With just a few days to go before the seventh Indoor Pan American Cup bursts into life, we meet up with the coach of one of the teams tipped to take the title.
Scott Sandison is coach to the current reigning men’s champions, Canada, and as one of the players in the last edition of this event, Scott has a good idea of what his players can expect as they seek a third consecutive indoor title.
The first thing the players from the north of the continent have to cope with is the temperature because, even though this is an indoor tournament, with air-conditioned sports halls, things will be hot in Guyana. The Canadians will be coming out of their own summer months but even so, rehydrating after matches and dealing with the climate on a day-to-day basis will be a challenge.
It is something the more experienced players will be used to and Scott says that many of the players have played club tournaments in Guyana so will know what to expect and how to best prepare their bodies for the extra stress of the heat.
In general, Canada’s preparations for the Pan Am Indoor Championships have been good, reports the head coach. The team has been training for this event for the past year. The downside is a lack of international experience.
‘We are coming to Guyana not having played any internationals,’says Scott. ‘This is a player funded program so the costs of travel along with the timing of the event make it difficult to play games. We are coming to the end of summer in Canada which is not the time we play indoor so this has made it somewhat challenging to organize our training schedule.’
Scott adds that, as no-one is a full-time athlete, the players must also fit work or study into their daily schedule, something else that adds to the challenges of competing on an international stage. It is a stress that the coaches are working hard to mitigate. All the training times are after school or work hours and the coaching team has arranged coaching ‘clusters’ to take place at weekends. But Canada is a large country and many of the squad have long distances to travel to training. This, says Scott, adds to both the organisational complexity as well as increasing the cost to the athletes. It is a situation that the squad strives to manage but you get the sense that it creates more problems than the coach is prepared to admit.
As someone heavily involved with both the indoor and outdoor version of the game, Scott is clear where the indoor version stands in the pecking order, and why: ‘The outdoor game is an Olympic event and so therefore receives more funding and support from the federal government. Field Hockey Canada understands indoor is both a pathway for development and an opportunity to perform at the highest level. Unfortunately the hotbed for indoor hockey in Canada is in Ontario and the outdoor teams are based in British Columbia – which is a five hour flight away – this causes challenges in trying to figure out a balance for athletes and programs but FHC has tried to support us as best they can.’
Financial and logistical constraints aside, Canada will be arriving in Guyana as one of the favourites for the title. They have a squad with a lot of experience and many of the players have played in both multiple World Cups and Pan American Cups. Micah Teixeira, Jeewanjet Bath, Tyler Branco and Jonathan Roberts all played in both the 2010 and 2014 Pan Am Cup and, of this year’s squad, only Adrien A’Andrade and the teenage duo, Joshua Kuempel and Adam Kapasi, didn’t play in the 2015 World Cup in Germany.
For Scott, this is a crucial factor in Canada’s quest for success: ‘That knowledge of the game at its highest level will hopefully make a big difference for us. Many players have played more hockey with 6's than with the last iteration of the 5's so I think this also plays to our advantage. The selections for the team was difficult as there were additional players very worthy of competing for Canada.’
Despite this, the coach and his players are taking nothing for granted. ‘Every team coming to Guyana is there to win. We can't take any team lightly as the format of top two in the final means you need to be consistent throughout the tournament. Guyana playing at home will have the crowd behind them and they finished third at the last indoor Pan Am Cup, Argentina beat us in the round robin in that same tournament, and Trinidad and Tobago is a constant threat as they have many talented individuals on their team.’
This event will be Scott’s first major international as a coach but his international experience is of the highest order, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, two Commonwealth Games and two Indoor World Cups as a player. His approach to coaching is to leave any ego at the door and look to his players and fellow coaches for support and advice. ‘There are a number of players that will be important to our success,’ he says. ‘Ken Pereira, as the longest standing member of the team, will provide the smarts and skills to lead the team. Devohn Teixeira will provide a spark to the team as he has been playing in Europe the last couple months and is just rejoining our team ahead of the tournament. Jeewan Bath and Jonathan Roberts will be participating in their fourth Indoor Pan Am Cup’.
‘There are a lot of experienced players on this team and so this has been an easy transition in terms of taking over. I am constantly learning from this position. If you aren't learning you're falling behind. I have appreciated the players and coaching staff's approach to looking for holes in tactics and strategies. It has been a collective effort.’
Scott also names Gurtej Daliwahl and Lyle Fernandes as younger members of the squad who learnt a lot when they competed in the World Cup in 2015 – an event where Canada finished in 12th position.
While the heat might prove an issue in Guyana, it is a trip that Scott is looking forward to. His mother comes from Guyana, so he is looking forward to ‘reconnecting with some familiar faces.’ He is also keen to see how Guyana tackles hosting a Pan American event for the first time. ‘The Guyana Hockey Association has put a lot of time and energy into hosting this event and I have very high hopes for success of the event. I hope this helps them to continue their development and that they are able to host more tournaments going forward.’
Canada men will face Mexico in the first match of the 2017 Pan Am Cup on 16 October. The winner of the event qualifies for the 2018 Indoor Hockey World Cup in Berlin, Germany.