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Cometh the hour, cometh the Coach!

India finished with a silver medal in the Champions Hockey Tournament and much of the credit goes to the newly appointed coach, Harendra Singh

07th July 2018, 07:55 Hrs

India finished a creditable second in the just concluded Champions hockey tournament held in the Netherlands. In the finals, India held world champions Australia to a 1-1 draw at full time, eventually going down 1-3 in the penalty shoot-out.  

Earlier in the round-robin league, India beat Olympic champions Argentina and neighbours Pakistan, drew level against European hockey heavyweights, Belgium and hosts Netherlands, before losing narrowly to Australia by the odd goal. The Indian team excelled in both attack and defence and upset the calculations of all their opponents.  

This is extremely creditable for India which is otherwise ranked sixth in the international hockey pecking order and had a dismal Commonwealth Games outing, where they finished fourth.  

Much of the latest resurgence can be attributed to the positivity infused into the team by newly appointed coach Harendra Singh, a former India international.  

If there is one malaise Indian hockey suffers from, it is the frequent chop and change of hockey coaches. Shockingly, the Indian hockey team has had 23 coaches in as many years! If that is not all, Hockey India has even changed four foreign coaches between the years 2013-18. Dutchman Roelant Oltmans was the last high profile foreign coach to be sacked after our poor performance in the World Hockey league, where we finished sixth out of ten teams. Oltmans departure was hastened by the fact, that we lost to lower ranked teams like Malaysia and Canada. However, what was sadly ignored was Oltmans’ good work in the immediate preceding years, when India won the bronze medal in the World Hockey League and the silver medal in the Champions trophy.  

Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, the Indian women’s hockey team coach, who was hastily appointed as the interim coach did not actually manage to motivate the players. Not just that, he also replaced many seasoned players in the squad that went to the Commonwealth Games in April 2018. At the CWG, India finished fourth and Marijne was criticised for making too many changes in the Indian playing eleven, which seemed to unsettle the core team.  

In this light, the recent appointment of Harendra Singh holds immense significance. Harendra has been a very successful hockey coach for Team India, having guided the Indian juniors to the World title in 2016. 

With the senior team, Harendra had his job cut out. He was taking over a team which was low on morale following a poor Commonwealth Games outing and scarred by the frequent changes of coaches.  

In his insightful article in the Indian Express recently, hockey writer Mihir Vasavda has highlighted some of Harendra’s positive inputs in the recently concluded Champions Trophy. Here is one instance. Veteran midfielder Sardar Singh was set to play his 300th international against Argentina. Before the start of the game, in an innovative move, Harendra along with the 17 players and support staff formed a semi-circle around Sardar and went down on one knee and bowed down to Sardar, saluting the ace player. Needless to say, this gesture must have raised the team’s morale and the general bonhomie among the players. 

Similarly, in a recent interview to writer Subhashish Majumdar of Sportskeeda.com, Harendra  said that both he and Indian team captain, goalkeeper Sreejesh took  selfies with the Champions trophy at the start of the tournament and  showed it to the players in every team meeting, in a bid to motivate  them.  

As the coach pointed out, the objective was to help the players visualise a situation where they could actually win the cup. These nuanced, psychological inputs from the coach have indeed paid rich dividends, as evidenced from the final results.  

Of course, this is not the first time, that the importance of a good and effective coach has been emphasised in Indian sport. Indian badminton’s chief coach, Pullela Gopichand and his positive methods have helped India become the new world force in the sport. His insistence on the appointment of ace Malaysian and Indonesian coaches have helped Indian badminton. Similarly, the quiet and effective coaching methodologies adopted by former Indian cricket coaches, John Wright and Gary Kirsten saw the Indian cricket team prosper. This was in stark contrast to the dictatorial and somewhat abrasive style of the high profile, Greg Chappell which hampered Indian cricket’s growth for a brief period in the early 2000s.  

Coming back to Indian hockey, Hockey India must urgently review its ‘chop and change’ policy for coaches and retain coaches for longer durations. Choose people like Harendra and give them a long rope to deliver. Several big challenges await the Indian hockey team. The 2018 Asian Games followed by the 2018 World Cup and hopefully the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.   

Former Indian hockey captain Sandeep Singh told media persons in Goa recently, “Indian hockey is in the safest of hands with Harendra Singh at the helm,” Let us wish Harendra and Team India, the very best!

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