Mark Knowles Ready For Commonwealth Games With Kookaburras | Men's Health Magazine Australia

Mark Knowles: It’s All About Power In The Legs

Hey Mark, thanks for joining us. How are your preparations going for the 2017 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games?

Yeh, really good so far. We’ve had a big turnover of players and a new coaching staff since the Rio Olympics last year. We’re 11 or so months into our journey and played some good competitions. We’ve had some relatively good results and the squad’s hungry, they’re desperate and really energetic in the lead up to the games.

As a Kookaburra, you’ve won the world Cup, the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. With that level of achievement behind you, how do you stay motivated?

Yeh, it’s been an amazing journey. I’m a country boy – it’s something I wanted to do from a young age – my parents are both hockey players. I suppose determination to get where I got to, to play for Australia, wasn’t quite good enough and I just see this as continuously wanting to get better. I’m a very driven person for success and to be part of a very high performing team is great. I have enough experience to know you don’t always win. So, I think for me, it’s about growing as a person – I’m the captain of the team so it’s me leaving a legacy and inspiring others because I know I won’t be around forever. I want other people to be inspired like I was.

Where abouts from the country are you from?

Rockhampton in Central Queensland.

Mark Knowles Hockey


 Is there much access to Hockey out country way?

Yeh, definitely. Country or regional based athletes are very strong in hockey. I think one of the reasons is access to facilities. I grew up on grass fields and you can go down and play on the grass any time you like. In a big city, you’ve got turfs, you’ve got locked facilities, so I found that very important in my development. I think the other thing for me is that I played against men at a younger age than people who grew up in the city. I was exposed to a bit more hardness – that tough-nosed approach where you know the senior men want to get you if you’re a young brat. Exposure to that kind of environment provided a bit of toughness early on. 

As one of the most experienced members of the squad, do you feel an added pressure to perform? And how do you cope with that pressure?

Ahhh, no I don’t. I think I’m very good at setting short term goals and I’m very focused on what I believe I can give to the team and what I want from the team. I think, as being the leader and part of the captaincy group for 9 years now, I’ve learnt that I think it does come with extra pressure. It comes with a little bit of extra expectation, but I have that on myself anyway. I think it’s part of the role and It’s just part of the journey for me.

How does being host of the Commonwealth Games advantage the Kookaurras’ cause?

Yeh, it’s a huge advantage to play in front of screaming home fans. When you’re In green and gold playing in front of packed out stadiums, it’s pretty amazing. I got to experience that in the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth games – my first home games experience. I think just to have family and friends around, to have your sport as a high-profile commonwealth games sport like hockey is something we need to embrace. I think we’ve let ourselves down in the past. In the Olympics, for example, we’ve let the environment get on top of us. We just need to stay composed. 

You had a stint playing in the Netherlands. How do training methods differ there compared to home? 

Yeh I lived over in the Netherlands professionally for over 5 years, playing at the Hockey club Rotherdam, amazing – 9 turfs at one club, we hardly have 9 turfs in Queensland. What they do differently, very similar to the football mentality, is there’s a lot more technical training. They would have multiple sessions in a day. In Australia, we’re a bit more smash and bash, you train as hard as you absolutely can for 2 hours until you can’t walk anymore. You go and do your recovery – you eat well, you go to sleep and you do it all again the next day. In Europe, the part that I loved most was that they would do a technical skills training in the afternoon. They would go up to the club and you would have afternoon dinner, showers, a meeting and then you’d go back on for a high intensity session in the evening. You do that 2 times a week, you do a final hit out, like a captain’s run on a Friday night and then play on a Sunday.  I loved the difference in training and it’s one of the reasons why we now have one of our assistant coaches come from Europe after 15 years to bring that technical experience to our group.

Talk us through your training schedule leading up to the Commonwealth Games. What’s the key to ensuring you’re at your physical peak come Game One?

