Janneke Schopman is one of only two women working as Head Coach within the top tier of international hockey.
The former Dutch defender was Head Coach to the USA national women’s team before moving to, first assistant, then Head Coach to India women.
Schopman took up the reins at Hockey India following the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and has been building and developing the team since. Currently, her team are involved in the FIH Hockey Pro League and are in third place following victories over China and Spain.
As we continue our series of interviews celebrating International Women’s Day, Schopman spoke with real conviction about the need for people to follow their dreams and to go for opportunities as they present themselves. And, says the Olympic gold medallist from 2008, always be prepared to learn from every experience.
‘It is an honour to be a Head Coach at this level, says Schopman as she reflects on her current position as the Head Coach of India women. ‘I am coaching with great pride in a great country. I hope people recognise that this is a great opportunity and mine is a lesson that if you want something, you should definitely go for it.
‘It’s not really just about coaching, it’s about goals in every sphere sport or work. If you don’t reach your goals, that doesn’t matter, what is more important is that you try.’
With her own players, Schopman’s approach is to encourage them to explore their own ambitions, both on and off the field of play.
‘I ask them “what are their own qualities, what do they love to do?” These are things they might want to pursue in later life. Figure out what you want, because you can do whatever you want.’
Schopman’s own role is undoubtedly a high pressure one. Both with USA and Hockey India, her performance is constantly under scrutiny, but the Dutch woman would have it no other way. She has received a lot of advice on how to deal with pressure, notably turning to mindfulness techniques.
‘I love coaching but there are other things in life. I have learnt to accept my flaws, particularly my impatience and my perfectionism, and to give myself more space.’
With a smile she adds: ‘If you ask my family, they might not agree that I have a balance, but I feel I have achieved a balance.’
Relaxation for Schopman involves some daily physical activity, including three challenging runs each week. She also likes to sit and enjoy a coffee while reading a good book.
Reflecting on the women’s game at the moment, Schopman says that she is seeing more skill within the game, particularly in terms of 3D skills, elimination skills and aerials. In her mind, the women’s game at the moment is extremely exciting.
‘People say, your ambition must be to coach a men’s team. But that is not the case. I do not think the men’s game is a higher level than the women’s game, it is just different. I will probably never be a men’s coach because I love the challenges offered by the women’s game.’
When it comes to why there are so few women in the highest coaching roles, Schopman is uncertain of the reasons. She says that in a previous career she worked in construction and she never encountered situations in which her gender held her back. But, she admits, some of her colleagues did say they had encountered gender-based barriers.
When it comes to hockey, she says: ‘The honest answer is I don’t know. There are opportunities for females to be a high level coaches, particularly in Netherlands, Australia, USA and now India. I would say that women in general choose their family over their career in a way that men don’t. Some women don’t want to work 40 plus hours, they want to be there when their kids get home from school. It might be the case that they put their careers on hold until their kids are old enough.’
And for others aspiring to be hockey coaches? ’You have to love what you do. It is sometimes difficult for my family because I am away a lot. So it takes an investment of your time. But I would say, learn new things, look around you, learn from players as well as other coaches. If you have aspirations, look for ways to learn. Go on courses – I went on a course run by Sarah Thomas and Janne Müller-Wieland (former GB and German international hockey players) – and I learnt so much. You have to stay open to learning from all around you.’