Confident, sometimes bordering on arrogant, determined to succeed, and wholly at ease with talk of such things as sports psychology and personal development, Kenny Bain is very much part of a new generation of Scottish sportsmen and women not readily given to accepting failure.
Bain emerged as the wunderkind of Scottish hockey some four years ago, aged 15 and now has 36 senior caps for his country. Along the way he has been top scorer for Great Britain in the under-21 Olympics, won copious amounts of silverware with his club, Kelburne, and earned something of a reputation as the Scottish game’s enfant terrible.
It has all been accompanied by a commendable can-do attitude: not for Bain, or indeed his 17-year-old team-mate Alan Forsyth, the circumspection of yesterday’s Scottish sporting hopefuls.
“Just now Kenny’s on 12 goals for Kelburne this season and I’m on 10 so there’s a bit of a personal competition,” says Forsyth, who recently earned his first two senior caps and has travelled with Russell Garcia’s squad to New Zealand for the World Cup qualifying tournament which Scotland get underway against China on Saturday. “I fancy myself to beat him, though, you’ve always got to fancy yourself in these things.”
“A cheeky wee bugger”, is how Bain describes the youngest member of a very young Scotland squad, but he recognises in Forsyth something of his own hunger and desire – traits which in 2005 helped him to get shortlisted for the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year Award. “The way Alan’s going I don’t really care who scores more, but then I’m already ahead anyway,” he laughs. “It’s good to have that confidence in yourself and that arrogance at this age. He’s only going to get better.”
Garcia, who took over as coach recently following the resignation of his fellow Englishman Jon Royce, and who played in three Olympics (including Seoul, where he picked up a gold medal), has chosen to fast-track a new generation of players for this tournament. The 39-year-old has had his options limited with some senior regulars injured or unavailable, but has opted to make a virtue of necessity. Besides Forsyth, Inverleith’s John Harris and Grange’s Wei Adams – both of whom were capped for the first time last month – have travelled.
After their first game against China, Scotland will take on New Zealand, Malaysia, Austria and Wales, with only one place in the finals in Delhi in March up for grabs. Only Wales are below Scotland in the international rankings so outright victory is unlikely, but there is plenty to play for in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, also in Delhi, 11 months from now.
“It’s more of an experience thing rather than expecting to go out and win it,” said Bain. “Obviously we’ll try our hardest but it’s more about getting the young players in and getting them experience because there’s a long programme ahead of us and I think it’s a pretty good idea what Russell’s trying to do.”
Bain is aware that he is now looked on as a mainstay rather than as a novice. “Compared to some of the other guys I have a lot of experience,” he reflected. “I’ve been to a lot of tournaments like the youth Olympics, so I kind of know what to expect.
“I was 15 when I played under-21 and I made my senior debut at 16. It’s quite hard coming through so quickly – I hit a bit of a plateau this year and I met with my coaches to work out how to take things to the next level. I’m starting to recognise how hard you have to work for things if you want to succeed. I’m putting a lot of effort in because I want to make the most of my ability; it’s about so much more than just having talent if you want to be playing at the highest level.
“But I’m feeling good about the way I’m playing and I’ve been on good form going into this tournament. I’d like to go abroad next year and play, and I want to go to the Olympics in 2012, which is really not that far away now. I need to stay fit and stay in contention.”
Bain does have the baggage of an unenviable disciplinary record and even had a Kris Boyd-style hissy fit on Scotland duty recently, although insiders claim it lasted only a couple of hours. He is currently suspended for Kelburne because of accumulated bookings, but insists he is starting to mature in his approach.
“I’m losing that side of my game,” he says. “I realise that I need to knuckle down; I’m only 19 but I feel as if I’m one of the older players in the team so I need to start acting more mature.
“I’m doing a bit of psychology stuff with the Scottish Institute of Sport, and Russell’s doing a bit of work with me on how to get the right mental focus.
“I’ll never lose my competitive edge in a game or the ability to get in about defences and get stuck in, but I need to try and channel that energy and when I see the red mist come down channel it into the way I play and keep up my performance throughout a game rather than just playing well in spells.”
Bain and Forsyth – a student of sport science and apprentice ceiling fixer respectively – both harbour ambitions of playing full-time abroad. As their Kelburne and Scotland team-mate, 22-year-old right-back Michael Christie, pointed out: “It’s very hard to compete against top opposition, against guys who are basically full-time in the game. With Kelburne we were in Barcelona last month and lost heavily, but it’s a learning experience and you want to be playing in those games and at that level to get where you want to be.”
Besides talent in abundance and a natural scorer’s instinct, Bain has a self-awareness and mental toughness that should stand him in good stead wherever he ends up playing his hockey.
“I don’t think I’ve achieved anything in the game yet,” he said. “People think I’m doing well, but I have a long way to go.”