Sleep part of Black Sticks' early-start strategy

JONATHAN MILLMOW IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 26/07/2012
Kayla Sharland
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
KAYLA SHARLAND: “A lot us like to sleep in. Now that we are on that routine, it is pretty easy to get up at those times. We try and wind down around 7pm. We have these special glasses we put on with amber lenses."

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Will the early birds get the worm? Kayla Sharland hopes so.

Captain of the women's Black Sticks and potentially one of the stars on London's striking blue hockey turf, Sharland is loving every minute of her third Olympic experience, even considering the 6.30am starts which are part of her team's daily routine.

By 9am yesterday, when she and team-mates Emily Naylor and Stacey Michelsen as well as coach Mark Hager fronted the media, Sharland was well and truly into her work - with lunch and an afternoon practice game against Great Britain the other things on her mind. The game against the Brits ran till 5.30pm, almost bedtime. Sharland, incidentally dating Crusaders rugby player George Whitelock, knows the importance of a winning start against Australia in their 8.30am game on Sunday.

It could be a tournament defining match for the sides ranked sixth (New Zealand) and seventh (Australia) in the world, given tougher games ahead against Argentina (2) and Germany (3).

Only two teams from each pool progress to the medal round.

One thing for certain, the Black Sticks should be better out of the blocks than Australia. For the past fortnight they have followed the instructions of a sleep expert to deal with their early morning starts against Australia and again on August 6 against one of the top dogs - Germany. Sharland said the experiment had taken some getting used to but was working well.

“A lot us like to sleep in. Now that we are on that routine, it is pretty easy to get up at those times. We try and wind down around 7pm.

“We have these special glasses we put on with amber lenses.

“That shuts out all the blue light and then we have a process in terms of a hot shower, computers off at a certain time, no cellphones, no alarm clock (lights) visible - all those things that stimulate your mind.”

So, who has been sleeping in?

“Most of the girls have been pretty good,” the 26-year-old Palmerston North born midfielder said.

“We have been pretty tired anyway, so we are ready to zonk out at night. [5.30am] is the earliest we get up. Generally we are getting up around 6am, 6.30am or 7am. We can't go off this time otherwise it is harder to get up the next time."

The Black Sticks have lost six of their last 10 matches, and most recently were hammered 5-1 by a sharp German outfit in a Four Nations tournament in Bremen last week. Hager said lessons were learned from the German defeat.

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“We didn't move the ball, we didn't mark, we gave away 11 (penalty) corners. The real focus since has been making sure we are better around the defensive area.”

The best finish by a New Zealand women's team at the Olympics is sixth, in both 2000 (Sydney) and 2004 (Athens).

Rankings suggest the Black Sticks could equal or better that.

“The world of hockey knows we are a threat due to the success we have had over the last two years,” Sharland said. “We have played a lot of teams with a lot of different styles so we are ready.”

AT A GLANCE

Black Sticks women's schedule

July 29 v Australia
July 31 v South Africa
August 2 v Argentina
August 4 v United States
August 6 v Germany

- © Fairfax NZ News

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