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Coaches conclude -- Improve or stagnate (2/1/2011)
--Shashank Gupta
Indian hockey, it seems, has a big problem at hand – our domestic coaching system is crumbling by each day. We are still playing old-age hockey – trying to dodge and beat four players in a row, poor trapping, holding on to the ball, needless dribbling, losing ball possession by scoops, empty hard-hit ins from the flanks, little man-to-man marking. The causes of decline in Hockey at the National level lies somewhere deeply rooted in our domestic Hockey. caught up with coaches of the recently concluded KSHA Super Division League to find out the ills that affect domestic circuit, reasons for the huge gap between domestic and international Hockey, and how to plug them.

Style of Play
“There should be a strategy at the National level and it should percolate down to the domestic level,” says Didar Singh, a former international player, the coach to Namdhari team, “The whole domestic system should be brought under one umbrella and it should work in sync with the national one. What we should (or should not) do must be coming from there.”

Gavin Ferreira, a former international, coach to Air India team, winners of the Karnataka Super Division League, cites a practical challenge as a result of no clear national strategy on the ‘style of play’.

“Seven of Indian team players are from Air India. They learnt playing zonal marking at the national camp whereas I play Man- to-man marking. Once they returned back, it became a big challenge for me to get the players adapted to a different style of playing. If we adapt to a common style of play, then all domestic coaches can produce better results. “

Scientific training to take better decisions BPCL coach Sabu Varkey, one of most adored player of all times, says, “There should be a ‘coach the coach’ program. Experts should be called from Australia and train the domestic coaches.”

He mentions the importance of small things, like how to charter a plan to decide on substitutions.

“How can I find out what has gone wrong on either side of the turf? In fact, which player can play well in which position? What kind of scientific data do we have to make better decisions?” are few of his questions, the answer to which he thinks can come from scientific trainings for coaches.

Gavin quotes an example from the CWG, New Delhi, where the final match was scheduled at 1130am in scorching heat. Australia, sure that it will be in the finals, arranged for a room with 38 deg C temperature. The players used to go inside, remain there for a few minutes and come out. They did this repeatedly, to get accustomed to the heat levels of Delhi. That contributed to their performance in the finals.

Sabu, a budding coach, wants to find out details on how foreign teams work on fitness, warm-ups, or other technical areas of the game, like how other teams are more effective in a full-court press or how they position their players in any given match situation. He advocates that scientific training should go down to the domestic teams.

Quality Sports Psychologist:
Our coaches are accepting the idea of psychologists. Gavin says, “Back in Olympics ’96 team, we did have a psychologist, not a sports psychologist though. I didn’t find it very useful. But now all sports, around the world, are benefitting immensely from Sports Psychologist. Then why can’t we be benefitted from it. It’s time to move forward.”

Sabu talks about issues in a team that a coach can’t handle, “Players have problems with team-mates, they have on-field rivalry, and they have differences with the coaches too. That is where we need a psychologist at the domestic level to boost our performance.”

He canvasses for the assistance of physiologist, psychologist and a doctor at the domestic level, similar to the way we have at the international level.

Ashish Ballal, former International Goalkeeper, coach to Fortis team, has slightly different take on this issue, “Training on psychological skills for a coach is a must. The coach needs assistance on how to handle on-field and off-field pressures on the team. How to not get carried away with victories and stay composed at a loss are few (amongst many) issues players need help upon.”

Didar, also a grass-root level coach, sees adolescence challenges, “With new generation children, there are a number of distractions. Psychologist is definitely the need of the hour at the lowest-level.”

Coaching Workshops:
Sabu and Ashish, both, feel the need of regular interaction of foreign coaches at the domestic level and the need to have regular sessions with them. They say, hardly anyone gets to attend any such workshops or clinics.

Video and Software: Although Didar hasn’t seen for himself but he is fascinated with the idea of video-recordings. He is interested to learn the software which will tell about the field movements in greater details and the related statistics of the game. Gavin says, “Foreign coaches have made numerous videos of our star players as to how they move on the field. They almost know which player will move which way. Using statistics from video-recordings, they just tell their goalkeeper which way usually the opponent’s drag flick are directed upon.”

Knowledge Stagnation and Attitude:
“Knowledge stagnation and attitude are other challenges”, tells Ballal, “There has been no revision of course content for the NIS Coaching. They should be in-sync with modernized Hockey. Many coaches still think using gym makes the body stiff. Unfortunately, you have the paradigm of pen-paper coach or a laptop coach. We need to evolve on our mindsets as well.”

Fitness training:
Ballal, who also runs an academy of his own, sees hope in a scientific gym -not a multi-gym - which specializes in strength training specific to Hockey. Being a goalkeeper himself, he says, “At the domestic level, we should have access to facilities like Deflection Board, Ball throwing machine, Reflex board.”

Watch and learn:
Whereas Gavin says that young, budding coaches should be sent to watch international matches, Ballal asserts, “It’s easier to see and learn than to hear, understand and learn. Foreign Coaches have superior presentation material and their communication terminologies are extremely detailed. Being a diverse country, visuals have more impact than verbal communication. The more effective we are at our communication, easier it is to make a player do what we have in our mind.”

Deeply moved by the condition of Hockey in our country, with a painful expression, Didar exclaims, “Quality of Hockey at the domestic and national level is very closely linked to each other. A downfall in former follows the latter, almost immediately.” P Shanmugham, coach to the sub-junior Karnataka team that won the Nationals recently, was seen doing something rather unusual in Hockey circles; he was recording a few matches at the stadium, with a tripod and video camera. A coach in Jude Felix Hockey Academy, Shanmugham, emphasizes the importance of video recordings,

“Fine, Sameer Dad is a great player. Show me some of his videos; I want to emulate some of his magical moves. We don’t have recordings of any of the great players that this country has ever produced. On the field, away from the ball, there is a different game going on between the players. There is so much to learn from it.”

Looking back at Hockey he says, “We (in Hockey) compare everything with Cricket. In Cricket, if a player errs at the national level, he is sent back with a feedback to play Ranji. Where is that in Hockey? Who is going to find out and correct a player’s mistakes?”

“We are criticizers, not correctors,” says a disappointed Didar.

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