OTTAWA – Doug Harvey did it. Glen Sather did it. And Maritta Becker does it (sort of). Coaching and playing are two skill sets that are often polar opposite—the better the player, the worse the coach.
Or, the worse the player, the better the coach. But doing both at the same time is a double whammy of responsibility few are cut out to handle.
Germany’s Maritta Becker is 32 and the senior member on her team. She is both one of her team’s top players here in Ottawa, and she is also head coach of the team’s U18 program.
Becker began her career with Germany in 1999 at age 18 at the Women’s Worlds in Finland. She played in the next six WW tournaments as well as the Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake and 2006 in Turin.
But even early in her career she was already being groomed as a coach. “When Peter Kathan became the national team coach in 2004,” Becker explained, “he started to train me to become a coach, so even in 2004 I was an assistant coach with the under-18 team. I did that for a couple of years. When I stopped playing, the German federation asked me to coach full time, which I did, to get some experience.”
Becker continued to play at the senior level for a few more years, achieving her finest moments in 2006. “One of the highlights of my career came in Torino when we won the fifth-place game,” she said. “I also played well. I had five points, which was very good for me, and I scored the winning goal of the shootout.”
Indeed, Germany and Russia played 70 minutes of hockey that day without scoring, but Becker scored the decisive goal to give Germany a surprising fifth-place finish.
Becker then played the 2007 Worlds, but missed the next year with an injury. The team finished ninth and was demoted to Division I, where Becker played her last world championship before this year, the team’s second year back to the top level since 2008 (they finished seventh last year in Burlington).
“I didn’t play again until 2012 because I had played with the national team for 15 years without missing a game, so my body was just tired, and I was missing that passion a little bit,” she explained. “I wanted to do something else to recover and wait for the right moment to come back. And last summer, I felt I had that passion again. I had some help from the coaching staff to prepare, but now that I’m back, I’m very happy to be here.”
In the meantime, Becker continued to learn about being a coach, and in 2012 she was named head coach for the U18 team.
“That was my first world championship with the U18 as a head coach,” she said. “I tried to show the girls how important it is to have a passion for the game. They did everything that was expected of them, which is how they got to the bronze-medal game. No one thought we could go that far, so I was really proud of them.”
Germany lost that game to Sweden, 4-1, but there were signs of progress that have continued through to the senior team. The Germans have avoided the relegation round here thanks largely to their 6-3 win over the Czech Republic. Becker scored the winning goal in that game and has added an assist so far.
More interestingly, Becker the coach and Becker the player have dovetailed here as some former players she used to coach are now her teammates!
“There are some players from that team who are on this team—Kerstin Spielberger, Marie Delarbre, for instance,” Becker said with a laugh. “It was a little bit funny at first. They kept their distance because they knew me as their coach. But after a few days they saw me as a person and everything was fine. Now we’re really good buddies.”
As for the future, Becker sees hockey maintaining a high place in her life, but not the dual responsibilities she is currently juggling.
“Right now I can’t think about coaching because I’m back playing,” she agreed. “After the worlds I’ll talk to the German federation and see if there is a way to connect both. But this year is definitely my last year playing this event. After the Olympics, I’ll see what happens with coaching.”