Legacy of hard work and humility for Mark Knowles
KOOKABURRAS captain Mark Knowles has achieved everything possible in the sport he's played his whole life.
The veteran of 269 internationals has played in multiple World Cup, Champions Trophy and Commonwealth Games triumphs, as well as Australia's gold-medal team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Last year, the 31-year-old achieved the highest individual honour in the game, winning the 2014 International Player of the Year award, following some stellar performances in Australia's World Cup-winning team.
But to carry on a legacy of hard work and humility in one of Australia's most successful sporting teams - that is what matters most to him.
"Honestly, I've always been a leader and wanted to do it," Knowles told Australian Regional Media.
"For me, the most important thing is the legacy I hope to leave.
"If I can leave Australian hockey in better shape than when I started in the team, I'll be very proud.
"Captaining my country is such a huge honour and I don't downplay it to anyone."
You only need to look at the Kookaburras' record in the Commonwealth Games to see how good this team has been over the years - gold in all five tournaments it has competed in since 1998.
But staying humble has always been a part of the team's psyche, and Knowles holds that dear to his heart.
"It's born out of not being given everything as a hockey player, so we have to work harder to gain the exposure that other sports get," Knowles said.
"Australian hockey is respected all around the world because of the good, clean image we have.
"It's a big role for me as captain to maintain that image."
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Knowles was taught the value of hard work and humility right from when he first started playing hockey in Rockhampton, aged four.
"Growing up there was amazing," he said.
"My mum, dad and siblings all played and I loved it.
"There were no barriers playing in Rockhampton due to there being too many teams like you'd get in a bigger city, and being from a smaller community makes you feel proud."
He grew up playing with and against five-time World Player of the Year, Australian star Jamie Dwyer, in the same town.
Knowles is also married to Dwyer's sister, Kelly.
Dwyer holds the Kookaburras record for most caps with 345.
"Growing up with Jamie was massive - I've always looked up to him," Knowles said.
"At 36, he's still one of the best players in the world, and when people who are 26 or 28 say they're over it - they should look at what Jamie has done.
"It's amazing for him to have won the world's best player five times, and for two guys from Rocky to win that award - it's unbelievable."
"Our families have such close bonds, and he inspires me to keep getting better."
Indeed, Knowles himself is a committed family man away from his demanding schedule, where he's required to travel the world playing the game he has always loved.
He gives advice to fly-in fly-out working fathers in Perth, where the Kookaburras base themselves for training camps.
"Being away from my family is so hard. I have two boys - a four-year-old and a one-year-old and I'm away four or five months a year," he said.
"So you have to be careful with your work-life balance.
"There are challenges to it and if you don't work at it you can let your standards slip."
Knowles will captain his country again at the Hockey World League Final tournament in Raipur, India, with Australia's first pool match against Belgium on Saturday.
His outfit is expected to be one of the teams to beat.
The No.1-ranked Australia will be joined by top-eight nations Holland, Germany, Argentina, India and Belgium.
The 14th-ranked Canada also qualified for the eight-team competition, along with Great Britain.
"Holland, Germany, Belgium and Great Britain are great teams, Argentina is an emerging power, and India in front of their home crowd is always tough," Knowles said.
"But we've prepared well and if we get it right we're going to be hard to beat."
Knowles added he had been impressed with the work Graham Reid had done over the past year since taking over from one of Australia's most successful coaches, Ric Charlesworth.
"Graham was Ric's assistant for six years, and he brings the same philosophies Ric had," he said.