It has been a busy year for the Hockeyroos of Australia. In April they finished in silver medal position at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games; they then travelled to London for the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup where they came close to toppling the Netherlands in the semi-final – narrowly losing out in shoot-out.
It was over to China for the Wanglibao Hockey Champions Trophy in Changzhou in December, where they finished in the silver medal position, again losing out to Netherlands by a 3-1 scoreline.
Now attention is turning to next year and the whole new challenge of the FIH Pro League. It is an opportunity that long-serving captain Emily Smith is relishing and she says the team will be using the recent Hockey Champions Trophy experience to aid their preparations.
“I think the appetite for people to come along and support us is going to be huge.”Emily Smith, Australia
“No one in our team had played in China before,” says Smith, who has represented her country more than 210 times. “It was great to have a chance to adapt to the different culture. The food proved a challenge to us but we pride ourselves on being resilient and adapting, which we were. Being adaptable enough to not let any differences in our environment upset our routine will be an advantage when we start travelling the globe for the Pro League. The chance to get used to things in different countries in advance is invaluable.
“And it is equally true for the people travelling across to Australia, it will be different and pose challenges they will have to deal with.”
One thing that really excites Australia’s captain is the opportunity the FIH Pro League offers to fans in her home country to watch top quality hockey matches.
“We are going to get really high quality games in Australia, now that is really exciting. I have been in the programme for a long time and we rarely get the chance to play high quality teams at home. Now we are going to get the Dutchies (the Netherlands) and Argentina over playing on our home turf. For our Aussie fans to see hockey like that is a big thing.
“Hockey is a family sport in Australia, if one person in the family plays then the whole family will come out and support them. it will be great for them to see the teams they normally only see on television or once in a blue moon, so we are really looking forward to that. I think the appetite for people to come along and support us is going to be huge.”
Of course, the teams’ preparations for the FIH Pro League will take on a very different complexion to the way they have prepared for international fixtures in the past. For a start, they will be travelling for three months of the year and playing intense and regular home fixtures for a further three months.
Adapting their programme to suit the new playing regime has been the major challenge for the coaching and support staff, who have been working behind the scenes to ensure the Hockeyroos are ready to start the FIH Pro League in the best state of readiness.
Smith explains how the coaching staff have turned to other sports for advice. “In Australia we have AFL (Australian Rules Football) and Rugby League who play around the globe regularly.
The sports teams in Australia are a close-knit group so we have been using their resources and have been learning from what they have done for the past 20 years. In that way, we hope to be able to adapt to the new system quickest of all the nations. We have very educated and specialised people on our staff. We are just the athletes so we get on and do what we are told.”