A group of former Black Sticks have come out swinging in support of beleaguered women’s coach Mark Hager.
In a letter signed by the seven – who have a combined 864 caps between them, and all of whom played under Hager since he took charge in 2009 – they back his methods, his positivity and defend charges against him in the wake of an ill-judged email he sent the current squad during the World Cup in London last month.
Hockey New Zealand and the hockey players association met early this week and are getting an independent person to look into the problems between some of the players and Hager.
Hager’s email was meant to be sent to a support staff person and instead went to all players in the squad just before a key match at the World Cup, which they unexpectedly lost.
Three players were specifically criticised for aspects of their game, and Hager felt the general attitude towards training was wrong.
Former goalkeeper Amelia Gibson is the only player to have spoken out against the Hager regime but others in the current group are understood to be unhappy.
That cuts no ice with the seven former players – Katie Glynn, Emily Gaddum, Bianca Russell, Krystal Forgesson, Lucy Talbot, Laura Douglas and Anna Alexander.In the two-page letter, the seven speak out strongly in support of Hager and his methods and point to his success in charge of the Black Sticks.
“We strongly refute recent allegations around a ‘negative environment’ within the Black Sticks programme, Mark’s ‘mistreatment’ of players, ‘bullying’ or playing ‘mind games’,” the letter states.
“In 2008, the Black Sticks Women finished last at the Beijing Olympics, lost all funding, and dropped to 13th in the world. Mark took over following this result and has been at the helm ever since.”
The Black Sticks have been consistently in the world’s top five under 54-year-old Hager, reached number three at one point, have finished fourth at the last two Olympic Games, and won three Commonwealth Games medals, topped by the gold on the Gold Coast last April.
“Mark is a person of high integrity and has always created a high-pressure training environment designed to challenge players physically and mentally,” the letter states.
“Mark never allows the group to become complacent and he always has every player in the squad pushing and challenging for selection.
“Through Mark’s high expectations and low tolerance of complacency, this became ingrained in us as individuals and we were constantly striving for better performances and demanding more of ourselves in both trainings and in games. This essentially led us to being successful, strong and resilient as a group.
“These high expectations and constant goals to get better have essentially helped us all immensely in life after sport.”
The letter talks of the “constant pressure” of high performance sport and to be successful teams had to handle that as a group and as individuals.
“It is a coach’s job to find and support the best players to take on this challenge. Our time in the team was always extremely tough and challenging, but that is to be expected at an international sporting level.”
The seven state they “did not feel bullied, mistreated or that Mark was playing mind games with us.
“We always had a strong leadership group and if we ever had any issues as players with the environment…we could go to them with our concerns and they would address it with the coaching staff.”
The letter ends with an indication of their respect for former Australian star Hager: “We look back fondly on the great memories we have.”
Of the seven, defender Gaddum is the country’s most capped international with 274; resilient striker Glynn scored 77 goals in 134 matches; attacker Forgesson played 220 times for the Black Sticks while Russell kept goal 75 times.
The silence from the current players has been deafening. Several have been approached for comment but none have responded.