When the Canadian men’s field hockey team learned it was potentially traveling to Cape Town, South Africa to start the year, there’s little surprise the trip was unanimously welcomed.
Spending January in the South African sun instead of in Vancouver’s infamous rain and cold was an easy sell.
“It’s been pretty upbeat and guys are happy to be out in the sunshine and not in the freezing rain,” says veteran goalkeeper David Carter.
But the first tour of the year is not a vacation by any means. With the Olympic Games just over six months away, the trip to South Africa officially begins Canada’s countdown to the Games.
“This was probably one of, if not, the most critical parts of our build up to Rio,” says Director and Head Coach Anthony Farry. “To be able to do this at this time of year and to play the games that we’re playing is really priceless.”
The team has been in Cape Town since the second week of January in the first stop of a busy year, which culminates at the Olympics in Brazil in August.
With seven games already played (five friendlies and two official test matches) in less than two weeks, there has been no time wasted. In fact, on many game days, the evening match has been the second of two field times in the day.
“Full credit to the guys, they’re just getting on with business,” says Farry. “Everyday is grinding and it’s tough. There’s nothing easy about what we’re doing here and they’re asked to do a lot”
The two-a-days highlight the commitment the Canadians have to improving in the months leading up to Rio.
Of the 12 teams qualified for the 2016 Olympics, Canada (World No. 14) is ranked the second lowest after host Brazil (No. 32). However, having recently beat teams like New Zealand (No. 8), and good showings against Ireland (No.12), Argentina (No.6), and the Netherlands (No.2), the Canadians know the more field time they get, the better off they’ll be come August.
“We don’t get to play a ton of meaningful games because we have to travel so far to get them,” says veteran forward Philip Wright, who played in his 150th international match when Canada faced Ireland on January 21st.
“So to be able to have 10-11 matches here in short succession to build that chemistry, but also play a game, see what worked, see what didn’t, and have the opportunity to make progress on certain things the next day has been fantastic.”
To be able to take advantage of all the field time, the team has been relying on support staff for seamless rest and recovery. Team Manager Celia Plottel and nutritionist Sandra Millward have been taking care of meals, and the rest of Canada’s integrated support team has been ensuring the players are ready to go for each session.
It all makes for a busy but
“I think we’re accomplishing a lot,” says Wright. “I think a lot of guys are keen to get to bed early at night and really focus on rest and recovery.”
The Canadians play a set of three friendly matches against Belgium (World No.4) beginning on Wednesday at 3:00pm local South African time (5:00am PT/8:00am ET).