Is Fatigue Good for the Game

Can you be too fit?


Thursday October 26th 2017


  Somewhat predictably the Oceania Cup was a two-horse race. And with both men and women from Australia and New Zealand having already qualified for the World Cup it was hard to know what to make of this tournament. Yes, there was some good Hockey played; you would expect that from two sides with the respective world rankings of the Aussies and Kiwi’s.


There were also some 30-0 floggings. I am still not sure what it all meant really. But I bet the lads and lasses from Papua New Guinea had a good time.


There was one thing that did catch my eye though. And it is not something you see at elite level Hockey much these days. Fatigue.


And it's all down to a quirk of the fixture. In the women’s pool Australia and New Zealand were drawn to play the final match before the final. As it happened the teams for the final had been decided before the last pool game. Guess who? Australia and New Zealand. The final pool game was played at 5pm local time on the Saturday with the decider to be played at 3pm local the next day. That meant about 20 hours recovery between games. From a coaching perspective that’s not ideal.


Let’s go back to the final pool game. How do you approach that as a coach? The result is essentially meaningless; losing will not disadvantage you because you are already in the final against the same opposition.


Forget the mental side of winning and losing in such a position. No-one has any real idea about that anyway. Lots an lots of theories.


So, you would imagine that both coaches would have at least considered the best way to preserve the physical condition of their players for the game that really mattered the next day. Once again lots of theories, all resting on success in the following days game as to whether it was a coaching masterstroke or invitation to unemployment benefits.


Now it seemed to me that New Zealand adopted a change nothing approach. Australia on the other hand had a slightly different take. Admittedly the Aussies had a couple of injury concerns, however it soon became obvious they would run a ‘shorter’ bench to conserve some players, which means working others harder.


Early on, when everyone’s energy and fatigue levels are pretty much equal, Australia dominated play and went into half time deservedly 2-0 up. But after half time things got interesting for the Hockeyroos.


This was partly due to an apparent change of strategy from the Kiwi team. They had spent most of the first half trying to blast their way through the middle, much the same as General Haig tried on the Western Front and with pretty much the same result. Australia played the flanks, created space, room to run and scored two goals.  I am pretty sure Kiwi coach Mark Hager had a quiet word to his chargers about this at half time.


Something else was also occurring. That was fatigue. The ‘shorter’ bench was coming in to play. Suddenly passes the Aussie defenders had been able to cut out in the first half were now that half a pace out of reach. New Zealand were creating the spaces and pressed hard.


This is the point in the game that when conducting the post-match review the assistants slowly move to the back of the room followed as equally stealthily by the senior players. The head coaches eyes will become partly obscured by their eyebrows, low rumblings will emit with vast amounts of steam energy generated from the coach’s ‘missed opportunity’ gland. They could easily have won.


By now readers should be feeling the sort of fatigue the Aussie players were given how I am only just getting to the point. And in many ways it is a very tenuous one. Should we limit interchange rotations to bring back fatigue as a factor in our game?


I offer not data to support such a suggestion. Facts are no use here. Sports science will always argue that fatigue is bad. You know, player welfare, longevity, injury mitigation blah blah. And then they will confuse it all with statistics and facts. So instead I will present some unprovable conclusions from dubious personal observation.


The game is now shorter. At least at the elite level. When was the last time you saw an elite level player totally spent at the end of a game? Not just puffing and sweaty, but completely stuffed unable to celebrate beyond a simple raising of the arms. The fact I ask this is a testament to the players and the coaches that have elevated the game to this level. Hockey players are sensational athletes and we should not forget that.


But does the lack of fatigue that comes with increased player fitness levels and modern interchange rotations, as well as a shortening of the game, rob the sport of a much-underrated element?


Rugby League thinks so. They have capped interchanges, recognising that fatigue is a fundamental part of the game and according to some, lowers injury rates. And they are not the only ones.


And fatigue should be part of our Hockey mythology. Heroes are ruthless and resilient. Ruthless we can leave for another day. But resilience feeds a deep connection with people. It inspires. Let me run this pseudo metaphor for you:


Rocky, a la the Sylvester Stallone movie character has not become a worldwide hero because Apollo Creed smashed the crap out of him. It was because he stood up when Apollo did smash him. And Mr T. Dolph Lundgren had a fair crack as well. You get the point. Rocky punches out Apollo in the first round and no one watches. Rise up against the odds when all seems doomed and you’re a legend.


I am not advocating change but I do feel it a reasonable question to ask.


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