If there's a time to step down from your job, it's now. Black Sticks Men's coach Colin Batch has joined the politrickster John Key and Wellington Phoenix in resigning in what is a very intriguing decision given how the Black Sticks Men currently sit in terms of their young, talented roster and the improvement they can make.
Batch will now coach Australia's Kookaburras which will ensure that Trans-Tasman battles in the future are super-spicey. After initially re-signing for four more years, Batch has obviously been head-hunted by Australia and the opportunity to return home was too good to turn down.
This news was off-set by the re-signing of Mark Hager and there's not too much drama surrounding that. Hager feels like he has unfinished business with the Black Sticks Women and that's understandable as he's also played a crucial role in expanding the pool of international calibre players (as did Batch). That unfinished business comes in the form of some near-misses at the Olympics and this has me wondering how poorly the lack of clutch, or polish in the Women's team to jump that final hurdle, reflects on Hager.
It feels as though the narrative of being happy that Hager has taken the women to those various points and that he's the man to lead them take them beyond their previous best work, is drowning out the fact that Hager couldn't get what was an incredibly talented Black Sticks Women's team any further. It's a gamble to give Hager a long-term deal and we'll simply have to wait and see how things pan out under Hager now.
One thing's for certain though; Hager's re-appointment means that expectations for the Women's team need to be high. There's plenty of talent in this Women's team, most of that talent is young and there's a continuation of Hager's message, style and tactics that the next four years should be highly successful.
Batch's resignation is exciting, not because we bid farewell to Batch but because there will be a fresh voice to lead the Black Sticks Men after Batch took them to a certain point. Having overseen a transitional period where three of Aotearoa's most experienced players have retired or are nearing the end of their career (Dean Cousins, Phil Burrows and Ryan Archibald), Batch ensured that young players were brought in while ensuring that the Black Sticks Men remained highly competitive in what is now a brutally competitive international hockey arena.
This feels like a solid all-round decision because Batch has laid the foundation in terms of how the lads play their hockey, as well as a foundation of blokes who are under 30yrs but have plenty of international experience. That foundation now has some serious young talented being built on top of it and with a break over summer, now is a good time to step down and allow Hockey NZ to pick a new coach, then allow that coach time to settle into his work.
Kiwi hockey is in a very strong position, perhaps the strongest position it's been in during my lifetime and Aotearoa is doing its bit in growing international hockey which is now highly competitive. Both the Men's and Women's squads have copious amounts of talent and are well poised to continue to play a major role in international hockey. Now we're going to be treated to a bit of an experiment where the continuation of Hager goes up against a fresh perspective being brought in to lead the lads.