Check out this gold medal effort in Ipswich
WATCHING Mark Knowles at work in Ipswich, it's easy to see why he's one of Australia's most successful sportsmen.
He's a natural with young people as much as leading his country to international glory, including winning his fourth Commonwealth Games gold medal recently at the Gold Coast.
Among the latest beneficiaries of Knowles' remarkable hockey knowledge and positive attitude were a group of Ipswich Girls' Grammar School students.
The kids were smiling, keen to learn and eager to handle his gold medal during his sessions at IGGS hockey fields last week.
The man who carried the Aussie flag at the recent Commonwealth Games opening ceremony enjoyed encouraging the next generation.
However, one of the main reasons Knowles likes visiting regional centres like Ipswich is because they are grassroots sporting locations worthy of being supported.
Having discovered his love of the game in Rockhampton, Knowles and another elite Central Queensland product Jamie Dwyer often lamented the lack of regular attention from higher level players in country areas.
Knowles, 34, is keen to change that.
"I've had one (clinic) each year for the last two years in Ipswich (at the hockey complex),'' he said. "They are a great provider of talent for this area.
"When Jamie and I started our coaching business it was mainly because we grew up in Rockhampton playing on the grass fields and not one Australian player ever, male or female, came to Rocky.
"We got into the national team, we won the Olympics really early in our careers and we said we don't want that (lack of national interest in regional centres) to ever happen again.
"We want to be doing things that people are inspired by.
"Inspiration is not just learning to hit really hard or tackle really well. Sometimes it's more about who we are.
"I'm just a normal country boy.''
That's why working with young players is so important for the three-time Olympian and former Commonwealth Games and World Cup winning player.
"Today it's a little bit of inspiration as the first part,'' Knowles said before conducting his second session with IGGS students.
"After the Commonwealth Games, it's such a nice period for me to get out in the community more, especially with people who really want me. And Ipswich Girls' Grammar invited me to the session today so it was a bit of enjoyment for the girls.
"I made it really clear at the start of the season on Monday that they weren't suddenly going to become the best player in the world by my one hour of coaching but hopefully they get a different voice, a different opinion, a different way of doing things.
"It was mainly a bit fun. There was a little bit of structured skill . . . and try not to overcomplicate things.''
However, it was fitting Knowles worked with the girls in the same year former IGGS student Jordyn Holzberger also shared in Australia's recent Commonwealth Games success.
Holzberger was part of the Hockeyroos team that won a silver medal to go with the Knowles-captained Kookaburras men's side that won gold in April.
Knowles said while his main focus with the IGGS students was encouragement and fun, he said players like Holzberger showed what could be achieved living in Ipswich.
"They are in a good area here,'' he said. "They have got two great turfs at the hockey centre (at Raceview). You've got Brisbane just there.
"It's not as hard as it used to be.
"I spoke to the girls with a Q and A at the end, and one of my points was that if you want to give it a go, do it properly.
"At the moment one of my feelings is that this generation likes to do it a little bit half.
"Give it a proper red-hot crack. That's what I did.
"I don't care if I don't make it when I'm 18 years old but I said nobody was ever going to tell me I didn't give it a red-hot go.''
Knowles understands as well as anyone what players in regional centres have to contend with so tailors his coaching to suit that.
"I know that we struggle in Australia for turf or grass or field time and sometimes you're training on the same part of the field with your three teams,'' he said. "So with the whole field, I could do pretty much as I wanted.
"I called girls out and spoke to them about their hands and technique and why you are doing it.
"And that's the part for me that I love. The 'why' is different for everyone.''
Reflecting on finishing his international career with another gold medal, Knowles still gets a buzz sharing his medal with others, especially young people.
"And that's what is keeping me on the high,'' he said.
"People say have you come down from the high of the Comm Games yet? Some days I do when I'm working long hours at work and I'm sitting in my office but other times when I'm guest speaking or I'm doing appearances or I'm doing coaching clinics with kids like this, I'm back up on the high.
"That's why I love doing this.''
Great advice: Be healthy, active and give it a red-hot go
INTERNATIONAL achiever Mark Knowles offered young girls some wise advice during his recent sessions in Ipswich.
"You've got to really enjoy what you do,'' Knowles said.
"I'm definitely an advocate for hockey but I'm more of an advocate for healthy, active lifestyles.
"We don't care sometimes what you do but I want you to be healthy. I want you to do swimming and athletics and netball and cricket and tennis and whatever you girls can do.
"Give it a go because I think these well-rounded athletes who try a little bit of everything will end up finding what they want to be good at.
"I put my hand up for everything (when I was younger) and I think these girls should do that too.''