Alyson Annan is Head Coach to the ultra successful Netherlands women team. Under her guidance and leadership, the Netherlands have not just maintained their spot at the top of the world rankings, but have cemented it. Annan herself has been voted FIH Coach of the Year for the past three years – tribute and recognition of her own desire to keep pushing the boundaries of excellence. But, even though her team were building up momentum in the FIH Hockey Pro League before the enforced break, the chance to step back and reflect on the game over the past few months has been valuable time for the coach and her squad.
Ahead of their return to action, Annan reflects on how her squad will regain momentum and the threat posed by their next opponents – Great Britain.
Your squad had built good momentum when the enforced break happened. How are you ensuring you return to international action at that same pace and intensity?
Alyson Annan: “We have been very fortunate during the Corona period with the very strict rules which meant we were able to keep a little bit of momentum in our training. There were periods of time when we didn’t see the girls due to them going back to their club. The last period we had an enforced break from [club] competition, which meant we were able to train together which we didn’t count on. So, we are happy to have the continuation in our programme so we have been able to prepare for these matches. I look forward to putting a team together that has been able to train together a week before playing the matches.”
What will be the main areas of performance that you and your team will focus on?
Alyson Annan: “The main areas we will focus on in the games is just getting momentum in our play and getting back to some sort of international level. Given everyone has the same challenge, we haven’t played since February, it is important to get out there, play together and get some continuation and patterns into our play. And also, knowing it is only to be a few games, so we need to make sure they come out of the other end fit.”
What are you expecting in terms of style of play from Great Britain and how will you counter their strengths?
Alyson Annan: “Great Britain are a strong team. They are very physical and very fast and I expect they will be the same. They have always played that way so I think their physical strength on and off the ball will be very challenging for our girls. That will be something we will need to focus on when playing against them. But really, our focus is on how we play, not how they play but our focus will be on their physical strength.”
The break has given many players a chance to recover from injury and re-set mentally. While no-one would ever wish a situation such as this pandemic to happen, is there a value that has perhaps not been appreciated before in having an enforced period away from the game?
Alyson Annan: “No-one would ever want this to happen to anyone anywhere. The world is standing still at this point in time. But, it has given us a time and a chance to give the players rest, not only physically but mental rest from the game. Just taking a look back at why we are playing the game. And when you can’t do something that you love, then you love it more, so it has brought back a little bit of passion in the game. The girls have also given us a little more passion and creativity – thinking about what are we doing, why are we doing it and what can we do better. And also, it has given us, as a coaching staff, the chance to do that too, Even though it is not a great situation, it has really given us the chance to step back and look at what we are doing and also have a bit of rest ourselves, so it has been okay.”