Danny will relish his Olympic adventure
King's Lynn's Danny Kerry has the task of guiding British women's hockey to success at the London 2012 Olympics.
Kerry was a university lecturer with a love for hockey forged in his formative years at King's Lynn's Pelicans club. Now the former KES pupil is charged with making sure Britain's senior women's team peak at the first home Olympics on these shores since 1948.
'Just a whole series of circumstances meant I ended up coaching teams who did well and I just rode up the ranks that way,' says the country's premier coach in the female game.
'It was never something I set out to do but once I had got my feet under the table and enjoyed it I was curious to see how far I could go.
'I was a university lecturer originally. I played in the National League for ten years with Southgate and towards the end there were a lot of changes and I was offered a player/coach role with a rival London-based team.
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'Hounslow Hockey Club played in the National League but had just been relegated to Division One and I had done some national age group coaching at that time, but never really with a view to making it my future career.
'I got involved with England U18 age group sides in 1997 and then Canterbury Ladies from 2001 and it really developed from that point.'
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Sport, as in life, is about living for the moment and 2012 will mark the culmination of a seven-year journey for Kerry.
'I started on January 1, 2005 and in July of that year London was announced as the venue for 2012 and really it has always been the goal since in every decision we have taken,' he said.
'When we picked the Olympic squad for Beijing in 2008 it was the best we could put together at the time but at the same time there was also a consideration of where players would be, come London. Everything is about London. The Olympics is the pinnacle.'
Beijing, 2008. Kerry's first experience of the greatest sporting spectacular on the planet was a surreal but ultimately sobering experience for the Norfolk man who guided GB to their best Games since Atlanta 1996 before losing an Ashes battle to Australia.
'I learned loads of things,' he says. 'We were actually ranked 11th or 12th at the tournament, we finished sixth and we came within touching distance of a semi-final and I think we got ahead of ourselves.
'The feeling we had was we hadn't done that well, which wasn't the case at all. We needed to enjoy that experience but we came away feeling we hadn't achieved.
'It's about managing that so people don't get ahead of themselves and focusing on the processes that will achieve what we want.
'For me, I put a huge amount of pressure on myself because it's hard to explain what that environment is like and the massive media attention on the Olympics.
'From a coaching perspective, I got my head stuck too much in video analysis and how we could beat teams instead of getting my head out of my work and going and talking to my players and managing them better. That for me was probably the biggest lesson I learned.'
Kerry knows the media glare and soaring expectation levels on the hosts will be even more intense this next time around.
'The interesting thing will be the last few months leading up to the Games when it really captures the imagination of the entire country,' said Kerry.
'We've already had a fair bit of media training, or the girls have, to try and prepare ourselves for that side of it. We have a lot of media on our doorstep and they don't quite understand where we are coming from.
'We get requests for them to go on the pitch and join in training games or even seriously play in an international match. It can cause some interesting problems, to say the least but you just have to handle it.
'The media creates a lot of potential judgement and expectation so we'll need to set time aside and plan for that.
'But by the same token a home Olympics is a wonderful opportunity. We've just played the Champions Trophy in Nottingham earlier this year and I would say there was a definite advantage in terms of playing in front of your own fans.
'It's quite difficult to put your finger on why exactly that is – I would honestly struggle to tell you – but you definitely see a rise in performance. One of the British Olympic Association's (BOA) concerns is what they call 'home disadvantage' or people crumbling under the weight of home support. Thankfully, we haven't had that experience in our sport. We've played our best hockey.'
Kerry has also plotted success on foreign fields as coach of Team England – the group who will form the core of the British senior squad when the Home Nations unite in Olympic pursuit – who have won medals at World Cups, Champions Trophies and the last two Commonwealth Games.
The organisation Kerry oversees has undergone a complete transformation to support elite British women's hockey in its efforts to regularly push the world's best.
'When I started, my first major in 2005 was the European Cup in Dublin. I had one physio, one manager and a video analyst, so a staff of four,' he says.
'My job now is not just managing 30 elite athletes but about another 15 support staff and I had to learn on the job. I've always been adamant about the fact I was appointed on the back of a 'hands-on' approach and so one of the arts now is trying to delegate to allow me to do what I do, so I'm still very much hands-on and drive what we do out on the pitch.
'All the girls live within the Bisham area, where we are based, but it is a challenge day in, day out.
'To keep that freshness as a coach is a real skill because if you are working with largely an unchanged group they get used to you and your methods.
'Over these last five years the players have become very experienced and we've learned to split the team up into small units and do a lot of small-sided conditioning games where in effect the players help coach themselves.
'They have to think for themselves rather than wait for me to come in. They learn what they do well, and not so well. That re-invention and challenging them keeps them on their toes.'
With the economic downturn threatening drastic cuts in public spending, hockey looks as if it will buck the financial trend in the all important final countdown.
UK Sport recently announced a funding increase which will equate to �1.1m over the men's and women's game in the lead up to 2012 – a recognition perhaps of not only recent achievements but an expectation of delivering more in the near future.
'I am very fortunate in that I get to meet a lot of coaches from other sports and I would say the Olympics sports are right out there in terms of what they do – even more than the so called 'professional' sports, which are well behind,' says Danny.
'Of course within that there are some Premier League football clubs that are cutting-edge in their methods and approaches but many other clubs in football and different sports as well are definitely not.
'Maybe given the sums of money involved in the likes of football there is an assumption they are doing things right already and why would they need to address anything over and above the tried and tested methods.
'For me, I refer to the analogy of how the Swiss were the dominant player in the watch-making industry until the Japanese came along with their electronics and took control of that market. You have to adapt to move on.'
Which is why London may be Kerry's swansong as well as the highest of high points.
'That's a good question. The honest answer is I don't know what will happen after London,' he says.
'In large part it will depend on how we have done.
'I think the organisation who employ me, which is England Hockey, will have a good think about what they feel is right for the programme and whether it is time for a new approach and I'll do the same.
'I think if we do amazingly well, possibly more amazing opportunities will open for me.
'If we don't, then the skills and experiences I have learned over the last five or six years will allow me to work in other areas – what it is at the moment, I don't know.'