25 Apr 2023

Keeping up with top sides getting harder, says former Black Stick

1:12 pm on 25 April 2023
Black Sticks striker Katie Glynn

Former Black Sticks striker Katie Glynn. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Former Black Stick Katie Glynn, who is now an assistant coach with Great Britain says keeping up with the top sides in the world is getting tougher.

She's here with the Great Britain team competing in a tri series with Australia and New Zealand in Christchurch as part of the FIH Pro League.

The Tokyo bronze medallists beat Australia 1-0 and the Black Sticks 2-0 in their first two games. The sides will meet again later this week.

With a reputation as a gutsy player, Glynn amassed 134 caps before retiring because of injury in 2015. She was an assistant coach for the Black Sticks for a year before leaving to take up the equivalent role in 2020 for Great Britain and England.

Glynn said she never really imagined herself coaching another country but feels lucky to be working in the programme.

"The resources that we have are incredible but the girls have earnt those over the years. Great staff, great athletes, it's been quite a journey but one I'm really enjoying," Glynn said.

The 34-year-old said they ran a full-time programme but would still class hockey as sitting in a semi professional category.

"They don't have the luxury of earning what some other sports do but the girls are also very driven in different career paths as well.

"A lot of the players study or work. Our programme allows for them to have jobs and they call it dual aspirations so they're very big on making sure that the girls have careers outside of hockey."

Disappointment after England beat the Black Sticks in the Semi Final, Commonwealth Games Birmingham, 2022.
Mandatory credit: Matthew Impey / www.photosport.nz

England beat the Black Sticks in the Semi Final, Commonwealth Games Birmingham, 2022 Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2022 / www.photosport.nz © Photosport Ltd 2022 / www.photosport.nz

Glynn said having a centralised programme was essential for them to stay competitive with some of the European countries, who have club systems that produce close to international level hockey every week.

"So we have to use our centralised programme to try and give us the level of training that we consistently need to make sure we can keep up with some of the best teams in the world.

"It definitely allows the players to build better connections, learn about each other, and keep that sort of momentum growing."

Has her time in the Great Britain system highlighted how well the Black Sticks, who are currently ranked 9th in the world, do with what they've got?

"My experience as a player and a coach in New Zealand was that we punched well above our weight.

"We sort of had a semi-centralised model, especially when I was playing and now that is going more towards a decentralised model so it will be interesting to see how they [New Zealand] manage that and how that progresses because it definitely can be difficult.

"It's a challenge when you don't have the resources, when there are athletes spread all throughout the country. You've got to do the best with what you have and that's what New Zealand Hockey have always tended to do is try and do the best with what they have."

Glynn believes the sport is getting more competitive, the game is getting quicker, and skill levels are being taken to another level.

"The top sort of 15 teams in the world now are all challenging each other and keeping up with the top teams I think is getting tougher and tougher so it will be interesting to see in the next 12 months what unfolds.

"I do think it is probably going to be the toughest Olympics to qualify for and I think you're going to see some top teams missing out which is tough but I think it's great to see where the sport is going."

France, who are currently ranked 26th in the world will automatically qualify for one of 12 spots at the 2024 Olympics, with Paris hosting.

Coach Mark Hager and Katie Glynn show their dissappointment after losing the Bronze Medal Womens Hockey match 3-1. New Zealand v Great Britain at Riverbank Arena, Olympic Games, London. United Kingdom. Friday 10 August 2012. Photo: Andrew Cornaga / Photosport.co.nz

Coach Mark Hager and Katie Glynn show their disappointment after losing the Bronze Medal Womens Hockey match 3-1. New Zealand v Great Britain 2012, London Olympics. Photo: Andrew Cornaga

The Netherlands, Argentina, and Australia are ranked one through three in the world. England are ranked 4th.

"The continentals start later this year so that will be where we see countries start to grab those first few spots and they've changed the model of qualifying which will go back to two qualifying tournaments and that won't be until January.

"It's going to be a long and challenging 12 months, those spots are going to be pretty hard to grab."

Taking on an assistant coaching role gave her the chance to work with head coach Mark Hager, who she loved playing under in the Black Sticks' side.

Hager resigned from Great Britain in 2021 to spend more time with his family in Australia and New Zealand.

Glynn defended Hager's coaching style when he was at the centre of a review into the environment within the Black Sticks and resigned in 2019 to take up the role in the UK.

It took Glynn some time to get her head around the coaching split between England and Great Britain.

In some competitions, including the Hockey World Cup, and Commonwealth Games, the three home nations compete in their own right: England and Scotland and Wales.

Those countries are then combined to represent Great Britain at the Olympics.

"Wales and Scotland were quite competitive at the Commonwealth Games last year, so we have a number of those girls that have come back into Great Britain this year, last year we spent most of the year as England.

"We are Great Britain at the moment up until the end of pro-league in the middle of this year, then we go back to England for our first opportunity to qualify for the Olympics, which is our Europeans."

New Zealand Black Sticks team huddle as England celebrate winning the England v New Zealand Black Sticks Women's Hockey Semi Final at the University of Birmingham Hockey and Squash Centre, Birmingham, England on Friday 5 August 2022.
Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Mandatory credit: Matthew Impey / www.photosport.nz

Disappointment after the Black Sticks are beaten in the semi final Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2022 / www.photosport.nz © Photosport Ltd 2022 / www.photosport.nz

Glynn said it can lead to some interesting situations.

"It can be a bit of a difficult one to manage at times, it is a bit of a strange system. But we are seeing some really good Scottish and Welsh players pushing for spots in the programme, which is really good for us."

Another quirk is that they have to qualify for the Olympics as England even though they play as Great Britain at the Olympics.

"We do that through the Europeans so for example this year we've got Scotland in our pool so it's really awkward and I think sometimes can be difficult for the players to manage as well. They're very proud of playing for their home nations and want to do well and they're equally really proud when they come together and play for GB.

"There's some difficult situations like facing each other. But a lot of them have been through it before and it's just part of the process for them and when we split off we still support each other, we still work with each other, you just got to do what you have to do in those moments."

Glynn said the first time she came up against the Black Sticks in her new coaching role was a bit surreal.

The Black Sticks have had some unhappy memories at the hands of Great Britain and England.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Great Britain overcame New Zealand to win bronze. In Rio four years later they beat the Black Sticks in the semi-final on their way to claiming a historic gold.

At last year's Commonwealth Games the Black Sticks had a heartbreaking shootout loss to England in semi-finals, before the home team won gold.

"It's always going to be a little bit weird but I do have a special attachment to the GB and England teams now. The anthem and living in the UK feels like home now."