The Hockey Paper - - BECKIE MIDDLETON -

While the ma­jor­ity of hockey play­ers have been run­ning off the Christ­mas ex­cesses or dust­ing off their in­door sticks over the last few weeks, the Great Bri­tain squads are fi­nally back out on the pitch to­gether at Bisham Abbey.

Both UK Sport and an ex­pec­tant Bri­tish pub­lic will have high hopes for our hockey teams through­out the three-and-a-half years lead­ing up to the Tokyo Olympic Games. With 2018 World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion up for grabs in six months, it is es­sen­tial that both the men’s and women’s teams hit the ground run­ning on their re­turn to full-time train­ing.

A new Olympic cy­cle means a new GB squad. As al­ways, this throws up both chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­di­vid­ual play­ers, coaches and the squads as a whole. Now that fit­ness test­ing is done, house shares ar­ranged and in­duc­tion meet­ings com­pleted, the real busi­ness be­gins: train hard, be­come a team again and start to fo­cus on the up­com­ing tour­na­ments.

On the women’s side, a few of the re­turn­ing 2016 Olympians have spent more time on the red car­pet than a blue or green one in re­cent months. The gold medal in Rio has writ­ten the GB women into the his­tory books, but top level hockey moves on very fast. It’s cru­cial that these play­ers quickly read­just to the phys­i­cal, men­tal and emo­tional de­mands of daily train­ing if there’s any chance the suc­cess is to be repli­cated.

The new faces will bring en­thu­si­asm, fresh­ness and some ex­cit­ing tal­ent to both squads. In a cen­tralised progamme, this is crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing healthy com­pe­ti­tion for places but also in preventing the cul­ture from be­com­ing in­su­lar. There is power in a tight-knit squad, but there is a very fine line be­tween a close group and a closed group.

A new pres­sure of ex­pec­ta­tion will now be ev­i­dent for the women’s squad. Some of the newer play­ers will head to their first se­nior in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments this sum­mer with the tag of favourites. In­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal ex­pec­ta­tions of the squad may dif­fer, but this will be a slightly dif­fer­ent chal­lenge for the coaches and play­ers to man­age com­pared to the start of pre­vi­ous Olympic cy­cles.

The GB men will be rar­ing to go af­ter the dis­ap­point­ment of Rio. If a num­ber of play­ers can repli­cate their re­cent form at club and Un­der 21 level, there is a lot to be ex­cited about mov­ing for­ward, but new lead­ers will have to emerge quickly within this group. This is an area where be­ing cen­tral­ized can ac­cel­er­ate a squad’s de­vel­op­ment. Be­ing im­mersed in an elite sports train­ing en­vi­ron­ment is ex­cit­ing and in­spir­ing, but it also al­lows po­ten­tial lead­ers to be recog­nised and nur­tured more quickly.

Both squads will also in­clude a num­ber of play­ers who en­dured a dif­fi­cult 2016, but who have bright hopes for the com­ing months. Those play­ers who missed out on Rio – whether in­jured or not se­lected – will have a point to prove. Their ex­pe­ri­ence, play­ing abil­ity and men­tal strength can be ex­tremely valu­able to the squads if the coaches are aware enough and skil­ful enough to draw them out.

The GB pro­gramme also cre­ates wider chal­lenges for do­mes­tic hockey. Both the men’s and women’s teams will travel to South Africa for train­ing and prac­tice matches in Fe­bru­ary, which will have a di­rect im­pact on player avail­abil­ity for mean­ing­ful league matches for many Na­tional League clubs.

This is an­other in­di­ca­tion of a com­plete lack of co­her­ence be­tween the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional pro­grammes. I con­tinue to be­lieve this is­sue must be ad­dressed by Eng­land Hockey as a mat­ter of ur­gency for the long-term health of club hockey. The elite end of our sport can­not be­come too nar­rowly fo­cused on the GB teams.

Be­ing part of the GB cen­tralised squad is a priv­i­lege and those play­ers who have re­ceived a call up will be ex­cited and mo­ti­vated by the chal­lenges ahead. The re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, hopes and ex­pec­ta­tions may look or feel slightly dif­fer­ent for new play­ers com­pared to the mul­ti­ple Olympians in the squads, but the fact re­mains that the play­ers who make it look the eas­i­est in the big games are usu­ally the ones who work hard­est and fo­cus most on the train­ing ground. Beckie Mid­dle­ton is a for­mer Eng­land & GB hockey player, Com­mon­wealth and mul­ti­ple-Euro­pean medal­list, cur­rently play­ing for Surbiton. She writes a reg­u­lar sports blog: www.thatink­ingfeel­ing.word­ @ink­ingfeel­ing


All to­gether now: The Great Bri­tain squads are fi­nally back to­gether on the pitch at Bisham Abbey

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