In this week’s Coaches Corner, we meet a coach who is hoping to lead an Asian team to the World Cup podium for the first time since China’s third place finish in 2002.
Anthony Farry is Head Coach of Japan women, a post he has held for just over a year. Prior to that he was in charge of the Canadian men’s national team.
With exactly one month before the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 gets underway, we caught up with the progressive coach to find out how ready Japan are ahead of their eighth foray into World Cup action.
Certainly the Japan women’s team will be getting a lot of experience of playing in Europe in the final weeks before the action begins. They arrive in the Netherlands on 23 June and then go on a whirlwind tour of matches, including a Four Nations event in Breda running alongside the, test matches against Ireland and then a Three Nations event against China and Belgium.
Aside from the physical preparation and the acclimatisation, all the players at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London will also have to cope with thousands of cheering fans. How on earth does a coach prepare his players for that sort of stress?
“We have a few athletes that have played in either a World Cup or at the Olympic Games so the experienced athletes can share their feelings with the less experienced ones,” says the Australian. “However, one of the greatest things to see is the excitement and energy of athletes that comes from seeing and experiencing something for the first time.
“You can simulate and talk about scenarios all you like, but until you are faced with the reality of the situation it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how they will react. We’ll be keeping our focus on what we can control, our process and really looking to have fun and enjoy the atmosphere.”
Watching various teams from around the globe there are obvious differences in style. The Asian style of hockey is often described as very defensive. For Farry, the challenge has been to encourage his athletes to maintain and apply their high levels of discipline towards training but to take a more athlete-centred approach to learning and development.
“The Japanese hockey culture is disciplined, but it is also enthusiastic, adaptable and open to change. I would like to think that we are moving towards a more athlete-centred and coach driven programme, I am learning from the group all the time about how we can play and the different styles we can build on, it’s an exciting time. The players’ work rate is excellent. What we need to improve is the decision-making and game management.”
With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games just 18 months away, Farry and his team are extremely conscious of how important it is for hockey to raise its profile in Japan over the next few months. While the long term aim is undeniably on a medal at the home Olympic Games, a good performance at this year’s World Cup will be a great stepping stone for encouraging the Japanese population to take the hockey team to their hearts.
For Farry, the opportunity to work in Japan has provided some challenges and some fantastic experiences. He says the language barrier has been testing but it has helped both the coach and his players think more carefully about their communication skills.
“I quickly recognised how you can take simple conversations with an athlete/staff member for granted and when that isn’t the case it forces you to adapt and learn, which is great.”
Anthony Farry is a coach who is as happy to learn new ways as his players are. The Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup will doubtless throw up some questions for the team ranked 12th in the FIH Hero World Rankings but Farry and the Cherry Blossoms are not shy of facing new challenges and learning from every experience.
Japan open their Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup campaign with a Pool D match against Australia on 21 July. They also face New Zealand and Belgium in the pool stages.