Alyson Annan has impeccable credentials as a hockey coach – she had guided the redoubtable Netherlands women’s team to a glory in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and a runners-up finish in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Hockey world was surprised when she took charge of the China women’s hockey team in May 2022 – it’s not a everyday thing to see a coach of a top-ranked side take up the mantle of coaching a lower-ranked side.
Alyson – a former prolific goal-scorer for Australia – in fact, she is Hockeyroos’s all-time goal-scorer with 166 Goals from 228 internationals – she was also part of Australia’s 1996 and 2000 Olympic gold-winning teams. She was the top goal-scorer of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (alongside South Korea’s Chang Eun-Jung with 8 goals) as well as the top goal-scorer of the 1998 Utrecht World Cup (8 Goals).
The 49-year-old Chinese women’s team coach, who was voted the Best Female Hockey Player in the World in 1999, and took over the Chinese coach role in the middle of the 2021-22 Pro League, pours out her thoughts in an exclusive interview with Hockey Passion.
Q You are a hugely successfully hockey coach and given your immense coaching credentials, what made you take up the job of China women’s hockey team coach a team that is ranked 10th in the world – what was the thought process behind it?
China is a country with a lot of prospects. I have been interested in Asian hockey for some time now and being able to be a part of the Chinese team will allow me to investigate the enormous prospects here in China to improve their world ranking.
Q Can give us a perspective on your roadmap for China women’s hockey team?
We have the Asian Games this year which will be our main focus leading up to the tournament besides Pro League. The focus will lie on combining different cultures while keeping the culture of Chinese hockey.
Q Communication can be a challenge since I believe you don’t know to speak Mandarin (language spoken in China and their players can’t speak English) – how have you been able to manage things on the communication front?
I don’t speak Mandarin, but have started lessons straight away. I believe you should try and learn the language of the country you are coaching. I have a translator who helps and some players speak fluent English and the rest are learning English.
Q You must have seen the Chine women in the 2021-22 Pro League as well as at 2022 the World Cup – what’s your assessment of the team – improvement areas the team needs to focus on?
My main focus was to know the players and their style of playing before making any changes. We have a process of learning and implementing what we learn. The team have many different areas that they focus on as each player is different. As a team we have a few focus areas that we lean on when playing games and training to form a cohesion on the field. We have many areas to improve on but have enough time to do so.
Q What would be your immediate priorities as China coach? Q Can you please let me some of the Chinese players who have impressed you so far?
The team that went to Europe is different to the team that is playing in the Pro League and later in the Asian games. We have incredibly talented players who with a little more definition in their play can become world-class players.
Q Drag-flick is a potent weapon for all teams – can you give us an insight about China’s drag-flicking capabilities?
We have a number of world-class drag-flickers. It will be good to see them more and and have our corner trainer spend some more time with them.