Just over two years ago Pascal Kina took over the Red Panthers, the Belgium women's national hockey team, and the experienced coach has nothing but praise for the support he has received from the national federation since. He knows that he has some catching up to do with the national men's team – in his words "We are eight years behind, but we are catching up quickly," – but there are signs that the women's team is making healthy progress and growing in confidence.
"I would give the squad a six or seven out of 10 on all areas, tactical, technical and physical, there is some fine tuning to do, we need to get to eight," says Pascal. "To move up the world rankings we need to improve a little in all these areas. But look, this is a very young team, there is an average age of 22 and they are learning. We have other young girls coming through, but we can't bring too many young players in because we need maturity in the team as well."
When we spoke, Belgium had suffered a 2-1 loss to Korea, who are currently ranked five places above them. "We did well. We were physically better than them in the second half, and this is all international experience."
As the countdown to the World Cup continues, Belgium have a series of friendly games lined up, plus a camp. Pascal sees the team twice a week, every week, and has done so throughout the year.
"This is only our second world level tournament, we know we are in a tough pool (Belgium are in a pool with the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Japan) but I think we come into this at a level where we will make it difficult for any team we play. The biggest thing for the team is that they are hungry, that is the best thing about our team. We haven't won anything yet, so we want to win."
Pascal explains what has been happening in Belgium in the past few years to give both men's and women's hockey a boost. "We started to put a proper structure in place at all national age levels, so we start at u15, then move up and work with all the elite groups. It is a pyramid structure. The hockey federation is so well organised and structured that it is spreading through the clubs as well."
Pascal has a coaching team of nine people. Many of these people are also involved in coaching other teams within the federation. "The support I get from the federation is very professional and that is why we are doing so well. Whatever team it is, they are being coached by a top professional and it wasn't always like that."
The area that needs improvement now, according to the national coach, is the domestic league. "If we can improve our club structure then that will strengthen the national team. It is happening, particularly on the men's side, but it is taking time, too long for my liking."
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