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March 25, 2000


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Cedric D'Souza

In my last article I had said that I would talk about Indian hockey acquiring the services of a foreign coach. That's because of the rumours that have been floating around the country, and in response to e-mails received from readers seeking my opinion on the same.

To begin with, for me sport should be treated like any other profession; it should have a corporate image. Once the Indian Hockey Federation is convinced that they have exhausted every avenue, that the quality of coaches our system churns out is not on par with the rest of the world, then, like what is done in any big corporate house, they too should go out into the international market and procure expertise. But that is only if it is serious about a long-term plan, vital to challenge the best in the world.

Before I proceed let me share with you information that is so relevant to the subject. Way back in the sixties, the then IHF’s president, Mr. Ashwini Kumar - a man with vision, purpose and commitment - had visualised that the game would fast change; that the west would leap ahead; that India would not stand a chance in the years to come if its coaching standards were not enhanced and developed. How he true his words have rung!.

Till the late sixties and early seventies skill dominated the best part of hockey till the Europeans came in with their tactical play and professional coaching methods, and burst our bubble. Mr Kumar had realized the pros and cons of our system and knew very well where we stood. In fact, he had the foresight to visualize how far we would progress, or lag behind, if we continued to harp on skill. Thus, way back then he decided to seek the services of the best the west had to offer. Contact was made with Horst Wein, the doyen of modern coaching and today the FIH master coach. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond his control, the plan of procuring foreign expertise did not materialize and today Indian hockey is paying a heavy price for it.

Today the game is more power oriented, with superior fitness and tactics playing a major role. Skill, which was so dominant during Mr. Kumar’s era, has taken a back seat. Skill is important, but it is to be used intelligently and at the right moment. So as far as I am concerned, if the IHF has exhausted all avenues within the country and results from within are not satisfactory, then a foreign import is a must. We should be grateful and ready with open arms if coaches from the elite hockey-playing countries are prepared top come to India, be part of our national coaching structure and impart their knowledge. Yes, there will be a huge difference in cultures; the expatriate will have to adjust and change his mindset from the professional manner that things are done in the west to the normal procrastination ways of our administrators. But if the IHF is sincere in making the best out of the bargain, then surely the transition can be smooth.

I am aware that the IHF had recently contacted a few of my friends in the business, from FIH master coach Horst Wein to German national coach Paul Lissek to Korean coach Kim Sang Ryul, but all have had to negate their offer due to prior commitments for which they have binding agreements.

Talking about agreements or, to put it plainly, contracts, it will be interesting to see whether the IHF, which has all along be averse to signing contracts with coaches and other team management personnel, enters into one with a foreign coach. Then comes another question -- and an important one at that: Will they give the foreigner a totally free hand, be it in selection, international tours, team management, like he gets in the west, with no questions asked? Will he get all the aids he requisitions -- from video technician, ball throwing machines, rebound nets, rebound boards, supply of tapes from all over the world?

With just a few months to go for the Olympics, we now hear that a foreign coach will be hired to provide expertise in specific areas like penalty-corner conversion and defense of penalty-corners. All very good, but for the move to succeed, the players and coaches must speak the same language, otherwise it will be expensive exercise in futility. The general state of the players and coaches in the country is still very much skill oriented, with very little emphasis on tactics and so unless the mindset is changed, foreign inputs (based on cerebral, tactical hockey and modern strategy) will not prove beneficial.

Such a move can only succeed if a uniform culture is inculcated from the grass root level and an awareness is created amongst all connected with the sport. We need to update ourselves and keep abreast with the times if we want to compete at the international level. Once this is done, positive results will follow.

Since the key word is development, I would against like to say that Alchemy Sports Promotion Network (ASPN) has taken up the cause of educating and enlightening players and coaches around the country. And, for what it is worth, the IHF has contacted the ASPN people and a dialogue is in process. If it materialises, ASPN will handle the national team for the Sydney Games as well as structure a development programme from the grass root level up. I am aware of the correspondence between both parties and at the moment the ball is in the IHF’s court to procure funding before a formal agreement is signed. With just five months left, one hopes the concerned parties speed up the process so as to get enough time to put together a solid squad for the millennium's first Olympics.

Cedric D'Souza

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