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Australian legend Alyson Annan bringing wealth of experience to Oranje Hockey (Netherlands)

Alyson AnnanJust a few weeks into her new role as coach to the world number one team, the Netherlands, Australian hockey legend Alyson Annan is bringing her wealth of experience as a coach to both top flight men’s and women’s teams to bear. And if there is one thing she has learnt over the past decade as a coach, it is not to mix with a successful formula too much.

“Its like a good product. Look at a product like Coke. Sometimes Coke will change the colour of the can or they will add an ingredient or take something out, but essentially it stays the same. I’m not looking to pour out the cola out and add lemonade, I’m looking to keep the product we have and add to it and develop it to make it a better product.”

We caught up with Annan at the Hockey World League Final in Argentina. The Netherlands had cruised to the quarter-finals, winning all their games and seeming, to the spectators at least, not to have even hit top gear. But then they met Argentina in the all-important quarter-finals and lost in a tense 1-0 match.

After that game, one of the stalwarts of the Netherlands team, Naomi van As, echoed her coach’s words: “We have a good team, and today it is a team that is hurting like mad, but tomorrow, we will look at our performance and make some changes. We have to learn from these experiences.”

Learning how to stay ahead of the chasing pack is at the core of Annan’s thinking. The Australian, who was part of the golden generation of Hockeyroos that won gold at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics as well as the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, has had just seven weeks with the Netherlands team and she is still getting the measure of her talented players.

“We have been together for just five or six weeks now, so that is not very long,” says Annan. “Of that five weeks, we first had a new selection of 27 players and then we had to bring that back to the 18 players who are here in Rosario. You also have other choices to make. You want to give some of the players some rest, you want to see new players in tournament situations and you want to spread the responsibility around a bit.”

One of the questions surrounding this Netherlands team is the absence of some of the key players from the past few events. Annan explains that she felt some players just needed a rest from the pressures of competitive hockey. “They need some time to rest and have some time to themselves. For example, Maartje [Paumen] has not missed an international competition in 12 years. That takes its toll. Another player is recovering from an injury. So we have a number of players who are not here, but that’s okay.”

As a player who is generally recognised as one of the greatest players the game has seen, Annan certainly understands the pressures that players are under and also, just how important time away from the game can be. “Sometimes you have to miss something to discover and spark something new. I’m not saying any of the players are missing passion, but in missing this event, they might find something that I’m not even looking for or that they are not looking for themselves.”

The Netherlands have been the world number one team for a number of years now, so how does Annan coach a team that has enjoyed such consistently high levels of success. “Well, to be honest with you, my past helps. I have been where they are. But these players’ willingness to learn and get better is incredibly high.

“You don’t necessarily see that on the field all of the time but at home and in the background there is a willingness to learn. They have realised that staying at the top is incredibly difficult. Getting to the top is step one, staying at the top is a whole new challenge. Every Olympiad teams are getting fitter and faster and we need to stay ahead of that. We cannot get into a situation where we are following.

“We have already made changes at this tournament. When we make changes we have to look at where we can make a difference. I am looking at what has been successful and what we can add to that and I am looking at what we can change to make it even more successful.”

“The top eight teams in the world are here, so it is a good tournament. The structure leaves me with some doubts. We finished top of our pool and we played the third ranked team in the world in the quarter finals, but that is a pressure the players must learn to deal with. The quality of the games have been very good, so it gives us a good idea of where we are at now.”

As van As said: “It is horrible right now, but sometimes you need to lose to learn more about yourselves.” And ominously for the opposition, she added. “Experiencing a loss is not something we do very often and we will use this to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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