If you are an ardent hockey fan you will know the name of Garreth Ewing, or more specifically, Springs. Springs has been an active coach on the hockey circuit for a while and has seen him land up as the South African Men’s assistant coach, the head coach of the University of Johannesburg and of course the man who will lead South Africa to the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup in India. After he finalised the Golden Gate Gladiators side for the Premier Hockey League, I had a chat with Springs about all things hockey.
Jabu: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into coaching?
Springs: I used to play hockey, and naturally gravitated towards coaching as a student to make some extra cash. It was something I always enjoyed doing and as time passed I started to take it more seriously and worked my way up through the provincial schools ranks. After working in the corporate world, while continuing to coach, I eventually came to the conclusion that I wanted to try “turning pro” so to speak. That was about 12 years ago and I’ve been coaching full-time ever since.
Jabu: University of Johannesburg are a powerhouse at Varsity Hockey in SA with the university holding the males and females Varsity Cup titles, what do you attribute the success to?
Springs: I think that the margins are slim at Varsity hockey level, but I have always believed that consistency is one of our strengths, both in terms of coaches and other staff, training ethic throughout the year, and in our recruiting practices. We work very consistently in terms of our preparation, and use all the resources at our disposal from video analysis, sports science and psych support, to make sure we give ourselves a chance of winning.
Springs: I think during Varsity hockey we were able to make tactical changes as games progressed and I was lucky enough to work with a team who could go on and execute those changes. I think that our style of play was consistent throughout a game and that meant we were able to exert more pressure on our opponents as the game went on. It comes back to consistency in execution.
It’s not something we aim for, however, in fact I wish we had started better at Varsity hockey, we always seemed to leave ourselves with quite a lot of work to do in the last quarter.
Jabu: On top of your role with UJ, you are also taking the SA U21 Men’s side to the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup. Having just selected the side, how difficult was this for you?
Springs: It was a very difficult process in that so many good players challenged for a place in the final team. We were able to spend time together at a camp sponsored by PSi last December, and at both of the last two senior IPTs. It gave me a lot of time with the squad, relatively speaking, and I was comfortable that I got to know enough about the players to be able to make informed selection decisions. AFCON was also a long time together and I feel I really got to know the team that did the job for us in Windhoek.
The selection panel I worked with also asked all the right questions, and were able to attend all our camps and IPTs. I was also able to spend time with a core of the squad at the senior Summer series in January and February this year, which gave me a fantastic opportunity to see these guys perform under pressure. The encouraging thing for me was how nearly all the players in our initial squad of 31 made progress both technically and physically over the 18 months of selection. This is what made it hard in the end.
Springs: We believe that we can progress in two areas. Firstly, culturally, in terms of the image we project to the world of South African hockey and of this team as the future of the sport in this country. Secondly, in terms of our tournament performance in relation of a final placing in the top 8 of the tournament.
The team believes they can make history at men’s international level and be the first team to crack the top 8 at a world level tournament. I believe that as difficult as it will be, this is a group of players has enough ability and international experience to achieve this milestone for SA hockey.
Jabu: The SA U21 side also almost made history at the IPT by finishing second, were you happy with the overall performance?
Springs: Yes I was. Honestly though I wasn’t really interested in our final placing, but rather in the progress we needed to make in certain areas: most notably in our out-letting and being able to play different kinds of press. We also wanted to address our temperament as a group in terms of both discipline and emotion and we made a lot of improvements in all these areas. Considering the fact that we finished two places higher than we did at IPT in 2015 is an indication of improvement on the field and in terms of maturity.
The U21’s added a huge amount of value to IPT, which is something as a team we are proud of. I believe an SA U21 team should compete at senior IPT every year.
Jabu: Which one of the SA U21 players would you tip for Senior glory sooner rather than later in South Africa?
Springs: That’s a tough question because so many of them have already shown their potential in the few test caps that they have earned so far. I think in a very talented group who will undoubtedly set a new standard for SA men’s hockey in the future, Ryan Crowe is the one to keep an eye on.
Jabu: What is your view on the pending Premier Hockey League where the U21 side will feature as the Golden Gate Gladiators?
Springs: It’s a very good initiative, and I hope that the model will prove as successful as it has in other sports. From our point of view it will be crucial preparation for the Junior World Cup. The time we will be able to spend together as the Golden Gate Gladiators will be so valuable.
The product, if marketed and managed correctly (which I have no doubt it will be if I think of the professionals involved in the background) could be a turning point in the commercialisation of hockey at senior level in South Africa. I’m interested to see how the teams perform, considering how little time they will have had together. It will be fun to see if provincial boundaries can be broken down in the interest of the franchises.
It will be a more visible stage, as compared to IPT, so we will experience a different kind of pressure. The load of traveling to Johannesburg four weeks in a row will be a nice challenge and good experience in terms of making adjustments to travel schedules. We will be together nearly four weeks for the JWC so it will give us some nice preparation.
Spending time together will also give us the opportunity to assess the team’s conditioning and overall health from a screening point of view, which will be very helpful for the medical staff and conditioning coach. From my point of view, the emphasis we have put into culture growth can continue because we can share our experiences face to face over an extended period.
Jabu: What is the one thing that you would like to see change in SA Hockey?
Springs: We need a centralised programme.
Jabu: Who is the best coach, manager and video analyst you have worked with as a coach?
Springs: Tough question, they’ve all had an influence on me and the teams I’ve worked with, but at risk of leaving guys off the list:
Coach – Phil Wallis (not necessarily a household name, but because he inspired me to try to be where I am today)
Manager – Graham Bennetts
Video Analyst – Adrian Carolan
You can follow Springs on twitter at @SASpringdog and support their journey to the FIH Junior Hockey World Cup here on Sports 24 Seven – All Things Jabu