On Sunday, an England team managed something not achieved by any of our national sports teams for a while – winning a Euro championship.
For the women’s hockey team this was a pivotal moment. They had claimed a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics; they had won silver at the 2013 European Championships but that had been followed by a meltdown of sorts to finish the 2014 World Cup in 11th.
Lynn-born Danny Kerry had coached the team to bronze in London 2012 – the first team sport medal for Great Britain in 20 years – but was then promoted to Great Britain performance director.
After the World Cup disaster, it was Kerry who stepped in and picked up the team and it was Kerry, sporting a mega-watt smile, who stood in front of the press at the Lee Valley Hockey Centre in London and explained what had happened on the pitch that night, as England grabbed the most unlikely of victories against the world No1, the Netherlands.
“At the break, I asked the team whether they truly believed they could get two goals back,” he said.
England were 2-0 down with 15 minutes left to play. “We hadn’t played well in the preceding quarter and I felt that any kind of detailed tactical information would not be of any use. It was more of a case of injecting a bit of belief. We asked them to be willing to go forwards with the ball and believe. It seemed to work.”
That belief paid off as the momentum shifted and England came back into the game. The first goal got the capacity crowd on their feet and, Kerry knew something special was about to happen.
“Once we had one goal I knew we would get the second. As the whistle went for full time I was confident we would be successful in the shoot-out, given how good Maddie Hinch, our goalkeeper, is in these situations.”
So just how did Kerry, a former pupil at King Edward VII High School and a Pelicans hockey player, do it? “We had to re-establish a performance culture within the squad. The players and coaches spent a great deal of time talking about why we do what we do, what we wanted to achieve and how we would go about that. We created a shared common purpose. Then we re-established athlete ownership and leadership. I am a strong believer in culture precedes performance. After that we simply trained hard.”
For Kerry, the start he was given on the hockey ladder in Lynn was the springboard to a “surreal existence”.
He has coached teams at two Olympics and travelled the world for the sport. “I look back at my times with Pelicans with real fondness. Some of the people were larger than life. Ken Gregory, a school teacher at KES – who had even taught my father – and who ran the Pelican junior section. Whenever I talk to the athletes there is always someone like Ken in their lives without whom they would never had started the journey.”
Kerry, a family man, was joined on the pitch after the match by his two young daughters, and he paid tribute to his parents: “They have always been unstinting in their support and it was really special they could be there when we won gold on Sunday.”