A group of former Black Sticks players have penned a letter in support of beleaguered coach Mark Hager.
After a defeat at the recent World Cup, Hager accidentally sent an email naming and shaming individual players for their performance and effort to the entire team.
Several current team players have since spoken out about the negative environment under the long-time women's coach, which has led to the commission of an independent review.
The following is the unedited letter from Katie Glynn, Krystal Forgesson, Emily Gaddum, Bianca Russell, Anna Alexander, Lucy Talbot and Laura Douglas to refute such claims.
In response to media coverage over the past two weeks, we - a group of experienced former international players - are writing this letter in support of Black Sticks Women's head coach Mark Hager. The players who have come together to support this letter have a combined 864 international caps and have been coached by Mark over a long period since 2009, when he first took over the team.
We strongly refute recent allegations around a 'negative environment' within the Black Sticks programme, Mark Hager’' 'mistreatment' of players, 'bullying' or playing 'mind games'.
In 2008, the Black Sticks Women finished last at the Beijing Olympics, lost all funding and dropped to 13th in the world. Mark took over following this result and has been at the helm ever since.
High performance sport is extremely tough. Hockey in New Zealand has very limited funding and support in comparison to other competitive hockey countries around the world. The environment was tough and players had to make many sacrifices to be part of it, but for us, it was not a sacrifice - it was a choice and we all committed. To become a better team, to climb up the rankings and compete with the best in the world, we needed to work harder than we had ever done before.
Mark is a person of high integrity and has always created a high-pressure training environment, designed to challenge players physically and mentally. Mark never allows the group to become complacent, and he always has every player in the squad pushing and challenging for selection.
Through Mark's high expectations and low tolerance of complacency, this became ingrained in us as individuals, and we were constantly striving for better performances and demanding more of ourselves in both trainings and in games - this essentially led us to being successful, strong and resilient as a group. These high expectations and constant goals to get better have essentially helped us all immensely in life after sport.
Competition amongst the squad helps the group grow and get better, and the resilient players thrived in this environment and girls less equipped to cope under pressure struggled. High performance sport is constant pressure and to be successful as a team, you have to be able to handle this pressure, not only as a group, but also as individuals. It is a coach's job to find and support the best players to take on this challenge. Our time in the team was always extremely tough and challenging, but that is to be expected at an international sporting level.
We always had a positive and supportive team environment amongst players and our coaching staff. We did not feel bullied, mistreated or that Mark was playing mind games with us. We always had a strong player leadership group, and if we ever had any issues as players with the environment or anything else, we could go to them with our concerns and they would address it with the coaching staff. We also had a strong group of support staff, including team psychologists, to help us learn and grow in our environment. The team of staff worked together as a collective to build a strong and successful programme, and guided us through that. Everyone in a team is accountable for the environment, players inclusive. There were always many different ways you could speak up and voice your concerns if you had any, and these concerns were addressed and resolved as a group.
Since taking over the team since 2009, Mark has achieved many outstanding results with this group and many firsts for New Zealand Hockey, as well as taking the team from 13th to third in the world in our prime. (Gold, silver and bronze Commonwealth medals, Champions Challenge win, Champions Trophy medal, World League medals, best finish at Olympic Games). He still today continues to achieve results no other coach or New Zealand Women’s Hockey team has done before. We all respect Mark and we always had a challenging, but positive experience playing in this group, and look back fondly on the great memories we have.