King’s Lynn’s Danny Kerry believes his Team GB hockey women have rise bar since Beijing
Danny Kerry believes Team GB's hockey women are a world away from the side that left Beijing without a medal – all they need to do is prove it.
The ex-Pelicans Hockey Club star has helped turn Britain around from their failure to make the semi-finals four years ago to leading his side to several major championship podiums since, representing the perfect build-up to their home Olympics.
King's Lynn's Kerry, 41, has been GB head coach since 2005. His side begin their campaign with a Pool A opener against Japan on Sunday evening. And whether driven by Beijing or not, it was clear from the look on the faces of Kerry and his girls that they really mean business this time around.
'On a personal level, as head coach leading aspiring Olympians you have to let go yourself,' said Kerry. 'You are like the flight steward – if there is a bit of turbulence and you look panicky, everyone panics.
'So I've tried to work hard on keeping us in a good place and making sure you're on the ball when things are starting to bubble up and nip them in the bud and manage things – whereas in Beijing I think I got incredibly tired and as a result got stuck into my work and ignored the people management of it all. I didn't lead that very well.
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'On a team level the changes would take up the whole day to talk about. At it's most fundamental, we've got a group that has tried to measure every facet of playing performance and systematically progressed them all.
'There will not be a better conditioned team at the Olympic Games, full stop. And we've done a huge amount of work around team-building, character and self-awareness. That detail and work gets the really deep understanding and allows them to get in the right place and work under pressure.'
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Be it training with the Royal Marine Commandos or getting through the dread of putting on an improvised comedy show, GB's ladies have done it all in the pursuit of a return to Olympic hockey form.
There have been the standard preparations too: a warm-up clash with New Zealand and another 'scrimmage' with Germany on Thursday, although not every preparation has been made easy.
'We play Japan first and the order of matches I'm quite OK with,' said Kerry, with GB commanding popular evening slots for their pool games.
'The only thing is the Japanese have been very crafty,' Kerry added in jest. 'They've played no hockey since their qualifier – against anybody. Normally I like to be well armed with a good look at the opposition and they've been very sneaky and not played anybody, so it's very unsportsman-like of the Japanese – I'll have to have a word with them…
'We'll just have to get out there and make good decisions. If you take football, everyone knows how Barcelona will play. The point is it's the ability to do your game very well under pressure. It's not trying to be something you're not. All of the coaches in the Olympic competition know how people are going to play.
'We played the Kiwis and they were adamant the session was closed, and four years ago I might have been a little bit more precious about those things too. But genuinely, at this point, if you're hiding stuff people will still know what you're going to do. It's really about the players' ability to make decisions on the pitch.'
As for his King's Lynn roots, Kerry has already had plenty of reminders ahead of Team GB's home Olympics.
'My mum and my family are absolutely delighted they're going to the games,' said the former King Edward VII High School pupil. 'I've had quite a few old team-mates and people contact me who I haven't heard from in years, so the jungle drums are beating. Sarah Juggins is running the press for the hockey here – and we grew up together playing for Pelicans.
'It's nice to have a local friendly face here. When you bump into someone you grew up with and played hockey with, who is now running the press centre, I thought 'Wow, that's a coincidence'. It's a small world – and it's quite nice actually, to have an ally in the corner.'