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Michael Henderson-Sowerby is no ordinary PE Teacher. He’s also the Team Manager for Scotland’s Men’s Hockey Team, and has just returned from the Gold Coast, where he helped lead the team to their highest ever finish in a Commonwealth Games.
Henderson –Sowerby, who made his team debut at a Games in March, has been a Physical Education teacher and hockey coach at Strathallan School in Perthshire for 2 years. He balances his role in the national side with a busy schedule of work at Strathallan, but believes the benefits from both are huge;
“You have to be on top of your game to do both jobs well,” he said. “Organisation is crucial, as is adaptability.
“Organising the team for the Commonwealth Games is basically like organising a big School trip
– except with adults – which is probably harder!
“In terms of a teaching and performance environment, I work in one at Strathallan on a daily basis, and I find I can relate well to the pace of an international set up. When I’m at a big event like the one in Australia, I enjoy watching the training methods of other coaches and management teams. Taking different things out of this is important. We are
working alongside lots of different nationalities and cultures, and it’s really interesting to see how they manage and progress. Although I’m always on the look out for ideas
to utilise in my own practice, more often than not it is reaffirming to see teams looking to implement the same ideas and principles that we have at Strathallan.”
It may be hard to believe, but for Henderson-Sowerby, accepting the role as Team Manager of the men’s Hockey Team was not a straight forward decision. It involved much soul searching on whether the job would be too full-on to combine with his role as a teacher at Strathallan;
“I actually had to think pretty hard about the role on the Gold Coast, because I knew, alongside working in a boarding school, it would be all consuming. Managing can often be a pretty thankless task, because ultimately, you’re organising everyone, and sometimes, you have to let people down. It has, however, been a privilege to contribute to a positive, performance environment, working with the different support staff to help minimise unnecessary distractions for the athletes and ensure provisions are in place to maximise performance. A bit like managing the day to day life of our busy pupils. Pleasingly, the men’s
team members couldn’t have been more complimentary or grateful for the help I had to offer. I get a lot out of that. I like to help other people, and it’s great to see it making a significant difference to them. I get more from that than having the role itself.”
Henderson-Sowerby says the positive team ethos and sense
of participation is one he’s now looking to utilise and expand
upon in his teaching methods
at Strathallan; “It’s great to be
able to bring this experience back and use it on the pitch or in the classroom at Strathallan. The pupils here are really engaged with what we’re doing, and they enjoy the professionalism and international experience we can offer.
It’s clear that for the 29 year old, the importance of teaching and inspiring others is crucial. Starting his teaching life at Pangbourne College, where he was assistant Housemaster and Hockey Coach, Henderson-Sowerby went on to Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School in Marlow, where his pupils trained on the same pitch as the one used by Great Britain. This, he said, was a big bonus for those he coached at School level;
“We were really lucky. We used Bisham Abbey, where GB Hockey train, as our second pitch. It was really inspirational for the young people to see them in action. It made achieving that kind of level, more attainable.”
Now a valued member of the
Sports Department at Strathallan, Henderson-Sowerby said he was grateful for the flexibility the School has afforded him on International matters;
“In terms of day to day admin for Scotland, I do it in my own time. However, with large events such as the World League 3 last year, it was important I was there to fulfil my role as best I could. It was great that the School allowed me to do that.”
Strathallan’s PE Department, meanwhile, see Henderson- Sowerby’s experience as hugely inspiring, and believe that his time abroad can only be a positive thing for the pupils he coaches at home in Scotland. Audrey Sime, Director of Sport at Strathallan, said, “For the School, it’s a great honour to have someone of Michael’s calibre taking part in the Games. We reap huge benefits from it. Even just chatting to pupils about it is inspirational. He picks things up that they do at the
top level, and brings it back in to a School environment. We’re really proud of him and are delighted to see him doing so well.
“I worked as a coach during
the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006, so I know what it’s like to take part in these kind of events. He’s getting real experience of pathways, and that is fantastic for our players here. Pupils can get shared experiences, and can see that there are opportunities out there
for those who want to get in to management or coaching.
“Michael is very good at staying calm under pressure. I can totally see why they chose him for the role. He takes everything in his stride.
“I still look back on my time in Melbourne with fond memories. It’s a fantastic experience and we would never stand in the way of anyone who wanted to do something similar.”
Under Ms Sime’s Directorship, hockey at Strathallan has continued to go from strength to strength.
The sport is available to all pupils, and from age 9-U15 level, every child has the opportunity to represent the School. There are 12 Boys’ teams and 12 Girls’ teams, and first class facilities for those looking to get involved.
The School are currently runners up in the National U18 Girls Indoor Championship, and are Junior Scottish Hockey Plate Champions.
Henderson-Sowerby is hoping for this success to continue apace. He’s adamant, however, that achievement does not come from winning, alone. And he believes that it’s crucial to instill that sense of enjoyment in sport in pupils, from an early age;
“Scotland’s men had a fantastic Commonwealth Games. The
team did not medal, but their progress has been impressive. They eventually finished 6th, but went into the Games ranked 9th, so
we’re all delighted with how the players performed. The celebrations afterwards were pretty fun and quite rightly so, it’s important to recognise your successes before moving forwards.
“Enjoying sport is so important. I’m a big believer in that. If people are happy and relaxed, they’re more likely to achieve their best result.
“When you see those pupils you have coached, both developing and progressing, there’s nothing better. Even if it’s just a small personal achievement. That’s why we do it.”
Commonwealth Games
Strathallan Hockey Coach Michael Henderson-Sowerby, on bringing Commonwealth Games experience to coaching in a school environment.
  Triathlete’s ‘Amazing’ Gold Coast 2018 Experience
 A triathlon scholar from Beaconhurst School near Stirling was part of the Scotland squad for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Sophia Green, 18, travelled to the Australian Gold Coast after being selected as reserve for the four- strong triathlon mixed relay team.
Although she didn’t have the chance to compete, it was an “amazing” opportunity for the teenager who has now set her sights on winning a place to represent Scotland at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Sophia said: “It was amazing to be over there training with the triathlon squad and meeting all the other Team Scotland athletes.
“We had a week preparing together on the Sunshine Coast before heading to the Gold Coast and it was great to be in that
team environment and meet gymnasts, netball players and other Scottish athletes.”
Sophia had the chance to watch the mixed relay team – made up of Erin Wallace, Beth Potter, Marc Austin and Grant Sheldon – come 7th in the competition.
She was also delighted to see Marc take the bronze medal for Scotland in the Men’s Individual event.
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