Matt Eyles, the Equally Amazing trainer. Current strength & conditioning trainer for the Dutch National Women’s team and the Oranje Rood women & men’s teams. Former strength & conditioning trainer and sports scientist for the Indian men, women and junior men’s teams. Eyles is an original Aussie who has worked across sports like rugby, swimming, surfing and soccer. Linked to the gorgeous Polish captain & Oranje Rood player Marlena Rybacha, he is, above all, a diverse and amazing person.
What is your background in field hockey and how did it all start for you? I actually didn’t have a background in field hockey until I took the position as strength and conditioning coach/sports scientist in India. My background is primarily in rugby, but I have worked across many sports such as swimming, surfing and football. In 2013 I got the opportunity to go to India and join the national men’s program there. So I packed my bags and left. That was an amazing experience with some amazing athletes that really had a desire to learn and improve every day. It really was learn by doing in terms of learning about hockey when I got there. But the nice thing about my job is you can take your knowledge and apply it across many sports. Since then I have really grown into hockey and have really come to love it. From a strength and conditioning trainer stand point it is a great sport to work with as it is so dynamic, not to mention full of great people all around the world.
What brought you to the Netherlands, Matt? As you mentioned my girlfriend Marlena has been living and playing here for quite a while now. We did the long distance relationship thing for about 12 months then, after I went to the Rio 2016 Olympics with the Indian team, I decided it was time to come over here and be with her and look for the next career adventure. Just so happened that I ended up back in hockey with Oranje Rood and then the Oranje Dames.
How has the play/game changed in the past 5 years? I came into hockey after a lot of the dramatic changes such as going to quarters, video umpires and those sorts of things, so I have always been involved with the high paced hockey we have today. I think bigger changes are happening at the club level here in the Netherlands. Clubs are continuously expanding and players are becoming more professional, and things like strength and conditioning are being recognised as an important part of the sport. I hope it keeps going that way because it can really bring a lot to the sport. Not only from a performance but also an injury prevention perspective. Obviously, I am a big advocate for the strength and conditioning side of things, however it is great to see that it is getting more attention from clubs, athletes, and also the media.
Is strength more important than condition or are they equally important for top field hockey players? They both have their place, and it is hard to prioritise one over the other. A lot of it comes down to the individual. You have your athletes that are strong and powerful, and would maybe benefit from a little more conditioning work, and those that can run all day, but might get a little faster or change direction a little quicker if they focused a little more on the strength side of things. In general, what I see is that strength is probably more neglected that conditioning. All our hockey training is some form of conditioning, and go to any hockey club on an evening through the week and you see some team running around the club for their conditioning. So in that sense, a little more strength training might help to balance things out. Strength training resources are much harder to come across however. Not only gyms, but also the right people to teach the right techniques. So if you want to add some strength in, you should definitely try to seek out the right people.
From a trainer’s perspective, what is your opinion regarding 4 quarter plays instead of 35 minute halves? I think the 4 quarters makes it a little more exciting, but from a strength and conditioning stand point it doesn’t change too much because of the unlimited rolling substitutions. If you have a quality team you can prepare them to roll on and off the field and give you a high intensity effort for their stint on the pitch. In general, it’s nice to see the hoofdklasse go that way and mimic the international competitions. All those small things help to prepare particularly the young athletes make that step to the international level.
A sports psychologist once told me that body and mind work together and therefore a physical injury could stem from a mental issue, but vice versa as well. What is your view on this? There is definitely a connection, stress is stress. If the body is physically stressed or mentally stressed a lot of the physiological outcomes or symptoms are the same. If an athlete is tired and stressed from their study for example, for sure they may be at a higher injury risk. We use things like wellness and readiness questionnaires to try and monitor this, however nothing replaces having a good connection with the athletes you work with and just going and saying g’day and having a conversation with them to see how they are feeling. There is always that search for a perfect balance of being a top athlete, study, work, family, friends. It’s tough to get right, and if anyone has, please let me know…
Young kids nowadays train far more and intensively for field hockey than past generations. In schools, the gym classes have been cut down. Some parents push their kids, others slow them down. How can we bring back the balance? Well I’m not a parent, yet. But I do see this happening and it is a worldwide thing. From a physical development standpoint there is a lot of talk at the moment about early specialisation and if it is good or not. A lot of the commentary is leaning against it and I tend to agree. I think first and foremost physical activity no matter the modality is great for kids, and a mixture is probably best, especially in their younger years. We talk about physical literacy, being about to catch, throw, kick, jump, run etc, etc. Some of the best athletes I have worked with come from a varied sporting background. They have a great awareness of how to control their bodies and that provides a platform to create strong, powerful and robust athletes. Although hockey may be a focus for a kid, maybe once a week of a different team sport, athletics, gymnastics, might help them develop other skill sets, physical and social, which will help their hockey career later on should they choose to pursue it at a higher level.
What is your best advice for young field hockey players to stay in shape without damaging their love and enjoyment for the sport? I’m a big believer in doing the simple things savagely well to make the bigger things easier. Looking after your health so you are fit and ready to train. Making sure your school work is up to date so you don’t have to stay up late and are then tired the next day at training. If you get the little things right, the bigger things become easier.
Look after yourself as best you can to be able to perform as best you can. Then you’re much more likely to have fun.
From a physical standpoint it’s much the same. Think about what you need most in your game, and if you’re not sure, ask your coach. Set some goals and go get after it. Try to have balance in your training. We are strength & conditioning coaches, not strength or conditioning coaches. My top athletes are in the gym 2 to 3 times a week, and we do a little speed, agility and conditioning work around their hockey training. If someone has a less strong point, we set some extra time aside for it and attack it. But start small and layer up. For the youngsters working with your body weight during the warm up for hockey training is a great place to start for the strength training. Try to find someone around your club that can help and teach you the right techniques. Get a little stronger, a little fitter, a little faster, and I guarantee when you start running around your opponents, scoring more goals, intercepting more passes, you will maybe love the game even a little bit more.