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Xavier Reckinger inspires Germany to win against Argentina. Pic credit: Getty Images/FIH

Reckinger plays the listening game

July 30, 2018

Germany have got off to a flying start at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, London 2018. They have won all three Pool C games, beating South Africa, Argentina and Spain to qualify straight through to the quarter-finals. This was achieved after the squad had spent just 28 days together this year. 

The team has been on a mostly upward trajectory since its disappointing performance at the Rabobank Hockey World Cup 2014, but there have also been some blips. Bronze at the Rio Olympics was a high point, fourth at the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships was a disappointment. But, based on recent performances, the blips could be a thing of the past as Die Danas start to flex their collective muscle in London.

If one thing symbolises a change in the German mindset it is the sight of Franzisca Hauke racing up the side of the pitch as she uses her devastating speed to unleash another Die Danas assault on their opponents.

A short while ago Hauke and Anne Schröder were both central defenders but under Head Coach Xavier Reckinger, this is a more fluid German side. It is also a side that is smashing the generally held stereotypical image of Germany as a nation that sees defence as it's best form of attack.

Speaking after their 3-1 win over Spain, in which she was awarded the Vitality Player of the Match award, Hauke said: "Germany was always known as the hardest nation when it comes to defending but now we are playing a really attacking game as well. We want to shoot more goals, it is not enough to just defend our goal. We are also much more fit than we were four years ago, and that is key.

"Xavier Reckinger (Head Coach) has a good eye for positioning: for example, Anne [Schroeder] and myself used to play central, now we are wide and can use our speed much better. That works well."

"The whole process should be much more of an exchange, rather than the coach telling people how to play." Xavier Reckinger

It is not just the positioning that Reckinger has tinkered with. He is also making subtle changes to the foundations that his predecessor Jamilon Mülders had put in place. The two coaches have enormous respect for each other, with Reckinger frequently referencing the progress Mülders had effected with the team, and Mülders saying that Reckinger and his team were a "great appointment, who are already seeing results."

Reckinger took over as Head Coach to Germany just eight months ago. Prior to that he and been assistant coach following the Rio Olympics in 2016. As he says, "When you take over with such a short time before a major tournament you don't want to change too much."

In fact, Reckinger's appointment to the role took place on the same day that he had to select his squad for the Hockey World League Final in New Zealand.

For the Head Coach, the key to a successful squad is getting his players involved in the decision-making and solution-finding process. As a recent international (328 caps for Belgium) himself, he understands the things that matter to the players. One of those things is a feeling of involvement.

"I like to get the players involved. I ask my players what they think. Sometimes they make a suggestion that I think 'oh, that is a bit dodgy', but I still commit to following their suggestions. For example, in the match against Argentina, they called a penalty corner that I didn't agree with. I won't tell you if we scored from it or not but it was a classic example of me listening to the players. The whole process should be much more of an exchange, rather than the coach telling people how to play."

The willingness of the coach to listen to his players is, says Reckinger, having a positive impact on how the players react to his own ideas.

"Because they know their opinions are always considered, they will accept my opinions too. We see the positive impact of that on the pitch and around the camp at this World Cup. I know that after we have made a plan they will follow it. I see my role as guiding them through and helping find solutions."

Germany's next match is a quarter-final clash with either Belgium or Spain.

For all the news from the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup, click here.

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