Black Sticks go mental for Comm medal quest

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 07:45 15/06/2014
LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff.co.nz

The Black Sticks will soon be heading to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

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Resting players' minds as well as their bodies will be crucial if the New Zealand hockey teams are to win medals at next month's Commonwealth Games, says Hockey New Zealand's high performance boss Terry Evans.

Less than six weeks after finishing their World Cup campaigns, both the men's and women's Black Sticks teams will line up again at another major event.

Physically and mentally both squads have been preparing for the World Cup for months.

And while both sides achieved their funding key performance indicators, neither won medals in the Netherlands as hoped.

"The physical part of the recovery is one we can mange relatively easily," Evans said.

"We have the right people in place surrounding the team and we can make sure both the men's and women's teams are well recovered physically before the Commonwealth Games. But mentally it's tougher and that can be more important at this level."

Evans said the teams would have a short break when they get back from the World Cup and would be encouraged to relax and recharge.

"But these aren't the type of people who are going to have cocktails on the beach, they're still elite athletes with a big tournament around the corner.

"What you don't want them to do is relax too much, because it's a difficult process to start back into. It's about getting them refocused on the next challenge so when that first match of the Games starts, they're back at their peak."

Adding to the difficulty in relaxing for some is the fact the Commonwealth Games squads have not been named yet. They have a July 7 deadline - extended by the New Zealand Olympic Committee due to the World Cup - though could be named before that date.

So while the squads are meant to be resting some will be stressing over whether they get to go to Scotland as part of the smaller, 16-person squad.

Motivation for the Games was simple, Evans said.

While the tournament doesn't sit as high on hockey's priorities as the World Cup or the Olympics, it's a big chance for New Zealand to medal and to do so with the country watching.

Senior players Phil Burrows and Krystal Forgesson said two events close together can work well for the players.

"If you play well in the first tournament, you can take that confidence to the next event," Forgesson said.

"And if you don't play well, then you can use it as motivation to work harder at the next one," Burrows added.

Evans warned, however, that it was an easy trap to fall into to start thinking about medals.

"I appreciate it's going to sound like a big old cliche, but they really do have to take it one game at a time and that's something we drum into them. After the World Cup, the next important game is the first at the Commonwealth Games, not a semifinal or a medal game."

New Zealand is obviously not the only country backing up from the World Cup to the Commonwealth Games.

Evans warned some of the nations that didn't qualify for the World Cup could be equally dangerous.

"You've got a team like the Indian women who aren't at the World Cup, but they are very competitive. Then even some of the teams further down the rankings, they'll be well rested and well prepared and will probably see New Zealand as the type of game to really get up for.

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"They would love to take the Black Sticks as a scalp. Those are the matches you just can't afford to lose so you have to really be on your game.

"That's where being mentally fresh and right on form is crucial."

- Sunday News

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