EIt is meant appreciatively, and Valentin Altenburg also nods politely, but inwardly he rolls his eyes. “Kept up well!” says one of the Altenburg men’s internationals as he walks past him on the edge of the hockey facility in Wellingsbüttel, referring to the German women’s game against the Netherlands that has just ended.
It was lost 2:3; Altenburg’s new team led 2-0 on Saturday afternoon, but then largely had no chance. A narrow loss is no drama against Holland, the gold standard in world hockey. But national coach Altenburg, 40, wants to get away from this thinking. That’s why the praise annoys him.
Experienced association coach
Because in the heads of his players there is also the self-fulfilling prophecy that in the end others are better anyway, it’s not enough for the very front. Altenburg says: “We are fifth in the world rankings, and if everything is the same as always, we will also be fifth at the World Cup.”
But everything should be different. That’s why the German Hockey Association (DHB) canceled the contract with Xavier Reckinger, which ran until 2024, and made Valentin Altenburg head of the women, who call themselves “Danas”, from January 1st. Altenburg has many years of experience as an association coach, but only with responsibility for the men, whom he led to bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“We have changed a lot”
He should form a team that will not only play for the medals in Paris at the 2024 Olympic Games, but already at the World Championships in the Netherlands and Spain starting on July 1st. Altenburg says: “It’s a new team with a new handwriting. We have changed a lot, and it takes a willingness to embrace this change. If you can do that, you get new energy. This team is designed to win knockout games.”
The last losing elimination game during the Tokyo Olympics last summer left its mark. After a strong preliminary round with only one defeat (against the Netherlands), the Germans surprisingly lost 3-0 to Argentina in the quarter-finals. The South Americans had impressed her with their determination. That was enough to win. And the cleanup after that exit is still ongoing.
More resistance in the second game
Altenburg wants to see a courageous German team in the future. “Hockey is a counter and defensive sport,” he says, “we need access to counterattack. I want a team that takes the initiative and takes control of the game.” The women lost six of the ten games in the world series “Pro League” under Altenburg; the second game against the Netherlands also ended without a point at 1:3 on Sunday morning. It was the 18th winless game against the best team in the world in a row.
Still, Altenburg wasn’t dissatisfied because he saw more resistance in the second game. Ultimately, however, in both duels it seemed as if the Dutch women, who were coached by the former women’s national coach Jamilon Mülders, could shift up a gear at will.
From the team you can hear that the interaction is now more relaxed and open than before; the players are “better involved” and feel “picked up” by him. Apparently Altenburg “reached” her with his way of speaking and training. He is married to former national player Lisa Altenburg. The couple have two children.
Valentin Altenburg demands a lot, he wants to increase personal responsibility and pretend less. He calls it a “cultural change”, which also includes a more self-confident appearance: he took the goals of his new team indifferently, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to score against the Netherlands.
“We can really annoy everyone, but we’ll definitely shake things up during the World Cup,” he says, looking at the highlight of the season. In Amstelveen, the “Danas” meet Chile (July 2nd), the Netherlands (July 3rd) and Ireland (July 6th) in Group A. The national coach has a good mix of young and old; Charlotte Stapenhorst (Zehlendorfer Wespen), Anne Schröder (Club an der Alster), Cécile Piper (Rot-Weiss Cologne) and Selin Oruz (Düsseldorfer HC) have more than 100 international matches. Players have been added who finished second at the U21 World Championships in South Africa in April – behind the Netherlands.
On June 23, the DHB will travel to Bloemendal and from there will go to the group games in Amstelveen. In order to get into the first knockout round, the German women would have to be at least third in the group – as group winners they jump straight into the quarter-finals.
Valentin Altenburg doesn’t look that far. “I wish my players to surprise themselves,” he says. He doesn’t want to wait until Paris: “The sooner, the better.” The old, negative “mindset” would then certainly be much easier to break.