Team Canada’s NextGEN program made a sojourn down to Chula Vista California last week for a training tour and test matches against the United States development program. Canada sent three squads (U16, U18 and U21) over 10 days.
For Grace Delmotte, a grade-12 student at Handsworth Secondary School in North Vancouver, the jump to international play means a faster pace and overall higher competition.
“The main difference I notice, compared to playing at home, is the speed of the play,” she said. “It’s just that much higher and the competition is that much tougher.”
For a 17-year-old with senior national team hopes, Delmotte has already built a solid resume as a player. She plays with West Vancouver Field Hockey Club, plays for her high school team, competes in the summer for Team B.C. and has been a member of Canada’s Junior Development System for a few years.
Although Canada didn’t come away with any wins in Chula Vista last week, Delmotte noted that playing in competitive games against USA demonstrates the level they need to be at and identifies weaknesses in Canada’s games. Delmotte, who is committed to playing for Wake Forest University next year in the NCAA, said that it is important for Canada to get repetitions against a strong team like the US, especially in a Junior World Cup qualifying year.
“It’s good to play a team like the US. We know we’ll have to play against them during qualifying, so we all realized that’s the level we need to get to at least,” she said.
Members of the U18 NextGEN group participate in test-matches against USA in Chula Vista, CA. Photo/Field Hockey USA
More than anything for Field Hockey Canada NextGEN Director, Patrick Tshutshani, this was an opportunity to bring players from across the country together in the same environment.
“Instead of evaluating players at an east camp and then a west camp, we were able to bring everyone in to play together,” Tshutshani said. “We had 34 U18 athletes, and we mixed it up to try to find and develop synergy between the athletes.”
Tshutshani, originally from South Africa, took on the role of NextGEN Director and junior national head coach last year. He spent the first half of his tenure learning about the Canadian hockey environment and supporting the senior national team while living in the Toronto. He recently moved to Vancouver and has since set up a structured training system for the NextGEN athletes in Vancouver and Victoria. In addition to the U18 group, Tshutshani also managed 18 athletes from the U16 age-group and 18 players in the U21 age-category. He said the purpose of the U16 age category is to identify young athletes with potential and accelerate their development and support. He notes how valuable it is for the athletes to get access to international experience at a young age.
“Regular access to international competition at the U-16 level is critical to team and individual success,” he said. “They are learning how to play in pressure moments.”
According to Tshutshani, the purpose of the tour was about establishing benchmarks and changing the way the teams defines success through results.
“To tell you the truth, we never once spoke about scores or game results,” he said. “It was all about the process last week. We were there to learn and develop our tactical and technical skills and our mental and physical game. The athletes are great, they are like sponges, they want to learn and grow.”
Team Canada plays against Team USA during the NextGEN Tour to Chula Vista, CA. Photo/USA Field Hockey
With junior Pan American Championships approaching, Tshutshani, Delmotte and the other NextGEN athletes know that they will need to make strides to put up results against the powerhouse-countries in the Pan American region.
As a 17-year old at this juncture of the cycle, Delmotte knows it will be on her peer-group to carry the NextGEN program forward, if all goes well at the Pan American Championships.
“We know that when some of the U21 players age-out after qualifiers, we’ll be the core group moving forward towards the World Cup,” she said. “Playing against USA last week just shows the level we need to get to if we want to be successful.”
The NextGEN women’s program will continue to train in their daily environments and meet for tournaments and camps throughout the year leading up to fall qualifiers. Follow along on Field Hockey Canada’s social media and website for updates along the way.