Hockey star puts Southlanders through their paces

One of New Zealand’s most decorated hockey stars says she relishes the chance to come to smaller regions like Southland to help players and coaches improve their hockey skills.

Former Black Stick Anita McLaren visited Southland this week to hold a series of coaching sessions and clinics in Gore and Invercargill.

It was the second time McLaren had visited the region in the last three years, and said she was itching to get back as it reminded her of her childhood growing up in a small community.

“I grew up in Nelson… we didn’t have everything under the sun. I wanted to come down here… I want to go to smaller towns and smaller provinces and show them that you can make it from a smaller town and not have all the flash Auckland or Christchurch sort of things. And they want it more and it’s more about inspiring them…they’re a lot more passionate and appreciate it more.”

McLaren retired from international hockey last year as the all-time leading goal scorer for New Zealand with 105 goals.

She is a two-time Olympian having competed for the Black Sticks at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games, as well as being part of the Black Sticks squad at the last three Commonwealth Games, which included winning gold last year on the Gold Coast, a silver in Delhi in 2010 and a bronze in Glasgow in 2014.

During the sessions McLaren taught players ranging from under-13s through to adult players a variety of skills and said it was important for players to focus on the basics, rather than aiming to learn “fancy skills”.

She also held sessions with local coaches to help pass on some knowledge, which she said would help them in developing players in the future.

Hockey Southland general manager Tracey McCall said it was a big coup for the region to have somebody like McLaren down to hold the sessions.

“We’ve had Anita down before which is really really cool and the kids loved it last time she was down. They just learnt so much and the coaches learnt heaps. So it was fantastic to get her back. She’s done really well and it’s great for the kids to hear from somebody who has played at an extremely high level and it’s a different voice and an inspirational thing to have her down here.”

McLaren said she hoped her visit would help inspire players to reach for the very top level of hockey and return one day to the region to help inspire others.

“When I grew up I remember Black Sticks coming and I still have signed tops from my heroes and things like that. I don’t see myself like that but I hope that in years to come they’ll want to do the same and give back to the smaller provinces and towns. It’s just about inspiring them and showing them that they can do it if they really want to achieve it.”

This article was originally written for The Advocate. You can read the published version here

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