with …..
Shaun Baker

On Hosting Hockey this week, Adele chats to Shaun Baker. Shaun is the current Director of Hockey at Northwood School as well as the Northwood School 1st XI Coach. He has a wealth of experience having played and coached in the UK and Australia. Shaun completed his SAHA Level 3 coaching course in 2016 as well as his FIH Level 2 in 2020.

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Adele: Discuss your playing and coaching career both locally and overseas.

Shaun: I have had the most colourful career to date as both a player and a coach within our borders and those abroad. I have been a scholar of the game and being exposed to different cultures around the world has developed, shaped and defined the coach/player I am today. I feel the biggest difference between environments abroad vs back here in SA is the approach of sharing overseas over the closed book approach here. I use to be a coach not willing to share my knowledge and keep my ideas and philosophies to myself. I was a product of the system I knew. Going overseas, especially in the UK and Holland, I was introduced and exposed to alternative methods of growth and development. Without sharing and challenging oneself, further growth and development is near impossible.

Adele: Who got you in to hockey?

Shaun: My mum played many years ago and we had the old school long wooden sticks that seemed to curve forever and I grew up with them in hand. I played my first competitive hockey at the age of 5 and loved it. Rest is history!

Adele: You are the current coach of Northwood Boys 1st Team Hockey. How long have you been back training for? Has it been easy to adjust to the Covid protocols?

Shaun: As Director and 1st XI coach, we have stuck to all directives from the headmaster and implemented strict social distance training protocols as outlined by the DoE. We have been training for several weeks. Initially only with 10 in a session. This provided us with an amazing opportunity to focus solely on technical abilities by lines (all defenders together, all midfield together etc). Something that a ‘normal’ year does not cater for at all. So the adjustment was actually incredibly easy.

Adele: How important is it to have good strikers in your hockey team?

Shaun: The game is won and lost in the 23m areas. If you have forwards who have the ability to create chances and gain positive outcomes, it sets a platform to create positive results. SO I believe they are fundamental part of the success of a season. Not only does one need the goal scorer forward but the supporting forward is just as important to make a well-rounded front line.

Adele: Being a striker yourself, what would you say are the qualities, today, of a top striker?

Shaun: I believe that the most important roles of a modern day striker are the following:
Set the tempo in defense – open play and structural
The ability to create spaces in confined and congested areas
Have a ‘swag’ about them, not arrogance as there is no place for that on my field but a swag

Adele: Who would you say are amongst the top strikers in the world in the Women’s or Men’s game?

Shaun: Sho! Very hard question… I think there are some serious players to call out but to name only a few:
Men – Pol Amat, Jamie Dwyer, Mirco Pruyser, Jeroen Hertzberger, Bjorn Kellerman, Greg Nicol, Christopher Ruhr, Mandeep Singh, Blake Govers, Tom Boon, Jacob Whetton
Women – Nikki Hudson, Kim Lammers, Naomi van As, Maartje Paumen, Georgie Twigg, Luciana Aymar, Alex Dansen, Natascha Keller, Pietie Coetzee

Adele: What advice do you have for someone at Primary School who is a natural striker? What are the key aspects to develop from a Primary School player to a 1st Team High School player?

Shaun: I feel that players of this ability are not developed but used to win matches. The advice I would give is to continue trusting in the passes and players around you whilst developing their own skillsets. Too often in the primary school years, the dominant players are left to do everything, and this leads to really poor formative years habits. He/she will not lose skill abilities but to develop decision making within these players is fundamental to the success of their careers.

Adele: Very often the top goalscorer and player gets moved to the midfield at Primary school. The player then loses out at specializing at being a forward and continuing with their goalscoring talent. Do you think this is one reason that South Africa, as a country, has lacked really TOP STRIKERS? How can we change this?

Shaun: I think this links into the above and I would most certainly agree with the above statement as well. I feel that the focus at primary school age within schools is about winning and not producing well-rounded players within all the lines who understand the game of hockey, understand their roles and responsibilities of their specialized positions and there is no emphasis on developing thinking players. If you forwards do not know how to think for themselves as they have been told how to play, where to stand, what to do whenever in possession from the sideline by coaches and parents alike, we are breeding robots and stagnating the overall development of hockey in SA.

Adele: Share something that we might not know about you.

Shaun: I am a lifetime member of the Royal Household Cricket Club and have met Her Majesty and played a game of cricket against Prince Harry and Prince William in a charity match!

Adele: You were one of our coaches at Madsen Hockey Academy. How long did you coach in the academy and who were some of the coaches that you coached alongside?   

Shaun: Sho!!! Now this was a long time ago! I believe I worked in the academy during my time coaching at Kearsney and Highbury in the mid 2000’s for around 2-3 years before following my playing and coaching career abroad. I worked with Wayne Madsen, Brenda Bartlett, Lloyd Madsen and the amazing Adele Madsen too!