They come to the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 as the number one side in the world and reigning champions. But where many teams have been building towards the competition for the past few months, even years, that is not the case with The Netherlands.
“This year has been a very different preparation for us,” says Head Coach Alyson Annan.
“We had two weeks in January, a few days together in March and two other weekends together. It was just two weeks ago we started preparations for the World Cup.”
Those preparations include a Four-Nations tournament against Spain, Japan and China that has been running alongside the Rabobank Men’s Hockey Champions Trophy in Breda, and it was from that event that we caught up with the Oranje Head Coach.
Annan, who has two World Cup gold medals herself from her playing days with Australia's Hockeyroos, explained that the Dutch national players are contracted to their clubs as it is the clubs who pay their wages. This means the Dutch national team and club system relies on a good and understanding relationship between the national team Head Coach and the clubs within the Dutch hockey league.
“We have no concerns, we will be in great place by the time it is the World Cup"
Alyson Anna, Netherlands Head Coach
It also means that Annan is left trying to put her ideas and plans in place over a short period of time. Fortunately, in the past two years, the squad members and their Head Coach have built a solid and trusting relationship, which has allowed Annan to implement her ideas.
The long, unbeaten run enjoyed by the Netherlands, that goes back to their loss in the final of the 2016 Olympic Games, is testimony of just how developed and cohesive this team of players has become.
And Annan has an innate understanding of how to handle her hugely talented squad. Despite the small window of time she has between now and the World Cup, she is not going to rush things. As she explains, trying to go from nothing to a very intensive programme would overwhelm the players. Her emphasis is upon getting the squad to work together and think along the same lines. She is also remarkably understanding that club’s requirements take precedence over the national team’s needs.
“Sure, it’s not a lot of time with the squad. We had to take a few things into account, such as the fact they were playing two games a week with their club. We questioned how much focus we would get with them if they were training with the club twice a week and then having to turn their attention to the national system.
“It is not possible to run a national programme alongside the demands of club hockey. The alternative would have been some weeks of seeing them for a session, other weeks not seeing them because of club commitments. That just wasn’t smooth or consistent enough. Now we are trying to keep it as smooth as possible so the girls can transition into the national squad programme smoothly.”
Annan, who was the 2017 FIH Hockey Stars Coach of the Year (Women) has been carefully building a balanced squad. She has a wealth of talent at her disposal but for her, the perfect team comprises flair players, hardworking players and players with a high regard for team structure. As she says, it is not necessarily the best 11 players who are on the pitch, it is the combination of players that will allow the team to work most effectively.
And it is this fine tuning of the team so everyone understands their role within it that Annan and her coaching staff will be undertaking between now and their opening fixture in London against Korea.
“Sure, the preparations have been different this year, but the players have experienced the big occasion, in the Hockey World League Finals and at the Rabo EuroHockey Championships 2017, so they are used to playing in front of big crowds and handling pressure.
“We have no concerns, we will be in great place by the time it is the World Cup.”
The Netherlands are playing in Pool A at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup, London 2018. They face Korea, China and Italy in their pool.
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