Current SA Women’s Hockey striker and midfielder, Shelley Russell, recently celebrated a momentous milestone – 250 caps for the national team. As GM of the Investec Hockey Academy, Shelley believes that playing sport from a young age has benefits which surpass the sports field and hopes to encourage SA’s youth to play sport. We sat down with our double Olympian to find out what motivates her as a national player and why she is so passionate about the work that she does at the Investec Hockey Academy.
- Who do you think inspired you to play sport as children?
Shelley: “It was the lifestyle that we as a family were part of. My parents both played a variety of sports and we tagged along to watch from the side lines from a very early age. My brother, Brent, is seven years older than I am and started playing club soccer as soon as he could. My other brother, Andy, also started under-6 soccer at the age of about three years old (he insisted on playing!); so we did a lot of soccer supporting at Randburg AFC. My brothers, in particular, learned so much from playing in a team environment and also learned from an early age to cope with pressures of playing in competitive games, cup finals, etc. I am sure a lot of their big match temperament can be traced back to those days.”
Shelley: “There were always games of soccer or cricket going on in our garden when we were growing up, or even just throwing or kicking a ball to each other. Any little pick-up games became epic contests. We turned any activities into competitions!”
- Your parents played provincial rugby and hockey, would you say this contributed to your choices of career?
Shelley: “My Dad played a handful of games of rugby for EP in his youth, although I think that he sat on the bench for them for several seasons! He also played cricket for EP “B” and SA Universities “B.” My mother played provincial hockey, although at school I think she got provincial colours for hockey, tennis and badminton. I suppose that might have influenced our choice of sporting careers, especially if you consider that my brother Andy captained the SA Colts Cricket XI (basically SA Schools “B”) in his last year of schooling. He has subsequently represented his adopted country, the United Arab Emirates, at both rugby and Sevens Rugby.”
- All three Russell siblings are part of a sports academy, what do you think drives the Russell’s to be a part of developing young sportsmen and women?
Shelley: “That’s true! Brent has helped out with some coaching at the Investec International Rugby Academy and Andy has been running Global Cricket Academy programmes for the International Cricket Council in Dubai. He has also been appointed as the National Development Manager for Emirates Cricket. I suppose that we have all been privileged to have been given some opportunities to develop our own sports, and see the value in passing on knowledge and experience.”
- Is there a motto the Russell family has with regards to sport?
Shelley: “Informally, we have always believed that ‘Luck is where preparation and opportunity meet’. In other words, the more prepared one is, through hard work, dedication and practice, the more equipped one is to make the most of your opportunities when these arise, and in so doing, you create your own “luck.” We have noticed several times over our careers, where we have been equipped to deal with that “window of opportunity,” and capitalise on opportunities.”
Shelley: “I have also adopted the personal motto ‘Don’t practise until you get it right; keep going until you can’t get it wrong!’
- If you could teach young sportsmen and women one thing, what would it be?
Shelley: “I would suggest that you just get out there and get involved. Take part in anything and everything initially. You might not know where your specific interests lie, so don’t specialise too early. All of us took part in all different sports at school, and eventually you realise where your interests and talents can be maximised. As an example, until his mid-teens, Brent’s main passion was for football, and he set a goal of one day playing for Liverpool FC. As matters turned out, he saw an opportunity to make a go of rugby, and focussed his attention on that.”
Shelley: “Also, as I have mentioned previously, take every training session as an opportunity to learn something, and take advice from coaches. I was blessed to have past SA players as my coaches right throughout my school life, and they taught me such good foundations and love for the sport. You need to be passionate about what you are doing, and if you are able to visualise your goals and dreams vividly, your sub-conscious formulates ways of achieving your goals.”
- Why do you think that encouraging your child to play a sport is so important?
Shelley: “South Africans are by nature outdoor people, probably due to our conducive climate. I feel that it is important to be out there, taking part in outdoor exercise, from a health and general well-being perspective. There are life lessons to be learned from the discipline of sports, and especially fitting into a team dynamic.”
- Who should attend sports initiatives like the Investec Academies you are involved in?
Shelley: “Naturally, we are trying to identify and develop real talent from an early age, and to assist with focussing attention on specific areas required to make it to the top, such as nutrition, reaction training, and specific skills training. I spoke earlier about windows of opportunity. We have had at our Investec Academy camps top coaches, such as the Women’s National Hockey coach (Sheldon Rostron) the u21 National Women’s Coach (Lindsay Wright) as well as provincial coaches, National players who have Olympic and World Cup experience, and who have coached overseas in strong hockey leagues, such as the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. Players at the hockey camps can gain hugely from this wealth of experience, and it could also give them that “window of opportunity” to be spotted by a national coach.”
Shelley: “Having said that, we are by no means an elitist Academy, and anyone who wishes to further their skills and knowledge of the sport, and gain a different perspective of aspects to hockey, can benefit hugely. The most important thing that we can do, in my opinion, is for players to enjoy what they are doing, and fire them up to want to continue playing this great game. If we can instil in them a love for the sport – that would be first prize.”