After an extensive, but ultimately successful search, the Trojans' Ladies 1st team can announce that a new Head Performance Coach has been found and appointed.
Please welcome back Merijn Van Willigen to the club!
Amy Sheehan, the team's captain for the upcoming 2021/20 National League season, is delighted with the appointment:
"Having Merijn back at Trojans is a fantastic step forward for the whole club. His level of knowledge and experience at the top level of the game is excellent. He is going to be a real asset to not just the ladies' first team but to the whole club."
"As the new ladies' first team captain, I’m really excited to start working with him and planning the development of the squad."
Merijn is already well known and liked within the local hockey community spanning across the South East region of England. He tells us about his hockey journey through his life and how he has got to this point:
"I have played hockey since I was 4 or 5 years old, and started coaching as a consequence of a series of injuries around 2000. I always liked to think about the game and get along reasonably well with people, which helped me early on, and you could say that I caught some breaks that smoothed the path a little. In the past 20 years, I have been fortunate enough to have coached some great clubs in English hockey history - Notably Havant; Reading; Clifton, and (of course) Trojans. I also had a 5-year stint as an international coach with Wales, which was fantastic; and 12 years as a Talent Development coach with England Hockey, which has taught me loads."
"My most notable experiences are probably the semi-final of the European Championship in Rome in 2009. I was the assistant coach and had to find a space among the 1000 Italian supporters where I could use the walkie-talkie (not easy!). We lost 2-1, but eventually won bronze and qualified for the World Cup qualifiers, and Common Wealth Games. Also, I distinctly remember being 1-0 up against Den Bosch in the European Indoor Championships in Lithuania with Reading. Sadly, I think we just made all those Dutch internationals angry, and I am pretty sure we lost. I also remember forcing a shoot-out against Surbiton in the semi-finals of the National Championships with Reading, which we lost."
He is definitely no stranger to Trojans Hockey Club and with coaching the top ladies side:
"I live 10 minutes from the club and over the years it has been my usual haunt on weekends when I was not coaching. But Trojans is my ‘home’ club in many ways. In fact, it was the first serious coaching job I ever had. In 2001, I joined the ladies' team as head coach, which really was premature - I did not have any experience - but did set me on a coaching pathway. It was a steep steep learning curve, and I often look back at that period very grateful for all the lessons I learned. Long story short, the team was incredibly good anyway AND featured a 16-year-old called Alex Danson. We scored loads of goals, and I did not do too much damage and organised the defense a little, which meant we got promoted to the Premier League. Another steep learning curve…"
"I came back to Trojans 5 years ago and had started to craft a good side. I was doing it part-time because I was also head of hockey at a school in Portsmouth, but we made some real progress and were serious contenders for much of the season. However, by that time I had become quite a good coach, and a number of teams were after me. I was happy at Trojans, but in the end, one of them made one of those ‘offers you cannot refuse’. I do not regret taking the offer, but I regret not being able to continue the journey with the girls, and I am delighted they have accepted me back.
There are some profound reasons as to why he accepted the job and returning to the fold:
"I have a strong feeling that by coming back to the club, I am squaring the circle. 20 years ago, the club offered a very inexperienced coach a leg up. I am returning as a very experienced coach, and I hope that I can help the club along with that experience."
With new coaches come new methods and fresh ideas, ready to be injected. Is there anything he will be doing in his position and with the team that will differ from what has been done before?
"It is really not for me to judge the job that others have done. There isn’t ‘a a definitive way’ to coach a team, and my approach will always differ from the approach taken by others. I am lead by a few key principles that I will ensure will come through strongly in my coaching. First and foremost, the sport has to be enjoyable. That is a key non-negotiable principle. Second, I will need players that think for themselves on the pitch - problem-solvers if you like. If we are to be successful, they cannot rely on me to tell them what to do every second of the game. I will give them the principles that I believe will allow them the greatest chance of success, but they need to learn how to apply these in the right circumstances. Finally, enjoyment comes from winning games. We will create a competitive environment, and it is up to me (and the rest of the staff and team) to be clear about the culture we want to create to ensure we win as many games as possible."
On thoughts towards the team's new captain, Amy Sheehan, and Merijn believes they will forge a strong and effective dynamic between them through the season.
"I have only seen Amy ‘from a distance over the years, as I tended to be with the team on the other side of the pitch. She is clearly a quality player, and I am sure we will work well together. Based on our initial conversations, I feel we are on a similar wavelength when it comes to the team's ambitions."
With the new season looming over the horizon, pre-season preparation is currently being organised, but not without prevailing challenges:
We will need to sit down pretty soon to work [pre-season] out. It has been a strange year, and EH has announced yet another restructuring I believe. We are in a strange position, where we are the only quality ladies side for miles around, so it can at times be complicated to organise appropriate pre-season fixtures.
Merijn's ambitions are set high and seek to push the team above the tier 2 level in the England League system.
"I think we are all quite clear about the team’s ambitions. We would like to challenge for a position in the women’s Premier League. In addition, I have always tried to bring junior players through into senior performance hockey. I hope to work quite closely with the U16 / U18 and 2nd XI coaches to see which players we can put on a performance pathway. I understand that we - once again - have a junior international in Molly Fairbarn, which is great news!"
Here's a final word from Merijn:
" I am a club person at heart, and look forward to being part of the community. If you see me at the club, say hello!"
We wish him and the team all the very best for success in the new season.