Kookaburras captain Mark Knowles in action against PNG at the Oceania Cup.
Kookaburras captain Mark Knowles in action against PNG at the Oceania Cup. Grant Treeby

Knowles talks about life on and off the hockey field

ROCKHAMPTON'S hockey champion Mark Knowles made a flying visit home last weekend to be guest speaker at the St Brendan's College sports awards and to attend the presentation night of his former hockey club, Southern Suburbs. In the following Q&A, he talks about the year that's been, his move back to Brisbane and what lies ahead.

You were recently home to attend the St Brendan's College sports award. What did you talk about?

I talked to the students about my journey, growing up in the country, the positives we get from these experiences and also about high-performance sport, which included the great parts about winning and the hard parts about losing.

Kookaburras captain Mark Knowles with St Brendan's athlete of the year Ben O'Brien.
Mark Knowles with St Brendan's College Athlete of the Year Ben O'Brien. CONTRIBUTED

Do you get to do things like that very often, and what do you enjoy most about it?

Yes, I've been doing a lot of public speaking over the past four years since I became national captain. I really enjoy it and see it as a strength of mine.

What's your schedule been like in the past year?

It's been a busy year. We played four Tests against Pakistan in Darwin in March, I re-broke my foot at Easter, which was a setback but allowed me to reassess my training methods. We then had the World League semi-finals in South Africa in July, and then the National Hockey League and Oceania Cup in September/ October. It all wraps up in December with the World League finals (top eight in the world).

What was it like to play in the Brisbane hockey grand final and how long has it been since you'd done that?

It was great to play in the Brisbane grand final. It was my first grand final since 2000 playing for Souths in Rocky, so it brought back plenty of great memories.

Mark Knowles and his Kookaburras' teammates celebrate another goal in the game against PNG.
INSPIRING: Mark Knowles and his Kookaburras teammates celebrate victory at the recent Oceania Cup. Grant Treeby

What has been the most positive thing about the Kookaburras' performances this year?

The buy-in for the new way of play and culture changes. It's been a real positive and something as an experienced player I've enjoyed seeing.

You won't play the International Festival of Hockey, which starts on Sunday. It is a necessity when you have such a demanding schedule but how hard is it to miss any chance to play for Australia?

Yes, I'm resting for this coming tournament. It's really hard to miss games, especially in our home country, however I understand my body and that the Kookaburras need to grow without me in the team, as there will come a time this will end up being permanent.

You were hoping your move back to Brisbane was going to provide some extra spark. Has that been the case? How different is your routine given you are not immersed in the hockey culture in Perth?

The Brisbane move has been fantastic for me. I've really enjoyed a different training group and slightly less pressure than when in the high-performance environment in Perth. I really miss leading from the front in Perth, however my family life is much more supported, my transition and life after hockey are well on the way, and I'm a more relaxed athlete, which is nice at 33 years old.

With the World League Final in India in December, are you still planning to have Christmas in Rockhampton?

We think so, and then heading for a holiday at Fraser Island.

Looking ahead to the Commonwealth Games, how significant would it be to win gold at the Gold Coast?

It's going to be a great show of sport, our country and hockey. I love the game and have worked really hard at portraying the right image and style and, for me, another gold medal would be amazing.

Australian hockey players Mark Knowles and Jamie Dwyer back in Rockhampton for the Christmas holidays.   Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Mark Knowles continues to run his hockey clinics with Jamie Dwyer. Chris Ison ROK171214chockey2

Do you still run your coaching clinics with former Kookaburras great and brother-in-law Jamie Dwyer?

Jamie and I are still going well. We are getting far too many requests Australia- wide to be able to complete, but we are chipping away and it's a great opportunity for us in the future.

You played in the National Hockey League again. How do you see the state of hockey in Australia at the moment and how does the future look?

The future is okay. We aren't quite where we need to be at the moment in terms of elite talent coming through. There are many factors with this - like so many other sports, exposure and opportunity, but also we need to clean up our development processes and continue to give young athletes strong goals to aspire to.

Mark Knowles in Rockhampton.
Mark Knowles in Rockhampton. Allan Reinikka ROK281216aknowles

Do you continue to review your career goals?

I constantly review how I'm going. I think the best players are able to set short-term goals and strive for them. I'm very experienced now in terms of my preparation and what I need, however my achievements and reviews are normally about my leadership or the direction of our group.

How do you relax? What things do you enjoy outside of hockey?

I love spending time with family, at the beach, music or in the yard.

Are you at a stage where you are thinking about life after hockey? Where can you see yourself in 10 years?

I started my transition phase in 2014. I made a strong effort to be thinking about this early on. Where I see myself I'm not sure. I'd love to be a high- performance director in sport. I believe my personality and traits would be well suited.

If you hadn't made it in hockey, what would you be doing now?

No idea, honestly. I made a decision to give hockey my absolute all when I was around 16-17 so I have no idea where I would be. I believe it would be in sport somewhere.

Is there a sportsperson who inspires you? Do you like the idea that you are an inspiration and role model for up-and- coming hockey players in Rockhampton and across Australia?

I love being an inspiration and role model and I take this extremely seriously. The way I conduct myself around sport but also in everyday life is a direct reflection of the person I am. I'm extremely loyal but also extremely driven. I'm inspired by so many sportspeople it isn't funny. Michael Voss was my inspiration in the early 2000s with the Brisbane Lions. His drive, passion and leadership stood out.

Ryan and Barb Knowles fly out to Rio this week to watch son Mark captain the Kookaburras at the Olympics.Photo Allan Reinikka / The Morning Bulletin
Mark's parents Ryan and Barb Knowles. Allan Reinikka ROK020816aknowles

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

My parents. They've shown me the benefits of hard work and also support.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

"Remember someone's always watching” - my granddad.

What has helped to keep you at the top of your game for so long? What do you consider the greatest strength of your game now?

My work ethic. I'm extremely driven and motivated to get better, no matter the results. My greatest strength would be my ability to grow and move with the game and with new coaches, or my leadership style, which is all about inclusiveness and a 'team first' mentality.