Q&A with U.S. Women's Team head coach Craig Parnham

March 18, 2013, 11:31 a.m. (ET)

Craig Parnham recently made his debut with the U.S. Women’s Field Hockey Team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the International Hockey Federation’s World League Round 2 tournament. Parnham was named Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s Team in January 2013 and relocated to San Diego with his wife, Emma, in early February. Back in the United States after a successful performance in Brazil, Parnham spoke with usafieldhockey.com on his coaching philosophy, the new Home of Hockey, his thoughts about living in America and more. 

What excites you most about working with Team USA?

Craig Parnham: I think what excites me the most is the fact that there is a really strong group of young players and a nice blend of more experienced players in there; the balance to the team is nice. I have watched the USA for a number of years now, and I remember watching the Junior World Cup team and thinking then “this team really has a lot of potential and promise." There are a number of those girls now on the senior team and it is about finding the next group of junior players to come through and add more layers of depth and quality to the squads. I think that’s what excites me most because, with the system here, there is real opportunity to do that.

What do you think about field hockey in the United States?

CP: I think what we have is a fantastic opportunity to do something quite special with hockey. The NCAA system is certainly different to a lot of other systems around the world but I think you could look at it and say it has the potential to be one of the best development systems in the world. The access the players have to coaching, strength and conditioning, facilities and pitch time through their colleges would be looked at from other countries around the world as quite enviable.

With the move to the new Home of Hockey in Lancaster County, Pa. later this year, what kind of impact will having a home base have for our sport?

CP: The impact will be significant. I think the advantages of having a venue that you can call home is going to be really beneficial to the nation and for the sport in particular. It will give us more of an identity and it is certainly going to help shape our culture and create an environment of excellence. The facilities there will be world leading which means that the players will be able maximize the time we spend there, whether it be on the technical side on the pitch, or physical work in the gym. In addition, there will be a support network around them that will be second to none. It is going to be a fantastic set up. From my background in Great Britain, we had a venue we called home which was Bisham Abbey National Training Center – it allowed the team to be in the gym, just meters away from the pitch – so the squad can do the transferrable work, and be together more often. The Nook will be very similar to a lot countries around the world that have specific training venues, and I think it will be one of the best.

How do you foresee the national team players continuing their key role to inspire participation and growing the game?

CP: I think that is a huge part of the responsibility of the group of players on the national team -being at Lancaster and being visible to the local community and the hockey community. The number of people playing hockey in that region is huge and for the national team to be there and part of that community and for those young kids to be inspired by the senior group is really going to be beneficial in the years to come. I think that is what is needed. We need to increase the profile of the team, increase the profile of the sport and get the word out there that this is a good sport to play and there are a lot of people that can benefit from it.

What has been your favorite moment to date in your hockey playing or coaching career?

CP: Certainly as a player, my first Olympic experience was unforgettable. I’ll never forget the moment we walked out into the opening ceremony at the Sydney Olympics. As a coach, I think some of the proudest moments are not necessarily when you are with the team and winning games, it is actually just seeing people develop both on and off the field. If you play a part in a player’s personal development and you see their character and personality change as a result of some of the things they are doing in and around the group, I see that as a really enjoyable win for me.

How big of a hockey fan is your wife Emma and what are her thoughts on living in America?

CP: Emma is a huge hockey fan. She was a hockey player herself. She is a former Great Britain and Scottish international and has played hockey all her life. We met through hockey when we were both playing. As far as living in America, we both absolutely love the United States. We have spent many holidays here and always tried to come over once a year. We’ve both seen quite a lot of the country and so far everywhere that we have been, we have thoroughly enjoyed. San Diego is a beautiful place to live. We have just recently returned from five days in Lancaster to have a look around there and see if we can find somewhere that we are going to call home. We are pleased to be here and really looking forward to the move to Pennsylvania.  

Are you prepared for snowy winters in Lancaster County, Pa?

CP: I think I am. My wife is more of a warm weather fan, but we are both used to the cold weather in the UK. I quite enjoy the snow but one of the pitches in Lancaster will be covered by a dome so at least we will be able to carry on training throughout the winter.

Is there a place in the U.S. that you haven’t been to that you are excited to visit now that you live here?  

CP: Oh there are lots of places. USA Field Hockey's national office is in Colorado Springs. I’ve been through Colorado, but we would love to go have a proper look around there. There are parts of New England and Maine that we have never been to that we’d love to visit. We have seen quite a bit and hopefully when we get the opportunity with some holiday we will continue to explore more of America.

What is your coaching philosophy?

CP: My philosophy is to create independent learners. It is my job to open the minds of players and allow them to be creative and certainly be independent. Once the whistle goes, a coach’s ability to influence decision making is more limited. So, my main drive is to develop the players to be less coach dependent. This comes back to our culture. The players are involved in driving the program and as a coach, I am there to help guide, teach and facilitate. That takes a lot of work and it is going to take a lot of time to get there with this group but the ambition is to create independent learners and people that own what they do.

What do you say to a young athlete who is considering trying field hockey and pursing the Olympic dream?

CP: One of the things that I think is fundamental in being successful in anything you choose to do is mastery of the basic skills. And until you have mastery of the basic skills it is difficult to progress. I think habit forming in younger life and trying to do the right thing more often than not in an environment of play is important. We know that people resort to their habits when the pressure is on at the highest level and if the habits are robust and strong then you’re generally going to be in a good position. If habit forming, deliberate practice and skill at younger ages is not correct, then it can come back and haunt you in years to come. I think what I am most interested in, and where my coaching has changed in the last few years, is that the practice environment is key. A lot can be learned in play as opposed to drills and practices and I try where possible to avoid drills and work a lot of what we do inside play and game play. After all, we get into the sport because we enjoy playing and playing is fun.

What changes led the Great Britain Women’s Team to moving up the world rankings and winning bronze in London?

CP: I think access and time with the players is where we saw significant changes. Technically they moved on and improved just by having hours on the pitch. The group of players really understood their roles and what was required of them so as a team the expectations were very defined. It really is no mystery. It was just simple time on the pitch and time spent working hard in the gym and conditioning, getting everything right that I am sure everybody else is trying to do, but we just managed to get the time to do it and get access to the players. The players worked hard to get where they wanted. Like I said, there is no mystery to it; it is just time and hard work.

As we embark on the journey to Rio 2016 what are the key messages you wish to share with the pool of young elite athletes looking to make the Olympic squad?

CP: I would say it is about hard work and committing to something. What is your vision and what is your goal? I think it was Carl Lewis who famously said, “You first need to know what your goal is, you then need to know what it is going to cost you to get there and then you’ve just got to get on and pay the price.” And that is ultimately what it is. We need to define what it is we are after and figure out how we want to get it.

What does it take for Team USA to podium finish in Rio?

CP: I can’t answer that. What I can tell you is what we need to do and that is work as hard as we can every day we train. We need to train smart and need to identify and understand what our strengths are and play to those strengths. We need to develop a group of players that have a strong belief in what they are doing with a very clear vision. A situation we find ourselves in is that everyone else in the world is trying to do the same thing. So we can’t guarantee anything about medals and podiums. What we can guarantee is that we will get a system in place, hold a vision and goals where we have purpose for what we do and a group of players who are committed to working hard towards that vision.