Ben Senior, the Head Coach of NSW Institute of Sport’s Women’s Hockey program, has been busy plotting the NSW Pride’s Hockey One League title defence. Senior, who has been in his (fulltime) NSWIS role since January 2022, revealed when he decided to commit himself to becoming a coach, he asked one important question of himself. The answer moulded Senior’s approach to a demanding job where there’s high expectations.
NSWIS: What is your philosophy towards coaching and what shaped it?
Ben Senior [BSnr]: My philosophy is athletic centred; the athletes are at the centre so they can become the best version of themselves both on and off the pitch. What shaped it was probably when I broke into first grade hockey, there were the coaches who were only fixated on the mistakes. I was still a player when I started to coach and I asked myself, ‘how would I like to be coached?’ And that’s driven my philosophy since. It’s why I put the athlete at the centre of everything.
NSWIS: What was the answer to your question about being the coach you wanted to be?
BSnr: ‘Focus on the development.’ It was how do I help others get better, and that’s focussing on developing [them]. If we want to play better hockey, we need to develop the player to play better hockey.
NSWIS: How many hours a week do you spend doing the job, and what’s a typical week for you?
BSnr: [laughs]: I haven’t quantified how many hours I spend on the job – it might be too scary [laughs]! In season I’m working six days a week. I work Monday through to Friday, and then I’m out watching games on a Sunday. If I broke that down further, probably pitch time is quite consistent in being 10 hours a week of hands on coaching and the rest is program management, athlete management and planning. I watch a lot of video, especially now that we’re in competition phase. There’s so much hockey I couldn’t tell you what the last Netflix series I watched from start to finish!
NSWIS: Who was your mentor?
BSnr: My first junior coach at the Hampton in Arden Hockey club [in Warwickshire, England] was my first mentor. His name was Ian Herbert, and besides being my first formal coach, he was all about developing you as a player and fostering your enjoyment for the game.
NSWIS: When you look back on your playing career, what would you tell Ben Senior the player?
BSnr: It’d be consistent with what I tell the players now, and that is it’s OK to make mistakes . . . learn from them and get rid of them. I analysed mistakes – to see what I did – so I could use it to get better. And that’s what I impress upon the players now; it’s OK to make mistakes, learn from them and that’s what they’re good for. You use them as a positive; a chance to grow.
NSWIS: How would you describe yourself as a player?
BSnr: Good, but not exceptional. I nearly knocked on the door [for higher representation]. I nearly did everything well, but it just wasn’t well enough.
NSWIS: As a coach do you hear Ian Herbert talking to you while you’re doing your job?
BSnr: Not so much ‘hear’ him, but at the core of everything Ian did was good technique, because with good technique you can play good hockey, and that’s something that stuck with me throughout my playing days, and it has certainly stuck with me as a coach. If you have good technique, you can play the game, you can play the game well, and you can play the game fast. From my ‘way of play’ characteristics I want to play fast, attacking hockey. In order to do that the basics need to be really good.
NSWIS: How did you get to become a coach at NSWIS?
BSnr: I moved to Australia on a playing contract in 2009 with a team in Perth called Suburban Lions. I was fortunate enough to land a job and stay. I worked for Tristram Woodhouse [former Kookaburra] and his sports academy. I then worked for Hockey Queensland and then Hockey NSW, where I became Katrina Powell’s assistant at AHL. She offered me a contract as her assistant coach, and that led to a part time assistant coach, which led to me replacing her when she took over the national program.
NSWIS: What’s the difference between the way Australia does its hockey compared to Great Britain?
BSnr: There’s a difference, especially in the playing mentality. The Australians are more attacking than the English, although the English have got better over the years. Their structure is a club structure . . . in Western Australia it’s a club structure where you get in their development programs by being in their state teams. Queensland has a club structure and a regional association and it’s similar in NSW, but there’s more emphasis and an onus from the State Sporting Organisation – Hockey NSW – who run their development programs. Probably the biggest difference is you start off within the club and then you go into a development program. It’s more so like that in the UK. The development programs in the UK have probably been more formalised than when I came through when it was county and then divisional, which is the equivalent of state. Now you get regional development hubs, but everything stems from the club.
NSWIS: You’ve been in Australia for a long time and doing well. Is Great Britain Hockey monitoring your progress?
BSnr: I don’t know. I’m not sure, so my answer is ‘I don’t know.’ When I look at it, I’ve done most of my coaching career here. I started as a player-coach in 2005, so I had four years as a player-coach in England before moving to Australia. So, three-quarters of my coaching career has been here.
NSWIS: What do you expect from your athletes?
BSnr: A lot! I expect professionalism, dedication, and also passion. The players have got to love what they do. It’s a short career. It’s not a financially rewarding career, but to strive to where they want to be, yeah, you need to have passion to do it and also the dedication.
NSWIS: How do you gauge success?
BSnr: Ultimately, by the number of athletes that are selected in the national program. It’s relative, though, in terms of what’s the level of that athlete? Are they an under 18 player who is striving to be nationally identified as a futures player? Are they an under 18 wanting to play in the under 21s? It is relative, but the reason I summarised my measure of success [as the number of athletes selected for the national program] is because my ultimate goal is for every athlete in NSWIS – and I appreciate that not all of them are going to make it – is this: I’m going to work hard to support them and give them every chance to make it.
NSWIS: How do you get the best out of young people?
BSnr: This has a complex answer, but it’s a part of the joys and challenges of coaching. You need to find a nice balance between being able to nurture them, to challenge them, to encourage them, and to be able to support them. You’re essentially trying to take them out of their comfort zone to elicit development. So, you’ve got to do it with empathy, but you do have to take them on that journey and help them.
Words & photo: Daniel Lane, NSWIS