Free Man Hockey: Let's Chill For A Jiffy About This Black Sticks Women's Thing

Ultimate zzz face.

Ultimate zzz face.

Another day of another week and there's a new angle to the Black Sticks Women/Mark Hager situation to explore. Of course, that new angle came via TVNZ and although the new developments really aren't that interesting, the way this situation is growing, morphing, twisting and turning definitely is interesting.

I must again point out that it is TVNZ who are going hundies on reporting news around this apparent Mark Hager drama. To the extent where it feels as though TVNZ are perhaps creating news, to ensure that this stays in their news cycle while the sensible process of a review takes place. These reviews aren't interesting until they are finished from a news perspective and these news outlets are purely entertainment, so they still require your eyes, your clicks while nothing seems to be happening. 

On top of that, this is now feeling like a bit of a vendetta from TVNZ against Hager and maybe to a lesser extent Hockey NZ. TVNZ are on this investigative journalism buzz and have obviously been given a mission to break news, it's just weird how hard TVNZ are pushing this story, doing all the grunt work and then putting it out there ... for other news outlets to use. The ins and outs of media stuff probably isn't all that interesting to you, hence I won't go too deep down that rabbit-hole, but this only adds to the weirdness around what we are currently dealing with. 

It does look TVNZ are on a war path against Hager, then they came out with this letter from former players backing Hager. Reporting on that falls into the former category of ensuring that this stays in the news cycle while the review takes place. Even though TVNZ are pushing the anti-Hager stuff hard, the new layer of the letter gives them another news story; another swash-buckling exclusive! 

That letter from former players backing Hager, was about as boring as it gets though.

Seven former players, who did represent Aotearoa for a long time fired shots at any criticism directed towards Hager, backing their old coach. Katie Glynn, Laura Douglas, Lucy Talbot, Anna Alexander, Bianca Russell, Emily Gaddum and Krystal Forgesson signed the letter and credit to them for voicing their opinions.

None of those players are relevant to this situation at the moment though. Again, credit to them for their international careers and all of that but none of these players have played under Hager recently. Maybe, many of you out there reading this don't actually know who these players are. 

And again, no disrespect intended here, but those players who were behind that letter, are all of a previous generation of kiwi hockey players. Some, will be 10 years older than the members  of the current squad and I raise that point only because, as we all know, the difference in personalities, style of work, character etc can be very different in such a time frame; us millennials are so weak.

To paint a better picture, consider the changes in the Black Sticks Women's squad between Rio Olympics in 2016 and now. A new wave of hockey players has come into the program, a new wave of players who are all younger and may feel differently about how they want to be coached. From the Rio Olympics squad, the following players are no longer involved via injury, retirement or chilling; Charlotte Harrison, Gemma Flynn, Pippa Hayward, Petrea Webster and Kayla Whitelock.

Now the bulk of the squad is in their early-mid 20's and may have very different thoughts to the older players, or players who have represented Aotearoa in the past decade. 

In pushing this letter to the media, those former players are simply saying that Hager's coaching style matched up well with their personalities, back in the day. That's cool.

That differs greatly to what we have now where current players apparently feel like Hager's coaching style doesn't go well with the personalities of the team. 

While both parties, both generations of players can feel how they want, all that really matters is what is happening now. Not what happened when those former players, were playing. Times have changed and those former players made sure to point out that the strong survived Hager's coaching, as if the current players or those players complaining, aren't strong enough.

This current group, isn't just a new generation, throughout the whole squad, they are a lot younger than the 2008-2012ish squad. I'd suggest that the current squad is bloody mentally strong and they have enjoyed success under Hager, maybe now though they just want to be coached differently, have a different energy around the camp. I dunno.

To put it simply; the former players' letter is irrelevant to whatever is going on right now.

Moving on from that, you may have sensed that my tone has changed slightly. Having meditated on this issue, I feel more balanced right now than I was last week. I had been critical of Hager straight after the World Cup, for a number of coaching reasons that I think held the Black Sticks back from better performances at the World Cup. 

Then came the news about the email and what not, I stuck to the facts of an under-performing Black Sticks Women's team and didn't deviate from that narrative, but maybe I did get caught up in the vendetta of TVNZ slightly. TVNZ, for example, condensed the interview with Hockey NZ CEO Ian Francis into a very small news snippet, that could have been manipulated to fit the TVNZ narrative.

Now, I'm just confused.

Obviously, some amount of current players aren't happy and all I care about is what the current players think. I believe, that this has been evident in their performances and the best example of this was the mediocre performance in the loss to Japan, which came straight after Hager flicked off the email.

Whether it's the entire playing group, the majority of the playing group or the minority of the playing group, well that's rather important in all of this. We simply don't know, regardless of the narrative being pushed by TVNZ, we don't know if this emphatic player power or a case of a few disgruntled individuals voicing their frustrations, or concerns. 

Hence, this situation sucks.

This situation will continue to suck until the review into actual facts and the valuable opinions of the current playing group are sorted through. There is momentum from the Football Ferns saga with NZ Football, although despite both situations zoning in on apparent culture flaws specifically regarding the coaches, they are very different.

With the Football Ferns, the only person who seemed to like former coach Andreas Heraf was the NZF boss Andrew Martin. Martin himself had been criticised for culture issues within NZC and there was such blatant issues, along with a large group of players making complaints (or not wanting to play under Heraf, that the situation sorted itself out; both Heraf and Martin are no longer in those roles.

With the Black Sticks Women, Hager and Hockey NZ, the case against Hager is no where near as strong as the case against Heraf ... and Martin. All we know right now is that some of the current playing group is unhappy and I can all but guarantee that Hager has a lot more support within the kiwi hockey community, than Heraf had within the kiwi football community.

The Football Ferns situation was emphatic. The Black Sticks Women's situation is weird, uncertain and until there is more concrete information, we have to chill.

What really sucks is that we have a Black Sticks Women's team who are under-performing and everyone involved in the Black Sticks Women's hockey has to deal with a hefty pile of crap. All I want is for individuals and subsequently the team, to play to their world-class potential and everything from the email to where we are now is working against that.

Also in the sucky category is that this whole thing may be brewing a divide among the current playing group. Former players have already come out and fired shots at 'weaker' players which isn't good in a small sporting community like hockey in Aotearoa, let alone any type of divide in the current squad between those who support Hager and those who apparently don't. 

Until the review is sussed and there is greater clarity around what the current squad wants, there isn't much to add. Unless there is truly impactful news, I'll be chilling waiting for the review and will stay clear of diving deeper. 

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Peace and love 27.