This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Indian junior men’s hockey plumbed a new lot when they finished a disappointing tenth amid all the hype and hoopla of being the tournament favourites at the 2013 Junior World Cup in New Delhi in December. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then – South African Gregg Clark – who coached the juniors in the World Cup, quit the job in early 2014 and was replaced by Harendra Singh. Harendra brings loads of experience to the team, having served as the national team coach at the 2011 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup besides being associated with the national hockey teams in various capacities.
The former India fullback took over the baton of junior team coach and performed exceedingly well on his first assignment, scooping up the Sultan of Johar Cup. Shrewd to the core, Harendra showed how he got the best out of his boys in Johor Bahru. The Dronacharya Awardee coach spoke in an exclusive interview.
Q. Congratulations to you and the Indian junior men’s hockey team on winning the Sultan of Johor Cup. You must be hugely satisfied to see your team make a podium finish on your first assignment as national junior men’s coach.
Absolutely! The boys really rose to the occasion and played as a unit. They had fire in their belly and were not undaunted by reputations of other teams be it Australia, Great Britain or New Zealand. I’m feeling proud to see the boys win the tournament. Of course, there is still room for improvement the boys will derive a lot of confidence from this title triumph.
Q What do you think is the secret of your team’s success at Johor Bahru?
Well, I have always emphasized on the five Cs – cool, calm, composed, confidence and communication. We keep telling my boys to remember these 5 Cs during team meetings or even during match situations. The idea was to let them know that they should remember these five Cs whenever they encountered any difficulty during matches. I must say that the boys have responded very well so far.
Q. You took over from South African Gregg Clark as the national junior men’s hockey team in April. How would you assess the overall junior talent in India?
Our team’s exploits at the Sultan of Johor Cup have shown that the future holds a lot of promise. There is abundant talent in the country and it is all about tapping those talents and giving them the desired training so that they can flourish. I have no doubts that the Indian junior hockey will get a big boost from this Sultan of Johor Cup triumph.
Q The likes of goalkeeper Abhinav Pandey and Harmanpreet Singh have been outstanding in the tournament. Do you think they were the finds of the tournament?
Look, all the eighteen members of the team did a superb job and helped us win the tournament. Obviously, Abhinav and Harmanpreet had a great run, but it does not mean the others did not chip in. Every team member were at their best and that’s why we won the crown. There is no such thing as star or hero in my team – all members are same for me.
Q There was a time in Indian hockey when drag-flickers were scarce. Do you think the scenario is now changing with the likes of Harmanpreet Singh and Varun Kumar showing so much promise in Johor Bahru?
You have seen Harmanpreet and Varun – we have another good drag-flicker in Dipsan Tirkey but we did not expose him as the first two were doing well. I want the drag-flickers in my team to be efficient defenders as well as there is no point in having a player just to score goals off penalty corners. A fullback should be on the pitch for a lengthy period be it defending or scoring goals from short corners. I’m grooming these youngsters keeping this in mind.
I always believed that having great individual players can help you win a few matches, but not a tournament. On the other hand, having a good win can pave the way for a title win. I don’t focus on individual brilliance; it’s all about collective brilliance of the team that matters.
I feel good if people think about me that way. I want to see India as a strong force globally and my contribution in the junior ranks can help my country in a big way.
Q It’s been many years since the national senior men’s team had an Indian coach. Do you think you can give a shot at the national senior team head coach job sometime in the future?
Honestly, I’m really happy to be playing part in developing the Indian junior men’s hockey team. I don’t harbor ambitions to become this or that coach; all I want is to contribute in making Indian hockey a strong team at the international level. It does not matter whether I’m a junior or senior team coach - as long as I’m contributing in some way its fine with me.
Q There is a line of thinking that our junior team do not play adequate international tournaments and looking at the 2016 Junior World Cup, don’t you think more international exposure is the key?
Look, we have our national camp coming up in New Delhi from November 15 and then in December we go to Australia to play in a tri-series tourney featuring hosts Australia and New Zealand. Our High Performance Manager Roelant Oltmans has laid out a nice international program for the junior team; we are looking to play 30 to 40 international games next year and in 2016, which will ensure we play adequate international matches till we head into the 2016 Junior World Cup.