Former Madibaz hockey player Jody Paul would not “in a million years” have envisioned himself as the assistant coach of the Great Britain women’s team.
The 45-year-old ex-South African star was last month appointed to the position with the national team after spending 15 years heading the hockey programme at the University of Bath in England.
During that time Paul, who played 38 times as a defender for South Africa and went to the 2004 Olympic Games, also took on various coaching roles with England age-group teams.
He said he saw the national appointment as a step in a different direction to his previous positions.
“Until now I have been involved in the U21 and U18 environment, which is all about developing players to potentially play senior international hockey,” said Paul.
“Now I see my role as one which is about performing on the world stage.”
He said his involvement with the elite development programme in Britain had played a big part in his appointment.
“I have worked more consistently in this programme, which is the final stepping stone for our athletes before transitioning to senior international hockey,” he explained.
“This environment has helped me to bridge the gap from being a development coach to a performance coach.”
When Paul, who grew up in Gqeberha (then Port Elizabeth), reflected on his hockey journey he admitted that he had never dreamt it would come to this stage.
His coaching career started with a three-year stint as player-coach at Nelson Mandela University, before moving into the role fulltime by taking on the University of Bath post in 2006.
“I guess I was always going to end up coaching in some capacity, but I just did not think it would be a Great Britain squad,” added Paul.
He had forged a new life for himself and his family in England, but said he would never forget his roots and the hockey opportunities he received while at Nelson Mandela University.
“I loved playing for the university and Eastern Province.
“The experience gained from my playing days under great coaches and with some outstanding players like Clyde Abrahams, Chris Hibbert and Denzil Dolley still stand in me in good stead all these years later.”
Paul said he would forever be indebted to the people who gave him the opportunity to play for the varsity.
“The late Dr Sharon Beckham and Brian Hibbert were instrumental in getting me there.
“I have lifelong friends from my playing days. We won loads of titles, but the friendships made over the years will be what I remember most.”
Paul said his specific role in the Great Britain management team was still being defined, but that he would most likely be working on the technical development of the players in the programme.
“I am looking forward to the challenge of working with this group as it consists of multi-medal winning athletes and a few of the U21 athletes who have transitioned to the next level,” he said.
“All of them have the capability to continue to improve, which is exciting.”
He was sorry to leave the University of Bath, which he said became his second home after leaving Gqeberha.
“It was an extremely difficult decision to make but it is the right time to move on,” said Paul. “I have been fortunate to work at two great universities.
“My time at Bath was like a finishing school for my transition from player to coach.
“The university provided me with a great environment to develop and learn, and has been invaluable in my growth as a coach.”