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Six of the best: Nominees for the FIH Coach of the Year awards

August 31, 2021

The nominations for FIH Coach of the Year (men’s teams and women’s teams) reflect both Olympic success and continuing development and achievement with their respective national teams. 

For the Head Coaches of the men’s teams, the shortlisted coaches all hail from Oceania, with New Zealander Shane McLeod being joined by Australian counterparts Colin Batch and Graham Reid. Both McLeod and Batch are past winners of the award – McLeod in 2017 and 2018, while Batch was a winner in 2019.

McLeod has enjoyed a tremendous year with the Belgium Red Lions – a team he is now leaving for fresh challenges. A glorious gold medal at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 means the Belgium side are now reigning World Cup and Olympic champions as well as sitting at the top of the FIH World Rankings. That this is the team that finished fifth at the 2012 London Olympic Games – and in the words of goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch, was the team that regularly lost heavily to neighbours Germany and Netherlands – is testimony to the vision and drive of the Belgian Hockey Federation as well as McLeod’s skill as Head Coach.

The silver medallists at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 were the side that has been constantly vying for top spot in the world rankings with Belgium for the past two years. Australia came to Tokyo on the back of a heavily disrupted programme of preparation. They had been limited to trans-Tasman matches against neighbours New Zealand, due to strict pandemic travel restrictions. Despite this, the Kookaburras, under Batch’s guidance played entertaining, combative and high-quality hockey. The quality of their play meant the destiny of the gold medal was undecided until the final seconds of the exciting shoot-out. 

For India, a bronze medal in Tokyo was the cause of a fervent nationwide celebration. A 40-year wait for an Olympic medal for a nation that adores its hockey heroes came to an end when India defeated Germany with a display of disciplined and energetic hockey. Graham Reid has taken the skill and flair of the Indian players and injected his own ethos of hard work and defensive discipline to great effect. The result is a team that potentially can challenge for the highest honours once more.

The Head Coaches of the women’s teams that finished in first, third and fourth place are all nominated for the FIH Coach of the Year award. If Alyson Annan were to win the award, it would be the fourth consecutive year that the Australian-born coach to the Netherlands has been crowned Coach of the Year.

With the Oranje adding Olympic gold to their World Cup, European and FIH Hockey Pro League titles, there is little doubt that Annan is leading a team that comprises some of the most talented hockey players in the world. But, thinking that makes the role of head coach an easy one would be a huge mistake. As fellow coaches, players and Annan herself all admit, staying one step ahead of the chasing pack comes with huge pressure. 

The manner of the Dutch team’s victory in Tokyo was one of measured development throughout the course of the tournament, pressing the accelerator when necessary and, in Annan’s words: “making sure we were better than we were the day before.” As the team made its way through the pool matches and knock-out rounds to a meet up with Argentina in the final, Annan’s philosophy of staying calm and believing in her players paid off as they delivered her first Olympic gold medal as a coach.

Mark Hager could have been forgiven for being a bag of nerves ahead of Great Britain’s encounter with India in the bronze medal match. The Australian had seen his New Zealand team lose at that stage at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and knew the hurt of a fourth-place finish. In the event, Hager and Great Britain triumphed, coming from behind to beat India. The result was remarkable as no-one at the start of the tournament, the athletes included, had believed the new look Great Britain team would be in the medal matches at the end of the competition. Hager’s relaxed approach and belief in his players allowed the team to gel and grow at its own pace, peaking when it mattered to bring home bronze.

Sjoerd Marijne is the only coach to not have won an Olympic medal among our nominees but the former Dutch international graces the list after leading India women to their highest finish ever at an Olympic Games. India finished fourth in Tokyo, punching well above their world ranking. The team played with immense structure, showed great resilience and were prepared to take on their opponents with their own high energy attacking style. Marijne could be seen on the side-line mentally living every moment with his players as they beat Australia in the quarter-finals to set up a semi-final match against Argentina. The Eves may have lost to Argentina and then to Great Britain in the bronze medal game, but their endeavours captured the imagination of a nation. 

The voting process for the FIH Hockey Stars Awards 2020-21 will remain open until Wednesday 15 September 2021, with the winners being announced in late September / early October 2021.

Fans and players can cast their vote here

Media can cast their vote here. 

For more information about the voting process and the full list of Hockey Stars Award nominees, click here.

#HockeyStarsAwards

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