SOUTHGATE PEOPLE – Mike Williamson- Head Coach of M1’s

Mike it’s great to have you at Southgate. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.  

You’ve joined us for what must have already been an interesting first season. I wondered what’s it been like coping with the off- field challenges and the stop start nature of the season?  

It has undoubtedly been challenging for everyone. Players’ availability has been affected by isolation and travel restrictions and of course lots of other issues around use of the clubhouse facilities and many more! Our manager (Sparky) has done a great job of keeping us informed of all the regulations and of course the squad have made best of the difficult circumstances. 

Could you tell us a bit more about your journey from being a player (for Hounslow I think?) into coaching? 

Yes, I was lucky to play in a super Hounslow team but while playing I coached teams at lower levels and started with Maidenhead. I taught at the local comprehensive and encouraged the kids to go and play at the club and eventually played there as well for a really enjoyable couple of years culminating in winning the South League by 13 points. By that stage, quite a few of the lads from the comprehensive were playing in the first team. 

I believe you started as a player coach when you took over the Welsh International team- which must have been challenging (at least according to Wayne Rooney and Derby FC!) how did you enjoy that experience? 

I was only 26 and not the most experienced player (and certainly not the best either!) It was meant to be for an interim period, but we ended up on such a good run that it went on for nearly two years until I felt that we needed someone off-pitch. There were some older and more experienced players in the group and we actually had some amazing results. In some ways having the team led from within helped to strengthen the bonds. I also ended up in the same position much later for the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia and a couple of years later at 37, I was back taking the team yet again, but this time without playing and now able to stand back and see the whole picture with more clarity!  

You’ve coached teams all over the country, achieved great success including taking Reading to being premier league champions for two successive years. What have been the highlights for you? 

As well as the successes in winning titles, the satisfaction is in seeing players go on to enjoy and succeed in the game. The highlights always come from seeing long-term improvement, so coaching in schools is enjoyable because it is the challenge of working with the people put in front of you and seeing development over 6 or 7 years: not just as players but as people as well. The longer and more arduous the journey, the more special it is if you reach a summit at some point.  

Back to Southgate- what are your ambitions for the M1’s squad over the coming months? 

 We do not know what the league will look like, but want to see the players back on the pitch: enjoying their hockey and expressing themselves. If we can get some flow and continuity going, we might challenge for the league. Though we have dropped points, we are certainly not out of contention.  

We’ve got some quality players here at the club, but for you what makes a great performance player 

 Mentality and intelligence are probably the key components because they drive the improvements in other aspects of a player’s game. For some, this is the inner drive which pushes them to train well, overcome disappointments and do the hard yards for the team. For others, it is a quiet intelligence to stay ‘in the moment’ in matches, maintain focus and make good decisions under pressure. I think there are some really good examples of these attributes among the 1st XI squad.

What have you enjoyed about coaching here at Southgate? 

The squad are a very good group to work with and Sparky, our manager has been brilliant in helping the show run smoothly. It has been good to see many friendly and enthusiastic players in meeting lower teams and youth players. I look forward to the day when the balcony can be full of members with a drink in hand enjoying seeing the lads play in what is an excellent facility.  

Elite Hockey seems to be at in interesting cross roads with International games now being regularly featured on BTSports and premier league games increasingly streamed online.  Given that do you think the sport might move away from its amateur roots in the coming years? 

The game is essentially an amateur one, but in the higher levels of the game, there are increasing opportunities for talented players to pursue ambitions in the sport alongside or before pursuing other careers. Clubs must adapt to be attractive to the best players while also staying ‘honest’ to what club hockey should be.  

Finally away from hockey how have you found the latest lockdown and what when not in lockdown when not coaching hockey how do you like to spend your time? 

Funnily enough the lockdown meant us spending more time together as a family with wife Pauline and our university-age sons Owen and Conor (though they have rarely seen before noon!). I really enjoy the outdoors, so cycling, running, bad golf and good music.