Couzins: Black Sticks focused on Games medal

NEXT STEP: Black Sticks captain Dean Couzins is confident his side will return home from the Commonwealth Games with a medal.
NEXT STEP: Black Sticks captain Dean Couzins is confident his side will return home from the Commonwealth Games with a medal.

As we prepare for this month's Commonwealth Games, it's easy to think that we're putting all our eggs in this particular basket.

To an extent we are; we're doing all we can to give ourselves every chance possible of coming home with a medal and to hopefully push for a spot in the final where we know we could cause an upset.

But everything we're doing now, while currently aimed at Glasgow, is also helping the side build long-term.

The things we're doing off the pitch, all the strength and conditioning, all the planning, the psych work, that is all building this team and will hopefully take us to the next step.

We're currently ranked sixth, but some of us older guys with long memories remember being in the side when we were down around ninth or lower.

While the climb up has been long and tough, the hardest step is our next one; breaking into that top three or four so we're always playing for medals at the tier-one tournaments.

So it's imperative that we're doing everything now as well as we can and better than before.

Improving from where we are is difficult as we're trying to become better than some very good sides and sides that are also looking for every little advantage they can get. They're not just sitting around waiting for us to catch them.

But I genuinely think we're on the right track.

We're learning and developing from each tournament we go to and we have the right personnel within and around the team.

We're spending a lot of time together and using that time well.

It's tough as guys are trying to balance jobs and study and we don't get to spend as much time together as some sides, but there's no use complaining about that.

We don't have the luxury of an Australia who can keep everyone together in Perth fulltime or the Netherlands who can travel to each other all the time.

But we can't change that so we do what works best for us. It's a cop-out to use those things as excuses for not improving; we're better off being creative about how we can spend the most time together and getting the most out of these periods together to help us and our development as a team.

When we do come together as a centralised unit - often before tournaments - we work hard and get a lot out of it. Our situation may not be the ideal, but it's working as best as we can make it.

We simply don't have the resources to move everyone to Auckland. My view is we need to leverage off our strengths and we do, we work hard, we work well as a team and we use the time we do have together.

Taking that next step isn't easy though. As I said, other teams aren't just going to lie down, they're searching for every advantage too, but I'm confident we can make it.

In recent years we've been close. At major tournaments it's only been a couple of things that cost us a shot at the semifinals. A mistake here or a slow start there. It's in our vision, within our reach, you know, it's close, like, just there.

But I'm pretty confident we're going to take that next step for a few reasons.

We've got a really good support staff. There's a lot of confidence among the guys in our head coach Colin Batch and his management team and we've got a core group of players with the right amount of experience that they're beginning to peak and will be strong players over the next couple of years.

There's a bit more depth, too, because the youth programmes are stronger, the younger guys coming in are quick learners and good players while some of us old heads are still playing pretty good hockey and know what's needed to be the best.

Hopefully a medal at the Games is the next step on that track and hopefully it's better than the bronze we won four years ago.

Dean Couzins is captain of the men's Black Sticks

The Press