In the second of our Coaches Corner series, we meet Adam Commens and Niels Thiessen who have been behind the rise of Belgium women up the FIH Hero World Rankings.
Currently sitting at 13 in the rankings, Belgium's Red Panthers are the third lowest ranked side in the draw for this year’s World Cup but this is a nation that took silver at the hotly contested 2017 Rabobank EuroHockey Championships and is highly ambitious to break into the top 10.
Commens is High Performance Director, a position he has held for more than a year after he left his position as Head Coach of the Australian women’s team. He has a clear vision for the team.
“For the past few years the national women’s team has been attempting to follow in the footsteps of the men’s national team. In terms of weekly training structure there is not much difference, so the progression should be there if we have a consistent focus on delivering quality in all that we do.”
To help with the development of skills, the Belgium Hockey Federation has employed a team of knowledgeable staff – working in physical preparation, goalkeeping and penalty corner specialists. The impact of this, says Commens is to: “Help us understand the benchmarks we need to be achieving to compete at the top level.”
“If we are going to build a team that can deliver sustained success there are many areas of our play that we must improve. We need to be technically better and physically better."
Adam Commens, Association Royale Belge de Hockey High Performance Director
The Australian acknowledges the progress the team as already made but he is determined to keep pushing the team to achieve higher.
“If we are going to build a team that can deliver sustained success there are many areas of our play that we must improve. We need to be technically better and physically better. This may sound very broad, but if you are to apply pressure to teams with an attacking style of play, you need the technical and physical ability within to team to achieve this.
“Every session, every week, in every month, is important to achieving incremental gains in these areas and the expertise of the staff that are working with the players is vital in achieving this.”
Thiessen, who is Head Coach to the group, is in total agreement and so physical preparation is an area on which he has been working intensely with the group: “Since our re-start at the end of September 2017 the team worked hard on that part of the game.
“Coming into the Spring now, we see improvement in different areas, but at the same time we need to be realistic. To get close to the top six in the world on that physical level, our programme needs more than six months. It’s not only the hard work in the gym, but also the lifestyle we try to improve as a group.
“Being an athlete for 365 days a year, and sustaining that over many years is what will get our players and programme to the next step. So yes, we are happy with the improvements made and will continue to work hard in the last months before the World Cup, where we will take a few more important steps.”
Of course, it is not purely physical and skill-based preparation. The players must also be mentally prepared for the tough challenges ahead. For Thijssen, it is all about being prepared as a group to face whatever is thrown their way.
“We must think ahead together about challenges we are going to face. And then we discuss and decide together how we want to approach those challenges. It is about anticipating difficult situations before they occur, so they are less of a surprise when they actually turn up. And preparing for the unexpected, that is also preparing!”
In the coming months the Belgium team will be getting as many high quality practice matches under its belt as possible. Prior to the Vitality Women’s World Cup the team will face tough test matches against the host nation England, China and Japan – all of whom are higher ranked and potential opponents in London. They will also be playing the ever-improving Chile national team.
For Thijssen and Commens, this is a long term project and the key is to always make sure the direction of travel is forwards. “We are on track,” says Thijssen. “Of course, we constantly mirror and look back to times where we did well and where we could have done better. By doing that we keep our focus on improving as much as we can for the World Cup and beyond.”
TICKETS: Tickets for some matches at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018 are still available.