It’s all change at the elite end of international hockey as the FIH Pro League becomes a reality. While there is enormous excitement on a global scale, the new competition format is doubtless causing Head Coaches and their staff to rethink the way they do things.
USA’s Janneke Schopman is no exception. The FIH Pro League has caused the Head Coach to make changes to the current training schedule. The former Netherlands international and Olympic gold medallist explains:
“As a full-time programme, we normally use the months of January through to May to build up our physical performance and increase our level of strength and physique next to improving our gameplay. With the FIH Pro League and the travel that’s part of it, we have to do that work earlier and try to maintain our level of fitness throughout the season.”
“The atmosphere, I’m sure, will be incredible, and I am a player that builds off of energy like that” Erin Matson, USA
Like many of her fellow coaches, Schopman sees the FIH Pro League as a step into the unknown:
“The countries that have club hockey will probably face more challenges to combine international gameplay with club commitments. As for us the amount of travel and lack of actual training time will be different than what we are used to and it’s a bit of an unknown to be honest. We are planning ahead to stay away from potential difficulties but the experience itself will show us what it really will be like.”
Despite the challenges it will provide, Schopman is full of positivity for the new global competition, seeing it as a great way to showcase the sport in the USA.
“I think the idea of the Pro League is great, the ability to play high level games is important for our programme. I hope that we can showcase our sport in the stadium and on television as, in my opinion, the American public would love the fast-paced skilful game we play. I’m sure it can have a great impact on more people wanting to play the sport in the US.”
Schopman’s enthusiasm is shared by one of the youngest members of the squad, Erin Matson, although as the teenager explains, she is going to be treading a fine line between sport and study commitments:
“Balancing school and hockey has always been one of my top priorities,” she says. “Academics are very important to me; my schoolwork comes first.
“With this being my first spring semester of college, I will not be making it to many games overseas. Janneke and I worked hard to figure out a schedule that could balance both, and the best answer was to focus on school so I can graduate as early as possible and be ready to join the team full time. I’m certainly looking forward to having more repeated opportunities for international play. I love the idea of traveling to different countries and playing in high-stake situations. The atmosphere, I’m sure, will be incredible, and I am a player that builds off of energy like that.”
One player who will be there every step of the way is Kathleen Sharkey, the team captain and prolific forward.
She is certain that the USA’s current programme has prepared them well for the demands of the FIH Pro League:
“For many years now in the United States we have committed to a full time centralised training programme with the national team. And so I think we are prepared for the demands of the FIH Pro League. However, there will be quite a lot more trips abroad, but I think we’re looking forward to the consistent international games that the FIH Pro League will bring.”
USA women start their FIH Pro League campaign with an away match against PAHF rivals Argentina on 2 February in Cordoba, Argentina.