22 Aug 2018

Beleaguered Black Sticks coach gets backing of former player

5:53 am on 22 August 2018

The third highest goal scorer in the history of the New Zealand women's hockey team has launched an impassioned defence of her former coach Mark Hager.

It was revealed last week that Black Sticks coach Hager accidentally sent an email criticising several players to the entire playing squad themselves, have seen him - and his methods - come under intense scrutiny.

Mark Hager

Mark Hager Photo: Photosport

The situation has led to an upcoming review into the environment within the squad, which could leave Hager fighting for his future after a decade in the job.

But as one of his former players, with all 134 of her international caps coming under him - Katie Glynn says Hager is far from the person he is being painted as.

Glynn initially refrained from commenting publicly on the issue but, after hearing allegations of bullying, intimidation and scare tactics, decided it was time to break her silence.

"It's a real shame and it hasn't really painted a true picture of what's going on in the [Black Sticks] environment," Glynn told RNZ.

"Never once would I have said any of those [allegations] applied to me in the team environment. I never felt bullied, like he played mind games, anything like that, I'd never associate our environment or Mark with any of that.

"It's hard for me to hear those things said about him because I just didn't feel it was that way at all."

Glynn is well place to comment on Hager's character and coaching style, having debuted in 2009, shortly after the former Australian men's international was appointed to the role.

Black Sticks striker Katie Glynn

Black Sticks striker Katie Glynn Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Auckland striker retired in 2015 after prolonged battles with injury, but has remained close to the game.

Glynn has not only become a hockey commentator, but coaches Auckland premier women's team Somerville, who have a squad which includes a number of current and former Black Sticks.

She said Hager was a hard taskmaster, but added he was a coach a lot of players loved playing for.

"When he came on board, the New Zealand women's team were struggling.

"This is high performance sport and he creates a very competitive environment that's very physically and mentally challenging. He never allows the group to get complacent, and likes everyone to be fighting and earning their spot for every tour, which I think is really healthy.

"Yes he's tough and he has expectations, but there are a lot of us who really thrived in that environment and enjoyed that challenge.

"That's why our results from 2009 up until now have just got better and better, because we are constantly challenged."

The looming review of the Black Sticks culture under Hager came after the players association on Monday presented "feedback from past and present players about the environment within the squad" to the national body.

But the catalyst for the situation was Hager's email slip-up.

Glynn said the frank revelations in the email were not a shock or surprise to her, and wouldn't have been to most of the players, and felt any issues during her time in the team always came around one aspect.

"Missing out on selection is always hard.

"Maybe some people are going to feel hard done by but that's human nature and that's sport. The only time I ever felt like players were unhappy is when they didn't make it, but in the environment itself and in training, I don't feel like anyway would say they were [bullied].

"The only issues ever come around selection and that's natural in any sporting environment."

The Black Sticks celebrate their Commonwealth Games win over England

The Black Sticks celebrate their Commonwealth Games win over England Photo: Photosport

With an independent review confirmed, the focus has switched to what the outcomes of that process will be.

Questions are already being posed about whether Hager will keep his position.

Glynn said she hoped the outcomes of the investigation would show what she felt was the truth about her former coach.

"It hasn't been fair how Mark's been made out, he deserves people to see the type of man he is, the type of work he has put in and how much he cares about this group of players.

"He's given up 10 years of his life and truly loves this team so much. Not long ago there were articles about how proud he was to be Kiwi. His family love being here, he loves this country and he has a lot pride in this group.

"It's pretty unfair to see all his hard work over the past 10 years be tarnished by some of things out there being said about him."