I can’t wait for everything to fall in place.


Rostron, the former provincial goalkeeper, is a big picture kind of guy: “I tend to look at things in a different way, I also like to regulate their results and appreciate when educators or parents share their concerns regarding schoolwork, discipline and so on, as I will look to assist them through sport. It is a privilege and honour for them to play their sport and I won’t allow players to partake unless they are disciplined in schoolwork and all other aspects at school.

“The saying goes that, ‘you can’t have your pudding unless you have finished your dinner’, and that’s how I see things … we have the ability to mould players into the men that will run families and their country in the future, and I believe that through sport we have the ability and chance to let them see the bigger picture and understand their social responsibilities.”


 Rostron, brought up on the Revington/Bonnet philosophy, believes that discipline is very important. “The most important issue is to get the players to realise that their actions affect the team – and in life there is always a consequence. The team comes first and everything the players do should be based on this. I always try and let the team manage any situations that may crop up. As a group they don’t accept ill-discipline. Outside this, I will take action on matters that can’t be resolved – and through school processes if necessary –  but most of the time actions are taken beforehand. I tend to be preventative than reactive …  I try cut out those that don’t take the team or school’s needs and wants to heart.”

Sounds good, but how does Rostron take into account the different personalities in the team? “I always do … I have a huge fascination in psychology and sports psychology and think it is this side of me that has me absolutely intrigued with this sport. It’s about trying to combine personalities, habits, abilities and many other aspects to get players to gel as a unit and perform task-orientated objectives time and time again… It’s like a Rubic’s cube, every movement or action you take, will have a different outcome – and you are constantly searching for that one thing that will make the difference and the breakthrough.

“Players are all different and they see, hear and experience things differently. I believe getting close to them and understanding their true nature allows you to unlock their potential and drive to learn or master something. I have always had a natural feel for this and believe it is something that has got me to where I am today. It is important to make a difference individually, rather than imprinting a certain style or way of putting them into a box. Give them their freedom – they are all unique and need different attention in different areas – they appreciate this more.”


These powerful, insightful words give me a warm, fuzzy feeling, but when the chips are down, how does the Affies head coach motivate his players? “I look at the truths, and teach them to accept it … we may not always have the full package and I think that players are always looking to become the full package – and this is what puts them under pressure. Accept that you can’t be the penalty corner specialist or the number one runner, or aren’t technically as good as the next guy … if you can accept this, you will be open to change and will also free yourself to perform the roles that you are good at. Mistakes happen, we are human, but it’s about the way you react and in learning not to do it again, making the change. This is step one.

“I think as coaches we all have our ways and means – I like things that touch the soul, as this is what makes you tick. Our sport is about passion – and passion goes a long way. Being part of the national team I have learned to idolise the passion of the Argentinians – anything and everything they do is about passion, and this is what makes them strong. They are emotional about everything and are free to express themselves. We are a school that is passionate about sport and I use this as the key to turn it up in the right moments and prickle the emotions to give them the edge and express themselves on the field. We use video a lot – and motivational clips that are relevant to the outcomes or moments that we are in. This leaves the players with a memory that we all can relate to at half-time.”


Again, I am impressed, so who are the school teams in SA that Rostron most admires – and why? “I look at different schools for different reasons and admire and respect the aspects that make them good. I look at, say, Northwood, where Gally [coach Darryn Gallagher] has put in a lot of effort and hard work into the players’ technical abilities and skill, and the outcomes have been very positive. While Gally is a bit further down the road in terms of time he has spent at his school compared to me, we are in similar situations and I could relate to his article in the last edition of SA School Sports. I also think the work that has been done at Maritzburg College in terms of structures – and coaching staff with experience – is something to admire. I then turn to St. John’s College [in Houghton, Johannesburg], who are turning it up in terms of technology and sports science [a new centre that they are looking to develop], something that is close to my heart and which I believe has a huge impact on player development, but also physical development of the players’ sport specifically. I think we all dream of having it all and I am sure that in time we will have all of these aspects covered and it will make all the  difference.”


What style or brand of hockey appeals to Rostron, which he hopes to imprint at Affies? “Everything is about speed for me, but it is also about establishing a new culture of thinking about hockey, being adaptable, being able to manage situations and identifying opportunity or solutions to problems. I want hockey to be exciting and have always looked to do this with every team that I have coached. Speed is difficult to manage – not every player has this – but having a hockey mind allied to speed makes it very exciting. We have natural athletes in Affies hockey and I want to change the way they see the game and understand how to play it, I want to have players that will be able to play any system or press, anytime, as this means that you can change things in the game instantly and can control a game more, this gives you flexibility. In saying this, it is all dependent on the players and the abilities you have, and it is important to have a strong defensive base.”


