Hager quits Black Sticks for GB role
Coach had great success with women’s team but blundered with scathing email
ark Hager has resigned as Black Sticks women’s head coach and will immediately take up a role as head coach of the Great Britain and England women’s teams.
Hager, who has led the Black Sticks through their most successful period during his 10 years at the helm, will start his new role this week.
Black Sticks assistant coach Sean Dancer will become acting head coach and will continue to prepare the team for the FIH Pro League which starts in just over two weeks.
With the team environment the subject of an independent review, Hockey NZ acting board chairman Shane Collins emphasised that Hager was leaving on his own terms.
“We are extremely disappointed to lose one of the world’s top coaches. Mark and his coaching staff have continued to have the support of the board and management and we wish him well in his next endeavour,” Collins said. “His legacy will take some matching.”
The review was launched in September, after allegations of a negative team environment emerged.
Hager, a former Australian international, accidentally sent an email to the entire team, naming and shaming individual players for their performance and effort, after finishing 11th at the women’s World Cup.
Three months earlier, they had won gold at the Commonwealth Games.
The findings are expected later this month.
Hockey New Zealand chief executive Ian Francis said Hager has been an outstanding coach who had taken the performance of the Black Sticks Women’s team to unprecedented levels.
“When Mark took the reins in 2009 we were well and truly outside the world’s top 10 countries. Since then he has taken this team to two Olympic fourths, two World League finals, a Champions Trophy bronze, and a medal of every colour at the Commonwealth Games.
“We have been ranked as high as third in the world and have never been outside the top six.
“These are by far the best results in the history of our women’s game.”
Hager said it was sad to leave a team that he regarded as his whanau.
“I’ve been fortunate to coach the Black Sticks for a decade and even more fortunate to have two worldclass players in Kayla Sharland and Stacey Michelsen as my captains to help us achieve goals that were firsts for this team.”
He had been especially looking forward to leading the group through to the Tokyo Olympics.
“The team has the potential to succeed in Tokyo and I wish them well.
“I have been torn over the last six months, firstly whether to apply for the England and Great Britain role and then whether to accept it,” said Hager
“But given its profile as one of the pinnacle coaching roles in world hockey, I have come to realise it is in my best interests and those of the Black Sticks to accept this opportunity and for someone else to lead this talented group of athletes through to Tokyo.”
“Ultimately, the opportunity to coach England/Great Britain is one that excites me with the quality of the teams, the wealth of competition on their doorstep in Europe and the resources available.”
Hager said he has taken on board some feedback during the review period about his coaching style but would retain the essence of what had worked so successfully over the last decade in taking and keeping the team in the world’s top five.
Black Sticks captain Michelsen said Hager had a huge passion for the team.
“Mark has been an integral part of allowing this team to grow to our highest ranking of third in the world. Personally he has provided me with the environment and the guidance to develop into the player I am today, and I am very grateful for that,” Michelsen said.
“I am very sad to see Mark go but I do understand his decision and wish him all the best in his new role.”
The Hockey NZ Board last week received a copy of the independent review of the Blacks Sticks Women’s team environment undertaken by employment lawyer Maria Dew.
Collins said the board was working through the review’s recommendations and was developing key actions which will be shared with management and the NZ Hockey Players’ Association.
Once finalised, Hockey NZ will release a summary of the review and the corresponding action plan.
This is expected to occur later this month.
Mark Hager led the Black Sticks women to unprecedented success but also made an error when calling out the effort of some individuals.