Yeh, it’s very important for us to be at that physical peak. We play in a sport that’s 12 months a year so we have to pick and choose our times to be at our best. The Commonwealth Games is when we want to be at our best in 2018 because we have 6 months then until the World Cup in December. We’ve just gone through a very heavy training block which is about getting kilometres into our legs, getting that power, getting that aerobic capacity. In the last 6 months, it will now be about sharpening or shortening up. Hockey is very explosive, it’s short sharp movements, change of direction, repeated sprint-ability. We’ll be doing more of that training after and around competitions. The hardest part for our sport is that we play a tournament every six to eight weeks. We’ve just finished the Oceania Cup in Australia, we go to the festival of Hockey in Melbourne in November, we go to the world league finals in December, in India, we have the Dutch in Australia in January, we go to the Azlan Shah in Malaysia start of March and then we play in the Commonwealth Games in April. So, you’ve got to perform, really well a number of times, so it’s important to use your rest periods, your training blocks really well. 

So when you do hit the gym, is there a greater emphasis on legs and ultimately, you end up neglecting the upper body?

Yeh, a little bit. In the phase we’ve just gone through, six to eight week heavy block – that was heavy legs and running. That’s about getting as much power built up as possible. Now, we’ll go into more explosive work in the gym – there’s a lot box jumps, squat jumps, lunges, a lot of fast twitch movements. Upper body is not as important for most of the guys but  strength over the ball is so there’s still a factor. A lot of our work is between the knees and the hips – we have so many injuries in the hamstrings, hips and quads because of the power through that area and you want to be strong over the ball so there’s a lot of core focus. 

Looking back over a 15-year playing career, what would you do differently if you had your time again? (9:00)

Early on, I was very fortunate to come into the national program so young. I moved over to Perth when i wasn’t even 19 years old to play for Australia. I didn’t have a very good base built up – i’d gone basically from playing club hockey and being a good junior in the country to one year in Brisbane to going into the national environment. My body wasn’t prepped and ready. What I would do differently is put more focus on that earlier. – I used to think, ‘ I’m in the Australian men’s hockey team, I’ve got to run faster, I’ve got to research the teams more’ whereas I should have put more emphasis on lower body strengthening. What happened out of that was I broke my ankle twice in my first year I was in the national program. In the second year of the national program, I had knee surgery, fourth year, I had a hernia operation, in 2011, I broke my foot, in the past 12 months, I’ve broken my foot twice so I think more strength work around my lower legs for my body, I would have liked to have  focused on more. 

Mark Knowles Hockey


Compared to other sports, specifically contact sports, where they’ll say he’s not physically ready, he’s not big enough, looking at hockey where you were introduced at such a young age, do you think there’s still that need to be physically ready?

Absolutely. What we’re seeing out of sport in Australia is that people are preparing younger. We’re working with athletes who are 15 years old. We have the future’s program which is the under 18s – they’re exposed to gym, they’re exposed to yoga, they’re exposed to meditation, they’re exposed to all these things that weren’t such a necessity in the early 2000s when I came in. What we’re doing is preparing our athletes at a younger age. One of the things we need to be careful of is not to push them too hard and too early. We don’t want people retiring from our sport at 25, 30 years old. You look at the greatest player ever for Australia, Jamie Dwyer, he finished at the Olympics at 37. in 2008, we had three of our absolute best players retire and they were 30 and 31 because it was different. I think we’re seeing that athletes can play for longer. There’s more exposure to professionalism in Hockey.  We can play in the Hockey india league and make some money, we can play in Europe and earn some money, we can get sponsors.  There’s a bit more opportunity to play for longer. I don’t want the kids burning themselves out between 15 and 20 because your best hockey doesn’t come till, well for me, I won world player of the year when I was 30. Jamie won 5 world player of the years and his last one was when he was 33. So it shows that we can play for longer – we need to put some focus on it early but you’re not going to be the best player in the world when you’re 22, it’s gonna take some time.

You spoke about your stint in Netherlands, you said they have a huge focus on being technically gifted, you mentioned Australian coaches are focusing on power, leg work and putting kilometres in the legs. Do you think, as a nation, Australia has an advantage being so focused on physically, or do you think we’re being left behind in the technical department?

I think there’s a part on both. We’ve prided ourselves for 15, 20 years in Australia on being able to run over the top of opposition, hopefully the game breaks open and the Australian mentality of run-and-gun, smash-and-bash, we’ll beat them at the end of the game has been there. Hockey now is a changing sport. We’re playing quarters now so there aren’t as many opportunities to wear teams out after 15 minutes – they get a break. We’re trying to find ways to be better – we still continue to be explosive, be powerful, be physically the best team in  the world but the technical fact.ors will play a significant role in the future.

Awesome, well thanks so much and good luck with the Commgames

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