GB or not GB?
Simon Mason is a triple Olympian who retired after the Athens Olympic Games as Great Britain’s most capped goalkeeper. He believes passionately that Britain should compete at all major tournaments if they are to succeed.
Why play as GB? A simple answer is that it is the only pathway that allows a hockey athlete to play at the greatest sporting event on the planet. Our allegiance to clubs, schools, universities and our home nations all have their place and those allegiances are understandable and admirable. However any athlete who has had the chance to compete at an Olympic Games will state that the experience is beyond any other of their hockey career. Quite simply the Olympics is the pinnacle of performance sport, those sports whom do not consider it to be so should not be there.
The Olympic experience gives a target for British sides but also explains that it is more than just participation, if we are going to go we must go with a chance of success. This is why we must have a plan that allows GB to develop as a team and in my opinion this requires us to play together more and have some common goals.
A successful team needs time to develop, its actions need to be instinctive and its framework well established to allow key players to perform to their potential within that team. Successful teams have performance records and have been allowed time to develop, the players have worked with each other and a coach to consistently create a performance identity. The current Australian success was achieved under Barry Dancer, a coach who worked for four years with a group of players he understood and who understood him, including a number of representatives from his 1997 Junior World Cup-winning team. The Dutch side from 1996–2000 was a core group of great players with a tactical identity. The Spanish team of the last four years, along with the Australian women of 1996–2002, are examples of fantastic teams with patterns, themes, consistent coaching input and performance focuses.
The speed with which the game has changed over the last 10 years makes recent knowledge vital. Britain’s opponents are frequently full time players, often well-funded, but above all they have been together and played together for months and years.
GB must therefore play together for longer to create an instinctive tactical identity. I believe that any performance coach will reinforce that thought - time is necessary for a team to develop. How that team is led is also a key and the consistency of coaching input is crucial to a team’s success.
A GB team therefore needs time together, an independent coaching input and clear direction if it’s ever to be successful. With the fantastic potential of London 2012, GB could put a program together that utilises the strengths of the home countries. England, Scotland and Wales all have organisations and programs that are doing their best to deliver performance teams and athletes. Well-coached and funded programs that could not only provide activity for home country athletes, but also provide a common approach for a GB team if they were integrated and managed.
If we are realistic, the chances of top international success are limited to one or maybe two sides from the six home countries’ men’s and women’s teams. If we look back to the successes of 1984, 1988 and 1992, British hockey had strong counties and regions that probably aided athletes’ development.
Political devolution means that home countries have and want to maintain their identity. A GB hockey association will not happen, nor is it necessarily the only solution. However a solution is there if we work together. Every home country has a part to play in developing its athletes and performing as well as it can. But, if we are serious about achieving results at an Olympics, as GB, we have to have common areas. We must have GB activity, both theoretical and practical over an extended period of time if we are to be successful as a team.
Three home countries sides (men or women) with different coaches, different knowledge, fitness levels and tactics cannot be moulded by a new coach into a single cohesive performance unit in the year that they are traditionally given. It has not worked in the last four Olympic cycles.
GB can benefit hugely from the ability of all the home countries because those home countries have to actually qualify GB for the Olympics. But we can make both things happen if GB has a true performance goal. Combine our resources and talents and we can deliver Olympic success, but not if we do not work together.
Footnote: In early March, the FIH Executive Board received correspondence from England, Scotland and Wales that indated that the three home nations would compete as separate entities in all major tournaments except the Olympic Games, where a combined Great Britain squad will participate.