Every time the Indian men’s hockey team heads into a major hockey tournament, the expectations soar. Of course, there is nothing wrong having ‘expectations’, but the hassle is when our countrymen go beyond the ‘realistic picture’ and yearn for results that are far removed from the round realities. A debacle in a major hockey tournament is all it takes to reignite the ‘snide talk’ of Indian hockey falling away over the years almost to the point of suggesting that Indian hockey can never regain its ‘glory days’.
“If you look closely, hockey-wise India is more outcome-driven and not process-driven. It’s all about being obsessed with the outcome all the time. The fact that India have not won anything ‘big’ in the last thirty years is a factor in triggering ‘despair’ among hockey lovers in the country. There is a need to put processes in place and you can’t deliver results unless you have these,” says Indian team head coach Terry Walsh in an exclusive interview.
The shrewd Australian coach believes things are potentially looking good for the future. “We had an extremely positive, meaningful two-day review meeting recently to assess where India stands after its 9th place finish in the World Cup. The focus is on putting a robust national programme in place which will ensure that a process is implemented to develop hockey at the grassroots, which is so key for Indian hockey to flourish,” he opines.
The Indian hockey team comprises largely players from states like Punjab, Haryana, Odisha, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Manpur, UP and Maharashtra. In a country of 29 states, isn’t it a sad commentary how the sport is developing in the country? “I agree that there is a need to spread the game to every nook and corner of the country. For that to happen we need good coaches and this is where coaches at the state level must be groomed or upgraded to the demands of modern hockey. At most times, youngsters may have the passion but have little playing avenues and lack of information about the sport,” he quips.
There is a feeling all around that the biggest disadvantage that India youngsters have in their formative years is their exposure to synthetic turfs. A vast majority of these youngsters, barring a few states, end up playing first on grass and then shift to synthetic turfs. Walsh begs to differ. “Technically there are things one needs to adapt playing on synthetic turfs. But it does not mean that a youngster starting on grass and then switching to a synthetic turf will lose out on anything ‘big’. A talented youngster will always adapt to such situations. In India, most of these youngsters get to play on a synthetic turf when they represent their respective states in the national sub-junior or national junior events, something which can be rectified for sure,” he observes.
How important is it for youngsters to enjoy the confidence of a coach, especially you know that a youngster can make mistakes during training? “Well, you just have to ‘coach’ them. If a youngster is making a few errors during training, he should be encouraged not to repeat it. It’s so easy to holler at a youngster and the danger in such situations is that he may never be able to give off his best. No coach can deliver by being an ‘angry’ coach – being ‘angry’ just shows that one is not able to handle the stress of a job he is supposed to perform. This is an area where Indian coaches can work on besides the technical and tactical aspects they focus on,” he remarks.
How does he deal with the cynicism (all stuff written in newspapers) in India, especially after India’s World Cup campaign? “I don’t read too many newspapers. I have a job to do and I’m focused on that. As I said before, people in India are obsessed with the outcome and not the process. They want overnight results which will never happen,” he says.
Walsh, who earlier coached the Australian, Malaysian and Netherlands national teams, has no doubts that India are fast narrowing the gap with teams like England, Belgium, Argentina, New Zealand and Korea. “Look, India are capable of beating all these teams ranked between 4 to 8. There is a lot of self-belief among the boys that we can take these teams head-on. Even the Netherlands are a side whom we can possibly match with greater exposure. As for Australia and Germany it will take some time before we start beating them,” he remarks.
The former Australian stalwart has set ‘realistic’ expectations for the 2016 Rio Olympics. “This team is capable of producing a top-six finish. Let’s not try to get ahead of ourselves,” he adds.
Hockey India League poured much-wanted money into the hockey world , coming as a boon for the Indian players besides all the international players. Walsh offers an ‘interesting angle’ here. “Indian hockey players are the only ones in the world to have a secure full-time job for playing hockey for the country. Look at Germany and Australia or other top countries, they don’t make money from playing for the country nor do they have a secure full-time job. Take the case of Jamie Dwyer – he earns good money by playing the Dutch league and HIL – otherwise there are no match fees for any hockey player across the globe. There can be occasional financial rewards handed out, but the overall picture is grim. In India, jobs for hockey players are drying up which is alarming,” he serves a note of caution.
India’s penalty corner conversion was below par at the 2014 World Cup – the team failed to convert a single PC (in terms of direct conversions). “Talking of set-pieces, we converted one penalty stroke and one of a PC rebound by Jasjit Singh. We really need to up our PC conversions going forward,” he puts forth his views.
And the Commonwealth Games is India’s next international assignment where the Blueshirts will look to build on the positives of the 2014 World Cup. “We will look to put our best foot forward and take our improvement to the next level,” he signs off.
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