Patrick Tshutshani hasn’t been home in over two years.
He said he misses his mother, Mirriam, most of all. He misses his sister, Porcia, his nephew, nieces and close friends and family.
When Team Canada qualified for the Junior World Cup last month in Santiago, the celebration was a mix of whooping, laughter, and dancing. One of the audible chants, following their semi-final win over Chile, was, “bring Patty home!”
And they are.
Like most coaches, Tshutshani wanted to keep the spotlight on the athletes. For him, this accomplishment is their accomplishment, and he is happy to help facilitate their success and work with the young athletes. But even he admits there was an extra special feeling to this win.
“There’s nothing like home for me — the beautiful hot weather, a great braai (South African BBQ), and the quality time with friends and family,” he said. “December is typically a time to spend with family. It will be good to connect with them and my old mates.”
Tshutshani grew up in Lady Grey, South Africa, a rural town in the Eastern Cape, with a population of around seven thousand. He moved to Johannesburg for school and discovered his passion for sports. He played cricket, soccer and ran track and cross country. It was at school where he also discovered field hockey.
He gravitated to the coaching side of the game and found a home behind the bench working with the provincial junior athletes in his early twenties. He then made the jump to working with the national junior teams in South Africa.
Patrick Tshutshani worked with junior and senior South African national teams. Photos/Provided
He worked as a video analyst at the 2009 Junior World Cup in Boston when he was only 25 years old. He was an assistant coach at the 2013 Junior World Cup in Germany and then was the head coach at the Junior World Cup in 2016 in Santiago.
Now, as the NextGen Director and Junior Head Coach for Team Canada, he’s heading back to the Junior World Cup at the helm of the newly-minted Pan American Champions.
Tshutshani’s journey in Canada started in 2019 when he was appointed NextGen director. He started his process by going coast to coast, identifying athletes in BC and Ontario and spending time assessing the environment. He assembled a NextGen team to support national training centres in Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto. For him, the first step was to establish a focused and consistent training environment across the different centres. This meant traveling to and from Victoria and Vancouver at least three-four times per month. Toronto centre lead by the Women’s NextGen staff based in Ontario.
“For me, the most important thing is the consistency of the content, language and instilling the appropriate performance behaviours,” he said. “I wanted to set a new standard for training in our environment. And keeping tabs on the continual growth [across the country].”
Most of the 80 NextGen athletes attended a training tour in Chula Vista in February 2020. At this tour, he was able to evaluate the group as a whole and start to build the competition within the group.
Led by Tshutshani, the NextGen group took their training online, establishing a virtual training environment. He said the unpredicted benefit of this was the connection. The athletes and staff were finding connections during a time of isolation, and it was making the group a tighter unit.
“We had to take our time to re-assess and determine how best to connect with the athletes to make sure we aren’t losing the language,” Tshutshani said. “So, we created a virtual learning environment. We’d pick topics and work on them together. It was a critical component for us. We started to connect more as a group during that time. People want to feel connected.”
As was the case for many international competitions, the Junior Pan American Championships was postponed until 2021. Tshutshani worked with his group in the virtual setting and on-field when safe and allowed by Canadian regulations.
When Tshutshani and his coaching staff brought 40 athletes together for the June selection camp, it was as much about getting the whole cohort together as it was about selecting the best team.
Tshutshani said at the time, “It’s a great chance to evaluate the JPAC potentials within our NextGen group, especially after a long time apart,” he said. “It’s exciting for them to be training and competing with this full group again. You can tell they’ve been enthusiastic to get back on the field and play together.”
That enthusiasm boiled over into the team that went down to Chile last month. Tshutshani said this was one of the most unique and special groups he had been a part of. The success they experienced in Chile was a product of their preparation and connectedness.
“Going into Chile, we were confident in where we were. We knew we had to be on the podium at the end of the tournament,” he said. “Sometimes in teams, there are personality clashes or problems. Not with this team. They completely gelled and meshed. It was a really unique and mature group.”
The storm has settled since their historic Pan Am gold and now the coaching staff and athletes have their eyes set on the World Cup in December. For Tshutshani, he hopes the Junior World Cup experience will influence the athletes that attend, but also the ones coming up the pipeline.
“This is a great opportunity for these girls to test themselves against the world’s best at this age group,” he said. “It’s also great for the youngsters that are coming up in the program. Young girls can see what it’s like. They can envision themselves playing in the Junior World Cup. Younger athletes seeing this team do well is important. It gives a spark and a fire.”
Although Tshutshani is not overlooking the JWC, he is already thinking longer term about what he wants to accomplish with the NextGen program. He envisions the training environments getting stronger, he wants to evaluate what’s working and what needs improvement and make those changes moving forward.
It’s only fitting that we celebrate Patrick and his achievements during coaches week. He’s been a key community member in Canada since 2019 and has aspirations for the future of Canadian hockey. We look forward to celebrating all coaches in Canada this week. Use the hashtag #ThanksCoach and #FHCteamofteams to join the community this week in saying Thanks Coach!