In her first interview since leaving the Black Sticks, Katie Glynn tells Sarah Cowley Ross why she couldn’t turn down the chance to help Great Britain defend their Olympic hockey title in Tokyo next year.
When Black Stick legend Katie Glynn was playing under Mark Hager, he often joked that when she retired, she’d steal his job.
Four years into her retirement, Glynn and Hager have reunited on the coaching team of the Olympic women’s hockey champions, Great Britain.
It may not be where the 31-year-old Glynn expected to be a year ago, when she was the Black Sticks assistant coach working towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But she’s come a long way in her hockey journey from the young girl who watched her mother and brother on the turf, taking in all she could – learning to read the game and be the best hockey player she could be.
And she was one of our best – 134 international caps and 77 goals to her name representing New Zealand at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Following her retirement due to injury, Glynn turned to coaching, while continuing in her job in the sports department at Diocesan School in Auckland – a role she’d held through most of her playing career.
“I started coaching as a way to stay connected to the game I love and I’ve come into coaching much earlier than I expected,” she says.
Glynn quickly moved through the ranks – assisting junior national teams and in 2019 took on the role of assistant coach of the Black Sticks women.
With the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics, Glynn called time on her role with the national side. The Great Britain opportunity, she says, was too good to turn down.
“Not a lot of opportunities like this come around and if I want to pursue coaching long-term, I realised it would be a great chance to get out of my comfort zone and experience something different,” she says.
Glynn says a number of friends told her about the role.
“It was a long shot for me to throw my name in the hat and I was just shocked to get a second interview, let alone the job.”
It gave her the chance to work with Hager again, who she loved playing under in the Black Sticks side. “He has an exceptional hockey mind and I feel really lucky to learn from him,” she says.
In September she arrived in the Covid-19-stricken United Kingdom and set up camp in the Great British programme, alongside experienced David Ralph as assistants to Hager.
The centralised programme is based at Bisham Abbey (45 minutes out of London) where the contracted players live and breathe hockey.
“It’s refreshing to come into a positive environment – the girls very professional and know the systems in place,” says Glynn.
“I’ll get a number of messages every week asking for extra sessions following training because they all want to be better.”
There’s a dedicated turf for the men’s and women’s teams and they’ve received an elite exception from the government to continue training while in the current lockdown conditions.
While the level of investment in the women’s side is reflective of their gold medal status, Glynn says the GB programme, in terms of support staff on the ground, is similar to New Zealand.
“The staff are all exceptionally driven, thorough in their roles and there’s a great trust model that everyone does their roles,” she says.
At her first training, Glynn admits it was a weird feeling putting on the GB kit and assisting a team which cruelly robbed New Zealand of some key moments in the last two Olympic Games.
“Singing the anthem at our recent tour was obviously really different and fortunately the team analyst sent me the words to learn,” she laughs.
Glynn’s new team have just completed a European tour in early November with strict Covid-19 protocols in place and were able to play against the Dutch and Belgium national sides.
The team required their bus drivers join their bubble before the tour started. “We had two team buses, multiple Covid tests throughout the tour, single rooms and all sat by ourselves at dinner,” Glynn says.
While the international matches were excellent for the team, Glynn admits the focus right now is on maintaining the training environment to a high standard.
“We don’t know when the next international match will be – we’re creating a competitive environment amongst the squad,” she says.
Being together and getting to tour definitely helped the players’ stress levels and wellbeing Glynn says, but she knows from experience it’s the three or four months leading into the Olympics that brings ‘selection stress’.
“The delay of a year has been positive for our team, obviously with new staff coming on and some players returning from major injuries. The mood is in the camp is great,” she says.
Glynn is contracted to Great Britain and England Hockey until the Tokyo Games, and says she’s not in a hurry to progress to a head coaching role.
“I haven’t set my sights on being a head coach in New Zealand – at the moment I’m focused on being here and making the most of this opportunity,” she says.
On the potential of coming up against New Zealand in Tokyo, Glynn is pragmatic: “I’m a passionate Kiwi and I have close friends in the group, so I will always want New Zealand teams to do well.”
The sides are not in the same pool at the Olympics, so if they were to meet, it would be in the knockout stages of the tournament.
“I probably didn’t see myself being here now, I saw myself being at the Tokyo Olympics with New Zealand,” she says.
“At the end of the day this is how sport works – people move around, you get on with it, and I’m really excited to be working with this group”
For Glynn being away from her family – particularly fiancée Sophie Elwood – is the hardest part of this career opportunity.
“High performance sport is not easy – it’s an emotional roller coaster,” she says. “but the highs are worth all the lows you go through.”