From the Archive | First published June 2018
Exactly two months’ prior to the 2016 Rio hockey final at the Deodoro Stadium, GB women had faced Holland in the Champions Trophy in London, where they fell to a 2-0 defeat.
Lining up in the tunnel before that loss, Danny Kerry’s side felt Dutch psychology come to the fore. The Hockey Paper heard from Team GB’s gold medallists as they looked back on how mind games subsequently fell into British hands.
Some of the Dutch players were shouting in the Lee Valley tunnel before that Champions Trophy encounter, most were banging sticks on the wall. Perhaps it was their way of showing their will to fight after losing on a shoot out the previous summer in the EuroHockey Championship final? Just an arm’s distance away, the moment had also got to some of the GB players.
“We were stood in the tunnel and some of our team shouted uncharacteristically. Nothing bad, just motivational stuff,” Kate Richardson-Walsh, the former captain, recalled.
“We talked about it afterwards and the need to do that or the purpose. We had a great, open conversation and I’m glad we did. We decided to ‘let’s just be us and it’s not in our make up or character to do those things in the tunnel’.”
A month later during the Olympics, Richardson-Walsh and Co went “back to basics” in the first game against Australia, where the Hockeyroos took up the pre-match mind games in the tunnel.
Richardson-Walsh said: “They were doing just that. It was absolutely for show. It was a mental game and it made me smile. They had overcooked this, they are too hyped up and I thought we could leverage that.
“The same in the final. Ellen Hoog is a fiery character, when she crosses that white line she is a winner. Normally they are relaxed in the tunnel, but I remember Ellen banging her stick against the side. We did take confidence from that.”
Susannah Townsend says that the difference between the two sides first started in the changing rooms.
“We talked about how we wanted to behave and we were very consistent with that. I can’t judge how they did things. All I remember is how we would hear the music in their changing room when we were warming up. We don’t have that as we want to socially interact.”
Giselle Ansley, the Surbiton and England defender, “distinctly” remembers those tunnel moments.
“It was like we were in a cattle shed in the tunnel, with the crashing of the sticks on the side,” she recalled.
Ansley and her team-mates just looked straight down the tunnel. “We know we didn’t need to do that. We had worked on our preparation and our routines to get us in the best place on the pitch.”
Townsend, meanwhile, just smiled to herself. It is a sentiment shared by several other players that sultry day. “Those things are obviously what they had decided to do in terms of mentally preparing for it,” said the midfielder. “That’s what they stuck by whereas we had a few different views. I can’t say there’s a right way or wrong way.
“I remember smiling to myself when I saw them do it. I do that stuff when I’m a bit more nervous. I can be a bit louder and a bit arrogant.
“But we were consistently at the same level and I think all felt that ‘we are one up on you here’.”
Lily Owsley, the England and GB forward, said: “We had gone in with seven wins and the Dutch had five wins. We had a lot of quiet confidence and we didn’t need that external energy. Whereas for the Dutch it was like they could still intimidate us being the No 1-ranked side in the world.
“It was never going to get us. We were in such a bubble. We built such a wall and we were in that moment. They were shouting, screaming and banging. It was weird – it was like a battle when everything is going on around you and there is so much noise.
— The Hockey Paper (@TheHockeyPaper) May 22, 2020
“Lining up in the tunnel, there was such a quiet confidence, looking into each other’s eyes with the utmost belief.”
So perhaps sides may be wise to learn from a former captain’s piece of advice, an Olympic title-winning one from Richardson-Walsh.
“If you change who you are and particularly if you are doing it for reasons to have an effect on the opposition, you’re taking away focus on yourself.”
Team GB’s team collective clearly played its part both on and off the field in the Rio campaign. No player seemed to be overawed with the experience.
Ansley added: “We don’t let other teams effect what we do. It was really important for us in Rio. We have taken that learning for times like now.”
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