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Saints in South Africa for pre-season workout

  • Wednesday, October 20 2004 @ 09:24 pm ACST
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As part of their preparation for the 2004 season, the St Kilda football club undertook a two-week training camp in London, an innovative approach which the Saints believe greatly helped them to their explosive start to the year just played.

Such was the success that the Saints are doing it again, but this time heading to Potchefstroom, South Africa, taking advantage of world-class training facilities as well as the chance to expose the players to the challenges faced by the South African people.

World Footy News' Aaron Richard talks with St Kilda coach Grant Thomas.

"The basic philosophy behind these tours is that you give the players a broader base of experience. Quite often league footballers can play their careers almost in a bubble - we want to give them some world experience they otherwise might not get" Thomas says. "On the training track we can develop players physically, but this is also about developing their maturity and giving them an edge mentally. Ultimately, it benefits the players and the club."

As part of their plans, the Saints will use world-class facilities in the university town of Potchefstroom, near Johannesburg, where specialised high-altitude training is run for athletes from around the world, the town being located more than 1,500 meters above sea level. Players will also tour locations such as Soweto, where Thomas says the players will be confronted by the sorts of challenges faced in day-to-day life by poorer South Africans. "The players have had their own challenges over the past few years, but this is a way of seeing the massive challenges faced by the South African people over the past few decades and how they're overcoming them".

The Saints will also be organising clinics with black South African youths, with Thomas mentioning that the AFL are hoping for a big push into South Africa. "It's a similar concept to the community camps that we hold early in the year - it benefits us as a club but also allows us to give something back to the community". The Saints will hold clinics in towns across the North West Province, where clubs and competitions have already been established in townships such as Mafeking. "We'll be holding clinics with over 1,000 youths. There are plans in place for a strong push into South Africa, currently there are over 3,500 young South Africans playing footy. They're hoping they can start in another province and get over 5,000 playing nation-wide, this means they can receive funding from the South African government. This target they're aiming for by next March".

Thomas didn't get a chance to see any grassroots football on his short pre-camp visit to the base in South Africa, but he is very interested to see how the code progresses. "It's very tough for youths in South Africa to break into sports like cricket, rugby or soccer. The facilities and equipment can be hard to come by, and the opportunities can be very limited. Footy can offer kids who might not get a chance to play anything a go at something new".

"We've already got a relationship with the Japanese league, the boys from the Japanese team wear the Saints colours and came along to training sessions and pre-game session with the Saints last year, but there's a possibility for us to foster a second nation. So in future there may be a relationship between the Saints and both Japan and South Africa".