Insanely fast, easy to play and organise and great for your fitness, hockey 5s is here to stay. Dutch Youth Olympic gold medallist and Rio 2016 Olympic Games silver medal-winner Marloes Keetels is a big fan…
“See it as an experience. You want to win gold, of course – you are an athlete – but the experience is number one. Enjoy being with a lot of athletes from around the world and see how they do it, because they do things differently,” said Keetels.
“We do it in training a lot, more often seven-against-seven, so we have less teams, but it’s the same, all the teams do it,” Keetels said on the eve of the 2018 World Cup. “It’s go-go-go, the ball never really goes out. You have to keep running, you can’t sit back and defend a bit. It’s a really good way to get fit”.
Not only is hockey 5s, first contested at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Nanjing in 2014, helping to encourage more people into the sport – because, as Keetels puts it, “you can play on the streets and in the suburbs” – but it is also directly affecting the play at an elite 11-a-side-level.
“Hockey is becoming faster and faster,” the Dutch player agreed. “But also strength, a lot of teams are doing a lot of strength training. You need to build yourself up or else if you play against England or New Zealand they will throw you over the fence”.
The third and, as is so often the case with Olympic sport, arguably the most important part of the modern game is the mental side.
“When you reach the national team in any country, you can play hockey, but you see a lot of players who don’t make it because mentally you have to play good at the crucial moments, when the pressure is really on, when you really need to,” said Keetels.
“A lot of players aren’t able to do that and it’s not only in finals but, say, when you have a selection and not everyone is going to make it, then you have to show your coach you are good enough”.
Keetels, one of the best players in the world, is adamant that those at Buenos Aires 2018 must focus on this side of the sport – after all, it is never too early.
“I started with it when I was 18 and what we say in Dutch is that you learn it by ‘falling and standing up again’. You learn from your mistakes, that’s the best way to improve anything,” she explained. “We started with it (mental coaching) as a team and then they offered individual help and a lot of the older players were doing it, so I thought, ‘Well, I am going to do it too’.
“It’s really helpful to get to know yourself and accept who you are and that it is OK and that you can use some little tricks to lift up your weaker sides”.
The 25–year-old is a walking example of such mental strength. Given the captaincy of her national side aged just 23, the Dutch midfielder soon found the all-consuming nature of it just too much to handle. So she took a brave and remarkably mature decision.
“I couldn’t cope with everything that came with it and I lost a little bit of the fun in hockey, so I decided to give it to a more experienced player,” she explained. “It was a hard decision because at the beginning it feels like you are giving up and you don’t want that (feeling) as an athlete but I talked about it with the coach and for me it was the best decision”.
Having made the much-admired leap from the YOG to the Rio 2016 Games, Keetels has a few bits of final advice for those looking to follow in her footsteps.
“See it as an experience. You want to win gold, of course – you are an athlete – but the experience is number one. Enjoy being with a lot of athletes from around the world and see how they do it, because they do things differently,” she said. “And don’t forget your accreditation – that was the message we heard every day at the YOG!”
Photos: The Netherlands Hockey Federation