Opals hire former Hockeyroos striker Jo Banning as the team’s culture coach

The Opals have hired former Hockeyroos striker Jo Banning as the team’s culture coach in an attempt to rebuild one of the strongest cultures in Australian sport.

The Opals’ culture of success that dates back decades copped a hit during the team’s disappointing 2020 Tokyo Olympic campaign.

The side’s preparation was thrown into chaos when star centre Liz Cambage racially and physically abused players from the Nigerian national team in a private pre-Olympic scrimmage in Las Vegas.

Cambage’s behaviour was a breaking point for the playing group, who voted to have their troubled teammate removed from the team.

The controversial centre later opted to withdraw from the Olympics, citing mental health.

Cambage’s exit from the team, just a week out from the Tokyo Olympics, had a major mental impact on the Opals and they failed to recover.

The Australian’s bowed out in the quarterfinals for the second straight Olympics.

This substandard result prompted Opals coach Sandy Brondello to take a serious look at the team’s culture.

Brondello approached the players and the coaching staff, who came together to honestly discuss the side’s identity and how they wanted to be perceived culturally.

These frank talks led to the hiring of Banning, who won a field hockey bronze medal at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, as the Opals’ culture coach.

“We had to regroup after Tokyo, and we’ve put a lot of work into our culture,” Brondello told News Corp.

“Jo was our media liaison officer at the Tokyo Olympics, so we got to know her.

“You want to work with people that you know.

“Culture is an area that Jo wanted to get into. She has experience being mentored by the Hockeyroos when she played.

“Jo has been leading it (our culture sessions) and she has been really great.

“She is doing a lot of the grunt work to build the culture up in the right direction.”

In addition to a culture coach, Brondello revealed the Opals have also hired a wellness coach and a psychologist ahead of this month’s World Cup in Sydney.

She believes all three roles have made a significant difference to the team in the lead up to next Thursday’s Cup opener against France at the Sydney SuperDome.

“All those things that we didn’t have last year,” she said.

“We discussed as a group what we wanted culturally, and we spent a lot of time putting it together.

“We were also vulnerable were we needed to, and we were honest about determining what the team’s identity is.

“I’m not a dictator, so culture is all about involving everyone and it’s been great.”

It can be normal for disagreements to occur when humans are having honest conversations.

Brondello confirmed the playing group had differing opinions at stages, but they were on the same page about restoring the Opals’ culture.

“This is what we all wanted,” she said.

“I made it the utmost importance once we started our preparations for the World Cup, and we’ve been building it up over the last six or seven months.

“I think we’re now in a really strong place and the culture is back where it needed to be.”

Brondello doesn’t want to make excuses, but concedes external factors like the Cambage saga had a major impact on the Opals’ culture.

“I suppose with Covid and everything that happened (in Tokyo), we let the culture slip a little bit,” she said.

“It goes to show that you need to put time and effort into making sure you are on top of your culture.

“Everyone is totally invested, and they are buying in and it’s going to help us once we get to the World Cup to handle all the highs and lows.”

Originally published as Opals hire former Hockeyroos striker Jo Banning as the team’s culture coach

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