While hockey fans and spectators across the globe wait for the advent of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018, the teams themselves have a busy time ahead of them. With practice matches, test series and four nations tournaments taking place over the next month, hockey fans have plenty of chances to see their favourite teams and players in action.
One city that is showcasing hockey over the month of June is the Dutch city of Breda. Not only is the six nation men’s Rabobank Hockey Champions Trophy taking place in Breda from 23 June to 1 July, but four of the world’s top women’s teams are also descending for a Four Nations Tournament from 26-30 June. Reigning World Cup champions the Netherlands, Spain, Japan and China are playing each other in a round robin competition that is being held alongside the Rabobank Hockey Champions Trophy.
Wherever they are making their final preparations, these next few weeks will be testing times as squads are finalised, new systems and strategies tested and players put through their paces.
The Head Coaches will be wrestling with their starting line-ups, the penalty corner routines and identifying players who will step up should a match go to shoot-out.
Speak to any of the Coaches who will be leading their teams at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this July and August and they will tell you about the tiny details and the minutiae of organisation that needs to be in place so their players can hit the ground running and play to their potential.
To ready themselves for the challenge that awaits them in London, all the participating nations have a busy schedule of internationals. This might appear strange to the onlooker, why, for instance, are teams playing friendly matches against the very teams that they will face at the World Cup?
One of the answers comes from England Head Coach, Danny Kerry, who spoke of the psychological advantage that players have if they see a rising number of caps by their names.
England are one of the teams who have been touring the globe to make sure that, come the World Cup, the squad members, even those new to the set-up, will feel very much part of the team and not see themselves as naive newcomers.
Which is also great for hockey fans as it means there are extra opportunities to see their favourite teams and players in international action.
In the southern hemisphere, Japan, Australia and New Zealand have just finished a Tri-Nations tournament, with Australia finishing in first place, just ahead of Oceanic rivals, New Zealand. At the beginning of July all three teams will travel to Europe where they will play a number of friendly matches and test matches as part of the acclimatisation process.
Ireland have had a busy time as they crossed the Irish Sea at the beginning of June to play Scotland, before they play a three-test series against Canada in Dublin and then a Tri-Nations invitational against Germany and Canada in Berlin. Finally, the Irish women will test themselves against Italy and Chile in another three-way invitational event.
Some of the Argentinian players got a run-out at the XI South American Games Cochabamba in Bolivia before undertaking an intense five test series against fellow World Cup participants USA. Both teams will then head to Europe for their final preparations.
China and Japan will be in Europe throughout June. Head Coaches Jamilon Muelders (China) and Anthony Farry (Japan) will be keen to get their players acclimatised as quickly as possible. China will be getting a workout against Belgium, while Japan face Ireland before both teams head to Breda for the Four Nations event.
Spain are another nation who are getting a lot of international experience under their belt in the next few weeks. They will play India at home in Madrid, then travel to England to experience the actual World Cup venue in London, one of many teams who are taking an opportunity to experience playing at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre ahead of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup itself.
Aside from providing a hectic and gruelling schedule for the players and coaches to go through in the final weeks and days before a major international event, this is also a time that is fraught with nerves on the part of the squads.
Players will be anxiously waiting to see if they have done enough to make the squads; the coaches will be endlessly playing over different scenarios that could occur; and lurking in everyone’s minds is the constant threat of a competition-ending injury.
With less than a few weeks to go before the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup begins, much drama will already have been played out as the teams go through the final stages of preparation.