How important is winning to Rostron – at school level? “It’s important to create a winning culture, but it is not everything in life. I have personally learnt the most things in my life through losing … and let’s be honest, one tends to focus more on deficient areas and aspects when one loses than when one wins … we tend to overlook the cracks and gaps when we win. I believe in continuous effort, fighting spirit and objectives, these are measurable … we have had many games this year where my boys have played the best hockey I have seen them play, and yet we don’t always get the intended result at the end of the match. I feel that when you step onto a field, both teams have put in a lot of effort, both are there to win, both are not there to lose and it’s about the choices on the day – and whether everything falls into place … the key is being able to consistently deliver on the measurables that will determine our success, not our wins.”


Does the Affies head coach and his hockey staff work on players individually – to iron out mistakes in technical areas and to improve on strong points? “Yes we do … it’s important to give individual attention, as one is able to work on a different level in order to make the necessary adjustments for those individuals. Coaching a team often means that you are busy with team processes and miss the finer details that are specific to individuals. We use our off-season as the opportunity to develop and refine specific skills. In the future, the plan is to run sessions at a High Performance level, which individuals will attend to get the necessary attention they need. There will also be line-specific sessions (defenders, midfielders, strikers). We have goalkeeper-specific sessions in place already and are looking to do the same for penalty-corner specialists as well.”


And what of the Affies first team’s season?  “It has been a challenge to break habits that have developed over the years, one can only hope to show them a new way forward and see if they latch onto the idea and concept. They have done well despite injures and setbacks through the season. It has been a continuous learning curve and the idea was that they would be the drop that starts the ripple and lead Affies hockey to new successes. We achieved this and have created important milestones and memories. We changed the kit, symbolising a new era for Affies hockey and that we are committed to playing a new brand of hockey, striving to push the boundaries at everything we do.”


Which Affies first team matches/victories this season gave Rostron the greatest satisfaction – and why? “Two stand out for me … the first one was the 0-0 draw against Grey Bloem – one that has gone down in the history books for Affies hockey, as it is the first time in our history that we have not lost against them. It proved to be a very competitive match and one of our best games of the season. The next would be the 2-0 loss against Maritzburg College. The aim was to make the game competitive – and make it difficult for them … we knew that we may not be on the same level technically but we could make it difficult and create opportunities for ourselves. We missed three good opportunities and were able to hold them to a 0-1 scoreline up until the last few minutes of the match. It was not easy, but we were able to get small victories out the game. Our whole aim was to make a statement for our school that all is possible and that our efforts will pay off in time. We are excited for the future and hope that we can build on the foundations that we have set this year.”


What are the challenges that lie ahead in terms of Rostron’s goals for Affies hockey in the future? “The challenge is going to be finding and allocating resources to fund projects and ideas that will directly have an influence on our future. We are currently still waiting for our floodlights to go up. This will increase our turf and contact time, which is a huge problem right now as we have eight teams having to share a turf in three hours twice a week. Lights will have a huge impact on what we can achieve. In the near future we will be looking to set up structures that will allow for video – and analysis will become readily available to all of Affies’ A and B teams. We have created a great support structure though the Affies Hockey Supporters Club, headed by Johan Korkie. We hope we can lean on our Supporters Club to aid and support our processes going forward, through sponsorships and the collective efforts of the parents, who are enthusiastic and excited about the future of Affies hockey. They truly are the team behind the team and we cannot thank them enough for the work that they do.


Apart from his Affies commitments, as the Investec South Africa women’s hockey team goalkeeper coach, Rostron did the job at the London 2012 Olympic Games as well as at other world-level events this year and last. What satisfaction do the countless hours give him?

“I had put a lot of training and effort into the quest to become a national player and did not succeed in making the national team. This became my drive, as I vowed to create and give others the opportunity to make something of their potential. I have, however, long had a passion for this sport and knew that I would not always be able to play it, as I would one day be limited by age. However, I would be able to continue using my knowledge to coach and make a difference at all levels. I like the challenge, I am very task focused and intrigued by people and their abilities, this sport is so challenging and has multiple aspects – and this is what makes it so great … I want to know everything – and I hunt every opportunity down to learn. I know it will never be possible to know everything, but that is still what makes me tick. I hope to one day be a part of, or to coach, the national team that will walk away with a medal at a major event like an Olympics or World Cup.”


How does Affies feel about all of Rostron’s hockey jobs/roles outside the school’s hockey? “Affies are extremely supportive and have been extremely kind in the opportunities that they have granted me … I believe it’s a bit of a give-and-take relationship, as I am able to share my knowledge with staff and players and carry across new ideas and trends that are developing. It is difficult, though, and know that at some stage it will become quite challenging with the 2014 Hockey World Cup coming up.

“It is challenging to juggle it all, but bills need to be paid and our sport is not professional in SA, so it’s difficult to commit to a full national programme. So we need the support and assistance with opportunities like this to make it all work. I unfortunately miss some school time, but fortunately most of the time is outside of hockey at the school – or is near, or in, the school holidays, which helps. I am fortunate enough to have the staff that I do – and know that I can trust them with the tasks that are at hand. Mr Grobler has also been great with taking over when I am away and ensuring  the job gets done.”