The Hockey Paper - - FEATURE -

In the 1930s, the play­wright and com­poser Noël Cow­ard wrote the fa­mous lyric “Mad dogs and English­men go out in the mid­day sun”. With the hats, gloves, base lay­ers, ski socks and heavy coats now out of the cup­board for the harsh­est part of the season, I won­der if a win­ter ver­sion of Cow­ard’s song might have ques­tioned the sanity of peo­ple try­ing to play hockey at this time of year?

With in­door hockey squeezed into a tiny win­dow be­fore and after Christ­mas, we have school fix­tures and club teams train­ing in early Jan­uary in a con­stant bat­tle with the el­e­ments. De­spite the an­nual can­cel­la­tions, reschedul­ing and lo­gis­ti­cal night­mares we still seem to be con­vinced that frozen or snow cov­ered pitches are as rare as be­ing struck by light­ning. The re­al­ity is of course that Not­ting­ham is as far north as most of the cities that have hosted the Win­ter Olympics.

From a coach­ing perspective, the prob­lems are much greater than sim­ply whether con­di­tions are playable or not. It’s one thing to get a team on a pitch but it’s an­other thing en­tirely to try and do any­thing but play a game when the tem­per­a­ture is nudg­ing zero. Try stop­ping a ses­sion on th­ese days to talk about ad­just­ments to tac­tics or tech­nique and you’ll soon be look­ing at faces plead­ing with you to shut up so that the im­por­tant busi­ness of avoid­ing hy­pother­mia can be re­sumed. As coaches we of­ten face the chal­lenge of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with play­ers who are an­gry or dis­tracted but I haven’t yet seen any­thing of­fer­ing ad­vice on deal­ing with a squad that is turn­ing blue.

Be­fore be­ing ac­cused of be­ing a soft Aus­tralian con­di­tioned to warmer tem­per­a­tures, first let me quickly point out that I’m from Ho­bart and so no stranger to sub-zero winds com­ing up from the Antarc­tic.

Sec­ond, as Fabio Capello once dis­cov­ered, it can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated just how rel­e­vant cli­mate can be to tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment. Capello once toured around var­i­ous Euro­pean coun­tries de­liv­er­ing the same foot­ball ses­sion to the same age play­ers and com­par­ing the dif­fer­ences. One ma­jor ob­ser­va­tion was how much more com­fort­able Ital­ian cen­tre-back play­ers were on the ball com­pared to those from places like Scot­land where the same play­ers spent more time head­ing the ball than playing it with their feet. This was at­trib­uted to the fact that the cold, wet and windy con­di­tions in Scot­land meant that the ball was more likely to be bombed for­ward in the air rather than played through the mid­field as it was eas­ier to do in Italy.

A re­cur­ring theme at the in­ter­na­tional level, re­in­forced at both JWC’s, is the tech­ni­cal gap that ex­ists be­tween English play­ers and those from the teams they want to be beat­ing. Surely it can’t be a co­in­ci­dence that this is the only coun­try who plays so much hockey – par­tic­u­larly at school age – in a mostly freez­ing, twelve-week term when the other coun­tries are ei­ther in­doors, hav­ing a break or, like Aus­tralia, Ar­gentina and In­dia, are sim­ply closer to the Equa­tor.

One ob­vi­ous an­swer is greater em­pha­sis on in­door hockey as proven by the nat­u­rally ef­fi­cient Ger­mans. In their model, in­door for ju­niors is sim­ply part of the whole de­vel­op­ment process that all young hockey play­ers go through. In­deed, many of the very clev­erly de­signed drills that they use to de­velop skills and de­ci­sion mak­ing in young play­ers are in­tended for prac­tice in­doors where the con­trol, ac­cu­racy and speed of think­ing re­quired on the faster sur­face is just as, if not more im­por­tant as the pro­tec­tion from the el­e­ments.

Fi­nally, if that’s not rea­son enough, just com­pare the warm, dry and enthusiastic crowds at Wem­b­ley in a cou­ple of weeks with the hand­ful of brave par­ents and spec­ta­tors hud­dled on side lines in the Jan­uary el­e­ments and ask which op­tion they think would pro­mote the game bet­ter?

As a coach, I haven’t yet seen any­thing of­fer­ing ad­vice on deal­ing with a squad that is turn­ing blue


The heat is on: Cli­mate can be vi­tal when it comes to tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment, as foot­ball coach Fabio Capello found out

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