letscelebratehockeyOne week has gone by already at this World Cup in The Hague and because we’re almost halfway and approaching fast the decisive games of this tournament it is as good a time as any to take stock and see where we stand…

Allow me to take a somewhat critical stance towards our Red Lions considering this first week. Undeniably the Belgian team has come a long way from some sympathetic guys not interested in making the efforts to enter the top 10 of the world to a team even the top 3 of the world has to be careful with. The federation has put a lot of effort in a masterplan where under coach Adam Commens we made the necessary efforts to be able to enter the top 10 and move up the ranking. With the second Australian coach Colin Batch the efforts made had to be consolidated so those guys who had done all the hard work would not throw in the towel because of studies or other careers and to grow in the discipline needed to be a steady contender for the top. Commens brought us to the Olympics in Beijing and Batch to a recognised sub top position finishing fifth in the London Games. The federation recognised the need for yet another approach to make the next step: being a medal contender in every major tournament… Enter the Dutch coach Marc Lammers with the track record to do just this.

However we have to recognise this will be the hardest hurdle of all to take… The difference between the sub top and the top nations has two components:

  1. being able to perform at the top of your game every time… over and over again
  2. being able to compete with the best in the games that matter and not only against the lower ranked teams.

For this last component you need experience, you need to have played these top games regularly and you need the experience in games where it is all or nothing.

This is where our Red Lions are still lacking. Only one of our Red Lions has been playing in the toughest competition of them all (yes I’m talking about the Dutch hoofdklasse) for several years and has risen to the top of his game there. Some have just started playing there but lack the experience of several years among the best. I share the concern of the Belgian federation about our top players leaving the Belgian competition, we need to keep improving the level of our own competition as well all of the time. But if you want to make the step to the podium there is no way around it… You need to play among the best for several years, train with the best coaches and compete in many “finals” or games where all is on the line.

These 3 opening games at the World Cup have shown our “top players” do not have the experience of playing the top games to make the difference during these games. The weaker opponents of the first two games might have hidden the truth somewhat but in the first game against a top nation where it mattered, all of our top players suffered from an off day and were invisible.  Where it would have been the moment to show their true colours, their true potential. Because we do have the potential among our players to become a contender. But neither potential, nor talent wins titles. Hard work, a tough mindset and the experience of having played lots of top games are what will get the Red Lions to the podium. The way they will react after the 3 mediocre games of last week is what will decide when they will be ready to make that next step…

red lionsI do believe the Red Lions have what it takes to make that next step and maybe surprise with a medal here or really be a force to reckon with at the Rio Games in two years. But that next step starts here and the top players will have to step up their game to make this happen because it will not come cheap, nor easy… It is time to stop saying “Roar for glory” and start doing what needs to be done to get there…