In this week's Coaches Corner, we meet a man who sees virtue in making mistakes, so long as the players learn from the experience.
A David and Goliath scenario pitting the highest against the lowest ranked team is just one of the many intriguing encounters we can look forward to at the Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup, London.
Italy women start their Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 campaign with a tough fixture against China (FIH Hero World Ranking: 8). They will then play another Asia giant, Korea (WR:9) before the toughest challenge of them all – an encounter with the world number one team and reigning World Cup champions, the Netherlands.
For Italy (WR:17), this is their first appearance at a World Cup since 1976, when they finished in 10th place but, as anyone who saw them compete at the 2017 FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Brussels will testify, this is a team that has definitely earned its place among the world’s elite.
For Coach Roberto Carta, competing at the World Cup is another opportunity for this ambitious hockey team to progress and grow.
“The players are immensely proud to put on the national shirt and represent their country,” he says. “When they competed at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals, they were really appreciated for their style of play and skills. They want to keep improving their play with each competition. We are aiming to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, so the World Cup is another chance to learn how to play against the best sides in the world.”
Over the past few months the team has been ramping up its preparations. Unlike many of the sides they will face in London, Italy does not run a centralised programme so the players have been doing a lot of their training on their own or in clusters. But for the three months leading up to July, the preparations – physical, tactical and psychological – will become more intense and, by the start of the competition, says Carta, the team will be 100 per cent ready for the challenge ahead.
"Every match can be seen as a victory whether you win or lose, so long as you have learnt from it."
Roberto Carta, Italy Head Coach
Preparations in the lead-up to the World Cup will include a number of international matches against Scotland, Russia, France, Germany, Ireland and Argentina.
International competition against these teams is vital, says Carta. He knows that the World Cup will see his team playing top 10-ranked sides that have much more high level playing experience.
Any opportunity to play against other nations, and experience different styles of play is vital if Italy are to hold their own.
The final practice match, in London, will pit Carta’s team against Japan. This will give his side valuable experience of playing at the iconic venue. It also allows his players to pit their style of play against the distinctive Asian style of play, ahead of their opening matches against China and Korea.
The Italian coach takes a very pragmatic approach to his team’s performances. He believes that every experience – good or bad – provides an opportunity to learn and progress, so long as players recognise and address any mistakes that are made.
“The preparation matches in the next few months are very important because they will be very tough. We will make lots of mistakes but the important thing is that we learn from those mistakes. Every match can be seen as a victory whether you win or lose, so long as you have learnt from it. For me, making a mistake means finding a solution to ensure the same error is never made again.”
In an event situation, this approach works well. It means a team can improve as the tournament progresses, ironing out problems and finding solutions along the way.
Does this mean his team, with two pool matches under their belt, will prove a threat to the Netherlands? “There is no such thing as perfection and every team can be beaten,” is Carta’s defiant reply.
To see the full playing schedule for the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, London 2018, click .