New Women’s Head Coach Henry Wong shares his thoughts on the women’s program.
Why have you joined Singapore Hockey as the coach of the women’s team? What was the key factor behind your decision to take up the job?
My desire was to join a program that I could make a big difference. The women’s team is currently at its highest ever world ranking and has gained valuable experience playing SEA Games and Asian Games this year. I see some great potential in this team and within the women’s hockey pathway in Singapore. So, it was an easy decision in the end to come to a place where I could make a big difference now and for the future.
What about the role excited you the most?
Having met and worked with the athletes, I am excited about how far we can take the team. The team has taken on most of the challenges we have thrown at them including a change of mindset and there have been quite a few new concepts introduced which they have embraced. If they can make such significant strides in one month I’m excited about what they can do over a longer period of time especially as there is a big core of players who are yet to reach their peak playing age.
What was your gauge of the potential for Singapore hockey before you came on board? Has that changed since?
I was in Belgium coaching for a few years in 2014 just after their men had finished 5th at the World Cup and the women 12th. Since then, the men have been Olympic and World Champions and the women have climbed to 4th in the World. I see similarities between the two countries in terms of some competitive advantages. Even with relatively small populations, both countries have a unique advantage of being able to focus their resources and be agile with changes across the country due to the compact land size. Imagine a country like New Zealand which has won an Olympic Gold medal in hockey. It has a smaller population than Singapore and 365 times the land mass spread across two main islands as well as the closest neighbor being 4 hours flying away. The ceiling for Hockey in Singapore is very high and if we can focus our resources in the right way then the potential is limitless.
What in your view are realistic short term and long-term targets Singapore hockey should embrace? And what will it take to get the sport there?
Just before arriving in Singapore, I was working at the FIFA Women’s World Cup and was based with the Philippines team in their first ever World Cup appearance for men or women. It was incredible to see how that event changed football in the country, raising the identity of the team to become household names and the legacy it continues to build inspiring the next generation of young females. Singapore Hockey has an incredible opportunity to showcase hockey as a sport to the entire country at the 2029 SEA Games with potentially 4 teams across two disciplines of hockey. I believe we must all grasp this moment and in the short term that means getting everyone heading towards the same goal. This is all stakeholders from the academies to the schools all the way through to the clubs and national teams.
The hockey community here is incredibly passionate and provides amazing support. I believe long term hockey can become a leading sport in Singapore. A leader in getting the wider community to appreciate sport as a truly valuable fabric of society. This is buy-in from employers, schools/universities, private sector sponsors, families, and the general public. If we can get that support, then the players will start to truly gain the self-belief and support they need to achieve on putting Singapore Hockey on the world stage.
What are your impressions of hockey in Singapore thus far?
There is some incredible talent especially coming through from the youth. From what I have seen so far there isn’t a Singapore Hockey identity that everyone can buy into. If we can put some great support around these players and start to give them some varied experiences, then I’m extremely excited to see how far they can take their hockey and the hockey of Singapore with them.
What targets are you expected to hit in the short and medium term?
Short term we must get to a level where we are comfortably inside the top 6 best teams of Asia. To be the fifth best team in Asia means opportunities such as invitation to the Olympic and World Cup Qualification tournaments and automatic qualification to some Asian tournaments as well as Commonwealth Games.
Long term the goal is to be in a position where, if we perform to our level on the day, we will win Gold at SEA Games in 2029. If we get to this level, then we will be on the radar of the top teams of the world and have opportunities to play them. We currently have two players with over 100 caps and 10 years of international hockey experience yet neither of them has ever played a top 12 ranked nation outside of Asia and never played a test series against a team that is ranked in the top 25. This is something that needs to change if we are expecting our players to perform at the highest levels.
How would you describe your approach to hockey?
I’m a big believer that only a handful of teams in the world at any level, when put under pressure in big matches, can rely on scoring more than 3 goals to win. My approach is that we must be defensively extremely sound first. In saying that hockey at its core is an exciting, skillful, fast, attacking game so finding the right times to really take on the game is also a fundamental part of my approach to the game.
What have you set as the first order of business, and why do you view this as critical to the task ahead?
The talent level of our top players in the national squad is incredible. We currently have players who are good enough to play in some of the top 12 international teams or in some of the top club teams in the world. The first challenge is to get those players to truly understand and believe they belong there. The second challenge is that there is a big gulf to both the depth of our squad and the development squad. It is critical to address this and close the gap as we must have a good base of players to compete with the top nations but also to start building our pipeline so that we can maintain success for the future.
What will the first discernible difference the Singapore hockey will see with you in charge of the team?
The players will have a self-belief on the field and have the confidence to take on and control any opposition they are playing. We are starting to work on developing our own style of play which involves a lot of organisation, passing, movement and most of all physicality. I encourage everyone to come out to Four Nations in December as this is the first time since 2018 our players will be playing international matches at home, and we have already seen a big shift in how the players are playing so it will be an exciting showcase.
How will you define if your time here is a success?
Right now we have teams that fly right over the top of Singapore, and some even using Singapore as a layover, to go to Europe and other destinations in Asia to play matches. If we get to a stage where the world’s top teams, see the value in stopping and playing matches against us that will be success for me. That coupled with having an entire generation of players who have the belief and tools to compete with the world’s best.