In the second of his "women in coaching" feature stories, Steve Jaspan - Chairman of the FIH High Performance and Coaching Advisory Panel - profiles Karen Brown, the former England and Great Britain defender who has played a key role in helping England rise from 11th in the world rankings into a team that is regularly among the medals at hockey's biggest events.
There can be few people better placed to comment on the rise of the England Women’s National Team than Karen Brown.
As a peerless player – the most capped England and Great Britain women’s player in history with 355 caps – she marshalled the defence and lead by example.
Her achievements as a player include winning Olympic Bronze, European Gold, Silver and Bronze (x3) and Commonwealth Silver during a playing career that spanned an amazing 15 years.
But having decided to hang up her stick she took a complete break from hockey – but only for 18 months. In retrospect the break was vital in the transition from player to coach as it refreshed and re-energised her.
She was approached by an England Hockey Coach to help the Under 18 team,and she caught the coaching bug. She then coached a club team that had just been promoted to the top division and ended up coaching them for six seasons culminating in them winning a silver medal at the European Club Championships. A new chapter began in 2005 – as a coach employed by England hockey.
This was the start of a remarkable period in which she became Assistant National Coach, working with Danny Kerry, and saw the England and Great Britain team rise from 11th to 4th in the World Ranking with the cherry on the top - a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. The 2014 Rabobank Hockey World Cup in The Hague and the 2016 Rio Olympics lie ahead as a wonderful challenge like the snowy peaks of Mount Everest.
Karen believes the 2012 Olympics and the twelve month build-up to the Games are undoubtedly the highlight of her coaching career, thus far.
But a career in coaching comes with challenges and she found that patiently allowing athletes to grow and develop with longer term development in mind was a real challenge.This has also become one of the most rewarding and inspirational aspects of coaching for Karen.
She was part of the UK Sports Elite Coaching Programme from 2005 to 2008 and completed a post graduate diploma in Elite Coaching.
Thus she was armed with a broad understanding not only of coaching but of longer term player development and the specialists needed in such programmes.
Karen has no illusions about coaching as a job. She points out that it is very competitive and there are limited opportunities, maybe only 40 full time national coaches internationally with many aspirants.
“I do believe, however, that in the next 5 – 10 years more ex-players and female coaches will emerge at the highest level, but more fast track coaching courses and career pathing needs to be set up to acquire the skill sets for this very demanding profession”
The bottom line is hockey is very fortunate to have this brilliant former international player coaching and mentoring young British players.
Karen is currently with the England team at the Argentina Hockey World League Final in San Miguel de Tucuman. To find out more about this tournament, click here!
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