As the Trinidad and Tobago national senior women’s hockey team prepared for last month’s World League Round Two tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I enquired from my teammates about our Round One performances and whether our losses were due to being outplayed or because we failed to execute our game plan.
Trinidad and Tobago finished third in Round One, by the way, and advanced from the group with wins over Venezuela, Guyana and Barbados but losses against Canada and Uruguay.
I was told that one game we certainly should not have lost was against Uruguay, who beat us 2-0. Everyone was looking forward to settling the score against them in Brazil.
We were hammered in our first two games in Brazil against Scotland and Chile. But spirits were high when we faced Uruguay next and I was looking forward to a keen contest that would end with Trinidad and Tobago’s first win of the tournament.
We played well in spurts but the final 6-1 score line in Uruguay’s favour told its own story. As the game progressed and we were being outplayed, I wondered if the picture painted by my teammates was accurate.
The difference between the two nations had moved from 2-0 to 6-1 in the space of less than four months.
Had the faces of both teams changed drastically between Rounds One and Two? Or was it that Uruguay went home from Round One and worked on their weaknesses and improved on their strengths while Trinidad and Tobago stayed stagnant?
In the post-mortem of the game, some senior players raised salient points such as: players from other countries see it as a privilege and honor and not a right to represent their national teams especially as the pool to select their players is considerably larger; the need for our players to work on all aspects of their game including attitude, skill, fitness, motivation and so on; and, finally, what the hockey fraternity is or is not doing to ensure that its national teams have the best preparation possible to compete at the highest level.
The Trinidad and Tobago Hockey Board (TTHB) has to develop incentives to make national duty more attractive as many players are too jaded to sacrifice for the good of the team. Players are not given any remuneration and it is especially difficult for those who are on no-pay leave from their employers.
While the TTHB should encourage players, it is not their responsibility alone. Players must also delve into themselves and search for what it really means to represent our country.
Excellent research skills should be a prerequisite for the technical staff.
Even if video footage of an opponent is unavailable, you could find out about opponents and ascertain the experience of a team by checking the resumés of their players. Additionally, research should be done on the opposing coaching staff to gauge their know-how, which could impact on their team’s play.
Research should extend to your own team too.
Our coaches must understand the versatility of their players as they determine what systems the team can effectively execute. Our system of play should be chosen based on the available players and not just because some of the top world’s teams are using that particular formation.
And players need regular practice in the selected system, before the tournament, so they are comfortable and have faith in the coach’ plan.
The individual psychological and emotional make-up of Trinidad and Tobago’s players should also be known so we can extract the best performances from them in every game. And this responsibility should fall on the entire team and not just the technical staff.
It is easier for teammates to motivate and hold each other accountable for his/her actions like attendance and attitude at training sessions so as to make an effective unit.
Our team had a sport psychologist, which was a first for me and an excellent addition in theory. The sports psychologist was there to act as a liaison between the players and the technical staff and provide an atmosphere for players and staff to air their issues in confidence.
But his/her effectiveness depends on the openness of players and staff alike and it might take a while before it gets the desired effect.
Something that I think is often misunderstood by John Public is the saying that we “want to be competitive” at the tournament.
This means that while you may come up against the best team in your region and lose, you do not have to be thoroughly trounced. Losing is nothing to be proud of but you can sometimes take heart from the manner in which you lose.
For example, if the “Soca Warriors” lost 2-0 to Argentina’s football team after playing as well as we can, this could be viewed as a respectable score line and a source of pride. However, if we were beaten 10-0 after an abysmal display, it would be a different story.
All these aforementioned factors must be taken into account before we, as athletes and technical staff, decide to pen our team goals. Too often we set lofty aspirations based on nothing but personal belief and hope.
Our goals must be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound.
And the only way to meet these goals is to do proper background research on opponents and to be properly and thoroughly prepared for competition.