Paul Stretch, GB Hockey men’s lead strength and conditioning coach, says it was a “tough hit” when news filtered through that the Tokyo Olympics would be delayed by one year. “As a member of staff, I had spent over two years optimising our performance in this one moment,” he says. “We were on a positive trajectory as a team. We had to get our head around what was next.”
Luckily for the GB coaching staff they made some key and swift decisions early on as the pandemic set in. Following their transit back through Singapore in early February, there followed two weeks of training ahead of a planned 12-day warm weather camp in South Africa.
“It was a tough decision not to go. At the time, as a playing group we were keen on going,” says Stretch, who joined the programme prior to the 2018 World Cup, which presented its own health issues. “You could easily get this all wrong. We could have been in South Africa and could have carried on training.”
Added to this, the trip was seen as an important step towards Tokyo. There was Olympic selection, firstly those selected for the tour and then the trimming of the squad. As it was, the players were decentralised before the trip, which gave coaching staff time to assess contingency plans, with options to mimic the South Africa trip, though that was quickly squashed with the current environmental factors at play.
Stretch and Co mapped out a training plan over two weeks before postponing a return to training. This was taken before lockdown, meaning the group weren’t affected early doors. The advent of the Pro League has meant that training has been sporadic and frequent (rather than training in lengthy blocks in between tournaments) with the players now used to training on their own accord outside of Bisham and, in turn, coaches having added confidence in their charges.
Once gyms started to close doors, staff set in motion a series of training resources. The players now use a new app called Train Heroic, which has been trialled with the elite development programme and is seen as a handy tool for remote programming.
Essentially, it is tailor-made for each centralised player, with programmes uploaded and current physical capability, positional demand, injury history all factored into the app. When lockdown came, says Stretch, the players “could hit the go button on the app which gave the guys something novel to play with.”
Now that reality has kicked in, Stretch notes that younger players would have seen this phase as an opportunity to break through while senior players may have had plans after this year’s proposed Games. “But from a physical perspective it was a message of staying mentally and physically well in this tough moment,” he adds.
Contact time with the squad has been via Microsoft Teams, with player interraction on WhatsApp and Stretch making sure everyone is “on the front foot”. In Olympic year, it’s naturally been a “can do” attitude as the players adapt to training remotely and come up with individual improvisation.
And as a keen cyclist himself, Stretch adds that he has shared advice to the players on the second hand bike market. Be-spoke advice in these challenging times.
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