Knowles sticks up for Singapore

Knowles sticks up for Singapore
Australia’s World Cup-winning hockey captain Mark Knowles (third from right), seen here training the Singapore national team, aims to make monthly visits to vet progress.

Mark Knowles, arguably the most in-form hockey player now, wants to help rejuvenate the sport in Singapore.

The Australian national captain has signed on as a coach at the new Project Group Hockey Academy which runs training programmes for elite and aspiring players.

The 30-year-old was at Sengkang Hockey Stadium last weekend, mentoring the men's national team in the art of flicks, traps and drags ahead of the SEA Games in June.

Malaysia have won the hockey gold medal in 14 of 15 editions.

Singapore may be ranked 36th in the world - 23 spots behind their Causeway rivals - but, after working with the local players, Knowles is confident that the gap can be bridged.

"I've trained them for only two days but there's clear improvement, mainly because they are just so keen to absorb every detail about the game and keep improving," he told The Straits Times.

"Malaysia are a good team because they counter-attack superbly.

"If you cut out errors, even a weaker team like Singapore can do damage against them."

Knowles has been sizzling with his stick this year, leading the Kookaburras to victory in the World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold in Glasgow.

The 2004 Olympic gold medallist is also favourite to be named FIH Player of the Year.

In his role at the academy, which was set up by former national player Paul Lim, Knowles plans to make monthly visits to train the athletes and run video-analysis sessions.

He will be joined by fellow Australian internationals Jamie Dwyer, Liam de Young and Rob Hammond in overseeing the setup run by local coaches.

Lim said the Academy has invited schools here to send their best 10 players to join the programme and train regularly under the Kookaburra stars, whom he has known since his playing days.

He added: "It's all about getting more kids under the mentorship of elite coaches. If we do that, Singapore hockey will undoubtedly improve."

Knowles, who wants to coach full-time when he stops playing, is detailed in his approach.

For instance, he devoted a large part of his recent session with the national team to penalty corners. Australia scored seven goals via this set-piece in the semi-final and final in June's World Cup.

"The Singapore team have two or three really good flickers but the push-out and the trap has to improve," he noted.

"Once they get that right, that elusive SEA Games gold may not be a dream anymore."

This article was first published on Dec 18, 2014.
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