At time of writing, the Netherlands women have just recorded their 23rd consecutive win. And winning is something that FIH Coach of the Year Alyson Annan knows all about.
Annan has won every accolade as a player. She won Olympic gold with Australia's Hockeyroos in 1996 and 2000 and World Cup gold in 1994 and 1998. Her switch to coaching came when she moved from Australia to the Netherlands, with her first coaching roles in the highly competitive Dutch club scene.
Annan took over Netherlands women’s national team in December 2015, giving her just nine months to prepare her side for the Rio 2016 Olympics. With the retirement of top players such as the 2016 FIH Player of the Year Naomi van As, 2014 FIH Player of the Year Ellen Hoog and the inspirational captain Maartje Paumen, the past few months have seen a lot of rebuilding work going on with the squad.
“It hasn’t always been easy for Alyson,” said Netherlands star midfielder Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel in conversation earlier in the season. “Some very good players retired and we had to get used to a new coaching style. And Alyson had to get to know us.”
Part of that process involved working on her communication styles and Annan herself recounts how, in the early days, she worked with a sports psychologist to improve this element of her coaching. In an innovative twist, the psychologist introduced the hockey coach to a horse and Annan had to learn how to adopt a tone that kept both her and the horse calm.
But now Annan and her coaching style is hitting the jackpot. In the past year, the Netherlands team have remained unbeaten in any major competition. They won the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final in Belgium, conceding just one goal. The Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final in New Zealand got even better as they sailed through without allowing one goal into the net in match time. At the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships, they were imperious, delighting the packed Wagener Stadium in Amsterdam as they reclaimed the title for the ninth time.
Annan’s first game in charge was a 5-1 victory over Germany in the opening match at the 2015 Hockey World League Final. In the most recent test series, against the USA, the Netherlands celebrated an incredible milestone under their coach. Since losing to Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics, the Netherlands have been on a 23 match winning run. As of 2015, Annan has been in charge of the Dutch for just 63 international games. Her record of 51 wins, eight draws and just five defeats, with a scoring average of three goals a game, are ample justification for crowning her 2018 Coach of the Year.