Rob Leslie was starting to look at his watch more than an hour into the Tauranga Hockey Association AGM when he got more than he bargained for.

To the delight of the people present, the man who has been coaching and nurturing young players at Tauranga Boys' College for 35 years was announced as the association's newest life member.

"All of a sudden this awful photo of me appeared up on the screen. I don't know where they dragged it from. Jill [Gemming] got up as president and made a little speech," Leslie said.

"I was really quite chuffed but surprised as well. It means a lot as acknowledgement, I guess, of a fair amount of effort over a good number of years. I don't do it for any sort of recognition but nice to think that what you are doing is recognised as worthy."


It is hard to think of anyone in the sport who deserves such an honour more. The fact Tauranga Boys' is fielding a record 10 teams this winter speaks volumes for the impact the master in charge of hockey has had on promoting the sport.

Hockey is ingrained in the Leslie family's DNA.

His grandmother Myrtle Pearce scored the first international goal for New Zealand in 1914 and was one of six sisters who played for Canterbury. His mother June Leslie also played for New Zealand in a test series in England in 1953 while younger sister played for New Zealand at Masters level.

At this month's Commonwealth Games, cousin Chris Leslie was the assistant coach of the gold medal-winning Black Sticks women team.

Leslie began playing hockey for the South Canterbury Club in Timaru at the ground partly funded by his grandfather that was named Leslie Park.

He came to Tauranga in 1979 to take up a teaching position at Tauranga Boys' and, aside from a stint or two teaching overseas, has been an integral part of the school's sporting and academic faculty ever since.

There are so many notable achievements over that time, but helping nurture the early development of future Black Sticks Steve Graham and Andy Hayward is right up there.

But that is not what makes Leslie most proud.

"What they have done is fantastic, but we get a number of young guys who have never played hockey before who are coming into the game and some of those guys push through into second and first elevens.

"That is really neat that side of things," he said.

Without any doubt, the biggest shake-up to hit hockey in a positive manner has been the introduction of artificial turf to play on rather than grass or mud as it often became in the winter.

"It has been a huge game-changer as far as the game is concerned," Leslie said.

"The game today is so very fast and the range of skills that guys have got is astounding to see. What the young kid can do today with a ball on the end of a stick is based on having a smooth surface."