Great Britain’s women’s hockey team are not just in peak physical condition but have developed the mental resilience to deal with the ups and downs of an Olympic Games tournament, according to coach Danny Kerry.
A rigourous physical programme has been backed up by an emphasis on team psychology and developing increased self-awareness in the squad. Activities such as training with the Royal Marines and even performing improvised comedy have all been part of Olympic preparations which began in earnest after the 2009 EuroHockey Nations Championships.
“There will not be a better conditioned team at the Olympic Games,” said Kerry. But it is the mental preparation of his squad, which he says will give his side the “cutting edge”.
“Olympic Games are rarely smooth,” he said. “It is about your ability so self-regulate.
“It is about your ability to do your game under pressure. It is not about trying to be something you are not.”
Kerry said the girls “hated” him for putting them through the improvised comedy ordeal, although the physical demands of the Royal Marines were a more manageble challenge. “The thing that is a common thread [to those challenges] is self awareness. ‘Where am I now and where do I need to be’,” he said.
That self-awareness applies to Kerry as a coach too. He acknowleged that at Beijing he had got very tired and had neglected the “managing people thing”. And that won’t happen again.
When it comes to GB’s opening game against Japan, even 42-year-old Kerry, ‘Mr Preparation’ himself, doesn’t know quite what to expect. He has not had the opportunity to cast an eye over his opponents.
“The Japanaese have been very very crafty. They haven’t played against anybody since they qualified. It’s a case of get out there and make good decisions on the field,” Kerry said.
When it comes to special plays or tricks that teams might be keeping under wraps for the Games, Kerry said the impact of such things was minor.
“On the field there are so many decisions [to make] and so much going on. You have to equip your players to make decisions. The craftiness and hiding things is about set pieces and even then it is minimal.”
GB skipper Kate Walsh, 32, a veteran of the Sydney and Beijing Olympic Games said she saw the Games as an oppportunity to inspire more people to continue to play hockey.
“There is a massive drop-off in young girls [in hockey] when they leave school. We want to inspire those girls to play. If that can be a legacy of the Games, then we have done a fantastic job,” Walsh said.
28-year old Olympic debutant Hannah Macleod said the squad couldn’t wait for the Games to start. “There is so much experience in the squad. We are really well prepared. There is nothing better than approaching a tournament knowing you are ready. We are so ready!