T&T hockey standout heading to Tokyo in coaching role
An Olympic dream will finally come true for Trinidad and Tobago’s legendary retired hockey player Kwandwane “Kwan” Browne this summer in Japan—but not the way he would have envisioned it when he first started playing at the age of five.
The now 43-year-old would have much preferred to don the red, white and black—hockey stick in hand—at a quadrennial Games. But his 26-year national senior team career concluded after representing Team TTO at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
But just one-week later, the England Hockey Board (EHB) appointed him assistant coach to their men’s senior team. And so an Olympic dream was resuscitated.
“Getting named the assistant coach for this cycle is unbelievable because this was the build-up to the Olympics and I have spent the last 26 years of my life playing for T&T, trying to get to the Olympics and retiring from international hockey and not being able to achieve that dream; then a week later being named assistant coach to the British team that would be going to the Olympics, so that was really exciting, an unbelievable feeling,” the Belmont-born Browne said.
The England selection for the July 23-August 8 Tokyo2020 Games would have also brought to a conclusion the haunting chapter of a near-miss Olympic qualification effort at the 2003 Pan American Games.
Back then, Team TTO, leading 1-0 with 15 minutes to go, lost 1-2 to Canada and with, it a chance to suit up at the 2004 Athens Games.
But there are different ways to score a goal and Browne finally hit the target via the England route.
The EHB appointment would have come naturally to those in charge of the sport in his adopted home.
Browne’s excellence as a player and coach in “jolly old England” has been well-documented since he arrived as the only “black” player in the English Premier League in the 1998/1999 season with Southgate.
And after stints at various clubs in England and Holland, Browne reached the peak of his coach/player career when he led the Hampstead & Westminster Hockey Club to the Men’s England Hockey League in the 201/2019 season. It was the club’s first men’s title - and only one to date - in their 127- year history.
During his time in England, Browne has also coached through the England junior and youth teams at Under-16, Under-21 and Under-23 level before he started being involved with the senior men’s team in 2013.
That progression ensured that Browne—who has also assisted previous TTO men’s senior team coaches including the latest Glen “Fido” Francis—made a seamless transition to his current position.
“So I have a very good relationship with all the players, either coaching or playing against them because I have only retired from the Premier League last year,” said Browne, who took up the head coach position at Mill Hill School in 2020. ”So I have had enough time although I was still playing, just to help gradually and get into the transition and it has not been too difficult because I have coached quite a few of the players...It is quite a unique position for a coach. There are probably very few coaches who are very lucky to do it, especially for a country that is ranked so high.”
England’s men’s squad is currently ranked sixth in the FIH world rankings. Australia are No.1.
Operating as a member of an ethnic minority in England, Browne—who represented TTO at several editions of the CAC Games (2002 gold medal), Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games and the Pan American Cup—has also used his experience of preparing as a small country to improve his professionalism and coaching to the benefit of the Great Britain roster.
“That has been absolutely brilliant. Having coached as assistant for T&T (has) given me a little bit of an ‘X’ factor in that playing with T&T and assisting coaching...we were always battling and boxing above our weight category and always found ways to do very well and even beat some of the teams that are higher ranked than us.“
Browne said the only way to have achieved those results was by paying attention to the most minor of details.
“I have experienced playing with top clubs in Holland and even in England coaching and just playing as well. When you have a lot of good players, you could miss some details because you could still win games just because you are better. But having played with T&T, we just couldn’t turn up and just play; we had to be very good tactically and it has helped us a lot, helped me...to maximise every little bit, down to the weight of the hockey stick that you use. You just want to get all the details right.”
The same tenacity and determination Kwan brought to developing his talent when he would beg the security at the national Hockey Centre for a “bligh’ to fine-tune his craft, is still paying off today.
He says these traits are in similar demand now as he aims to maximise every player’s potential and ability towards the team goal.
In a country where facilities and funding aren’t in short supply as it is for this minor sport locally, Browne can focus on “stretching” his England charges—with captain Adam Dixon at the helm—to their limits and ensuring they enjoy the game while doing so.
“I want to really enjoy it, make sure I keep learning and developing and just hope I can do exactly what I have done with club hockey; be part of a group that will just want to make sure the players enjoy playing...so that is my expectation.”
As for being the first black coach on the England hockey roster, Browne said:“For me, it is absolutely massive for several reasons...and number one as being Trinidadian, to be able to be one of the coaches that is great. I also think it is really important being an ethnic minority, coaching at the highest level...is a big deal. I am just really hoping for the ethnic minorities seeing it, that I can be seen as someone who looks like them, coaching...that just inspires somebody or makes it known it can be done. It’s a big deal for the hope it can give.”
For now the dream continues for the hockey protégé who still can’t believe he is making a living coaching a game he has always loved.
“It is just incredible because to me, it’s me just enjoying life. Maybe part of the passion is because my family is a sporting family...so there must be something there in my upbringing that it obviously became normal, natural,” said Browne whose aunt is T&T and WI sporting icon Anne Browne-John. “I have probably been one of the oldest seniors to play international and premier league hockey...so I always felt very blessed and fortunate and never took it for granted and just wanted to keep maximising...and I will carry on trying to maximise my ability because this blessing, it will be a shame to waste it and not motivate or encourage or inspire others to want to do more.”