With International Women's Day approaching this Wednesday, 8 March, for Italy's junior women's indoor team it's Women's Day everyday.
When the Italian's competed in this year’s EuroHockey Indoor Junior Championships in Austria, they made history both on the field and the bench. History was made on the field as this was the first time the nation had competed at Championship level since 1991, but it was the line-up on the bench that caused a big stir among spectators.
An all-female staff of Doctor, Physiotherapist, Team Manager and Head Coach was a first for this competition and is one of few times it has happened at an international event.
Italy finished seventh, one spot above the relegation zone, which was a disappointment to the Coach as the team had started strongly and were in early contention for a place in the Semi-Finals. A loss, during a very close match with the host nation Austria, saw them slide into the relegation pool.
At the end of the competition, Head Coach Daniela Possali said: “The team just grew into the competition. After years of inactivity it was our first experience as a group in this Championship. I would have liked to finish in the top four, but we didn’t all play well consistently enough to achieve that.”
While the presence of an all-female bench was capturing the interest of the spectators, the appointment of a female Physiotherapist, Doctor and Team Manager made absolute sense to Daniela. She said: “I think it can be more productive to have a female Team Manager, Physio and Doctor because the relationship between the girls and the staff can be more understanding - it is easier for another woman to interpret the players’ needs.
“Girls usually work by intuition and, as a female player myself, I try to understand their fears and troubles. I want to understand the thoughts of every single person on the team because, as a woman, it is what I feel I have to do to get the best from the squad.”
She says that it is possible for a male coach to understand female players but adds there are some differences and needs that are particular to women, so a female is in a better position to empathise. She said: “I would go as far as to say that there is a ‘maternal instinct’ that women have which, in a coaching scenario, influences the way they react and behave towards the players.”
Daniela has coached in Italy and Holland and is now coaching top Italian club side Milan Cernusco sul Naviglo. She says her work with the Italian Under-21 indoor team was a learning curve for her as well as her players. She said: “My team only played two games before the EuroHockey Championships, there are just so few opportunities to prepare; this does not help our performance.
“During each game we improved our tactics and the team’s union. We had been training for four days before the actual event, we self-funded that and kept costs down by sleeping in a gym. Our aim was to create a group who respected and worked hard for each other."
So as a coach, is it easier to train men or women? “Well, training a men’s team is very easy. You just have to say what to do and they do it. With women, not only you have to train them for the performance, but you have to spur, console and understand them. It can be more difficult but it is very human. This is what I like about being a coach.”
FIH wants to increase the degree of professionalism throughout all areas of hockey, a key component of the organisation’s 10-year Hockey Revolution strategy which aims to make the sport a global game that inspires the next generation. This also implies to increase the number of female professionals and volunteers working in hockey, be it on the field or in governance structures.
While women’s participation in sport is still a major cause for concern across many sports in many countries, examples like this shows that there is no doubt hockey is leading the way in becoming ‘Gender Amazing’.