In our continuing series, Coaches Corner, we meet Team USA’s Janneke Schopman, a World Cup gold medallist with the Netherlands in 2006. She took over as Head Coach of the USA in 2017 after four years as Assistant. Now at the helm, she is aiming to replicate her playing days glory.
For Team USA and Janneke Schopman, the 2014 Hockey World Cup in The Hague is a dim and distant memory. There is a sense that even the composed Dutch woman gets a little irritated by its mention.
As spectators however, it is hard to forget the way in which the USA team burst onto the scene and swept all higher ranked opposition to one side as they made their way to the semi-finals.
A fourth place finish, knocked out of the semi-finals in shoot-out, was a brilliant result for the team ranked 11th at the time. And the hockey world was introduced to the USA style of play. Work harder, run faster and never, ever give up.
“The team contesting the 2018 World Cup is completely different from the team that played in 2014, so it is impossible to compare them,” says Schopman, who was Assistant in 2014.
The players might be different but the culture has been passed on. Wherever they travel and wherever they compete, USA athletes are renowned for their adherence to the team and its values. This, says Schopman, is a very typical American thing.
“It is country first, every time,” she says, “that culture of team before individual is very, very strong and it cements all the work we do as a squad.”
It is also a culture that is driven by the players. Schopman says that the behaviours displayed by the team, both on and off the field, have been discussed and agreed by all the squad. When it comes to playing, Schopman admits that she doesn’t always give her players the ‘answers’, and this can sometimes cause some anxiety.
“I like them to arrive at solutions themselves. In the early days, they would look to me for answers, but I want them to learn how to deal with situations, it makes them more intelligent players.”
It is an approach that is likely to be advantageous to Team USA as they continue to grow as a team. In the past, they have been renowned for their speed, skill and tenacity. If they can add a little more guile to their play, they will be genuine medal contenders.
Like most coaches, Schopman is reluctant to discuss her team’s chances of success at the forthcoming Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London. Sounding uncannily like her charges, she speaks of needing to look at the event “one game at a time” and making sure the players are mentally in the right place when they step out onto the pitch in London.
She does speak of a need to stay composed: rushing play can be a default status for the team when they are under pressure. Equally, they need to make the most of any scoring opportunity – against the best teams in the world, chances to score are far and few between.
But, as she points out, this is an experienced team. USA do not play as many international matches as some of the other nations participating in London, but they are full-time athletes and what they lack in cap numbers, they certainly make up for in hours in training.
USA (World Ranking:7) open their Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup campaign with a match against Ireland (WR:16) on 21 July. India (WR:10) and host nation England (WR:2) are the other two teams they will face in Pool B.