2015 is going to be big year. Olympic Qualification is on the line for the National Team, Royal Wellington (my club in Belgium, which I’ll fill you in on a bit) left 2014 sitting at 2nd in the league and feeling confident for a chance at the Championship title. and finally,(insert over dramatic drum roll…) I will be graduating in May! So mum if you’re reading this, which I very much doubt you are….. I actually made it…. I know you were starting to get worried. Although I still need to pass these last four courses, that due to my unorthodox grad plan have turned out to be an strange mix of food and nutrition courses, psychology courses and a course about dinosaurs…..naturally. All courses passed I will have a Bachelor in Kinesiology with a minor in psychology. Woo!
Now back to the hockey stuff. As I’m sure I’ll have a lot to write about this year I wanted to fill you in on the second half of my 2014….post Commonwealth Games. After a cheeky trip down the coast of Portugal (where I finally got to go surfing!), my boyfriend and I had organized to play hockey in Brussels after the Glasgow Comm Games. Mark was set up with Royal Racing and I was fixed up with Royal Wellington. Although we’re at different clubs they organized for us to live together in an apartment a few kilometers from our clubs. This was our first time living together so a potentially dangerous situation….. The combo of moving country and moving in together could have been a disaster, but I’m happy to report we more than survived. I joined Wellington in the middle of August for their preseason training to get to know the team before the league started in September. During preseason I was the only English, or I should say non-french speaking girl at training, so I was slightly distressed to discover that all practices were only explained in French! (I don’t know a word…even my version of “bonjour” is suspect)….so this was an interesting intro as I’m sure there’s no better way to make friends than by constantly pestering teammates to ask what the heck is going on…. That being said the girls were lovely and the team was so welcoming. A teammate offered to take me around and our first stop was a chocolate factory with free chocolate….at that moment I knew I was going to like it in Brussels. Chocolate is always a worthy side tangent so now back to hockey. After the 2 South African girls finally arrived (Sammy Prost and Tarryn Bright), training sessions and meetings were back to good ol English so you might not be surprised to hear that I did not pick up any French while living in Belgium. Although the girls were very encouraging and polite, after hearing my mum’s attempt at French I have decided it must be a genetic promblem….Despite the team getting on so well off the field the season got off to a shaky start. I believe it took us 3 or 4 games before we hit our winning streak. But when we hit our winning streak, we hit it hard, winning games with score lines of 8-2 and 9-1. By the Christmas break the team felt pretty unbeatable.
While I was playing overseas I realized at the time just how good I had it. I made sure to enjoy every minute of it….even our physical training sessions on Thursday nights that were just hell. Even picturing our physical trainer produces a slight chill in bones. But now that I can reflect on my time there I realize how valuable it was. The club system in Belgium offers a professional environment that allows you to remain hockey focused at all times. It also offers an environment that attracts many high level domestic and international players. Our club team alone consisted of 2 South Africans, 1 Swiss player and 1 Spanish player….and this random Canadian girl. This gave me an opportunity to see different styles of play, different skills and see how other internationals train. Even tactically your knowledge is expanded because different players offer different solutions, presses and structures. But the best part of playing in a league is that you have an important game to look forward to every weekend. It may seem trivial but each week you are so motivated at training because you desperately want those three points at the weekend. It might not seem like much, but when you’re used to grinding out months of training with the National Team, a game every week can make all the difference.
My tactical and game knowledge was expanded even further through all of the coaching I did on top of playing. I was assigned to coach the Club’s U16 team. This was a very sweet group of girls who I am still in touch with. Perhaps we had such a good relationship because I knew absolutely no French and they only knew a little English, so neither side knew what on earth was going on. I was also assigned to coach the men’s second team at Wellington, which was an experience in itself. Off the field I have never seen guys with so much discipline that allowed them to consistently party hard after every game…win or lose. On the field I eventually learned that guys just need to be screamed at. When I finally got used to that things went pretty well. Being the head coach of two teams taught me a lot about tactics, coming up with our own, and recognizing the other teams, because if the coach can’t figure out what’s going on you’re really in trouble!
The point I seem to be unapologetically dragging out is that I learnt a lot….All in all my experience playing in Belgium was nothing short of fantastic. I loved playing, I loved the team and I enjoyed coaching (I don’t think I’ll be applying for any coaching positions soon…). But now it’s 2015, a do or die Olympic qualification year. So I have to switch from the life of club hockey to International hockey. There are two roads of qualification for us, one through World League and the other through our continental qualifier; the Pan American Cup. Our World League campaign began in 2014. We won our World League 1 pool and have now progressed to World League Round 2 in Dublin, March 18th-22nd. If we place within the top 2 we move to World League Round 3 of which the top 4 teams qualify for the Olympics. Our second road is through the Pan American Games that takes place in July in Toronto. We have to win the Pan American Games in order to qualify for Rio. Needless to say we have a huge year ahead, which starts now as I’m writing to you from a team training tour in New Zealand. The tour has just begun so I won’t write about it now. I’ll keep you posted with our progress throughout the year.
As always thanks for taking the time to read!