Black Sticks High Performance Director Tony Hanks has been working with both the men’s and women’s teams as they build up to the Olympic Games. He tells us about dealing with uncertainty in a Covid-world, handling the oppressive heat in Tokyo, and the drive to do something only one Black Sticks team has ever done.
With no international hockey for the bulk of 2020, how tough was last year for the Black Sticks?
It was difficult on lots of levels especially with the Covid disruption occurring so close to a pinnacle event which people had made such a commitment to. The early decision to postpone the Olympic Games and the fact we could retain our High Performance Sport NZ funding was a great help. Everyone worked hard to make the most of the situation and there’s now a real excitement after having nothing for most of 2020, and a recognition of how lucky we are.
The Black Sticks’ schedule for 2021 has three options – 1) purely domestic, 2) within a potential trans-Tasman bubble or 3) with open borders. How do you help the players prepare for that uncertainty?
The three options are constantly changing from when they were first presented to the players late last year. We try to keep the players informed as much as we can, directly and with the assistance of the Players Association, so they’re aware of the plans and able to adapt as things change. Having the players as part of those planning conversations is really important.
The women's Black Sticks celebrate scoring a goal at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games
Everyone is talking about the heat in Japan. How hot will it be and how do you help the players cope?
The humidity is pretty oppressive and I remember a rugby game between the Blues and the Sunwolves where it was 44 degrees on field. Being there and experiencing that gives you an appreciation of not just what it does to you physically but what it does to you mentally.
Hockey is quite fortunate in that a lot of our players have experienced heat in the likes of Malaysia so it’s not completely foreign. We’re working through a number of coping strategies such as using heat chambers and simply wearing more clothing at training to create that discomfort.
We’re trying some scientific and not so scientific techniques to see what works. We have embraced the fact it’s going to be hot, and everyone knows that teams that handle the heat well will enhance their chances of being successful.
New Zealand has just one Olympic hockey medal – the men’s gold in 1976. Are we medal contenders in 2021?
What I’ve been really impressed with from both our teams is the level of passion, intent and ambition. We’ve qualified and now we’re hugely motivated to do really well, and making the podium is a massive driver for us. We are focused on making sure we nail our preparation while making sure our player wellbeing is well supported during these uncertain times.
Tokyo will be a very different Olympics and one that people will talk about for a long time. My hope is that they’ll be talking about it in a positive light – about how the world came through Covid and we were able to have this fantastic event.
Article credit @hockeynz