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Coach's Corner

I will never forget the win against Australia in quarterfinal - Former Hockey coach Sjoerd Marijne

Former Indian women's hockey coach Sjoerd Marijne talks about his team's campaign at the Tokyo Olympics in an exclusive chat with The Bridge.

Sjoerd Marijne (Source: India Today)

Sjoerd Marijne (Source: India Today)


Abhijit Nair

Published: 12 Oct 2021 3:46 PM GMT

One of India's biggest takeaways from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was the splendid display by the country's women hockey team. The women in blue threw in a big surprise during their time in Tokyo, making their way into the semifinal of the quadrennial event for the first time in history.

Leading the charge for India from the sidelines was coach Sjoerd Marijne. The 47-year-old Dutchman grew into an overnight sensation in the country after India's historic win over Australia in the quarterfinal, with people drawing parallels between him and the Bollywood movie Chak de India's Kabir Khan.

That match against Australia was a rollercoaster ride. There were various moments during the 60 minutes where it felt the game might slip away from the Rani Rampal-led side. It was exciting. And much like the players and fans, Sjoerd Marijne felt the heat as well.

"It was a very exciting game and I was very nervous towards the end because we got a lot of penalty corners (PCs) against us. That is the last thing you want as a coach – losing or drawing the match in the final minutes. It was 28 seconds before the final whistle when Neha got the ball towards Navneet that I felt calm for the first time and realised we are going to win," Sjoerd said in an Instagram live with The Bridge.

While the Sjoerd Marijne – Kabir Khan memes started circulating on Indian social media platforms just minutes after India's win, the coach's guidance over the past four and half years was nothing short of it.

"For four and half years I had to tell the girls we are doing well, but we are not winning and need to improve. Every time there were disappointments. This made the Australia win even more memorable. We finally won a big match and that is a feeling I will never forget. After the match, I just told the girls see you can do it. I have been telling this for four and half years," said a visibly proud Marijne.

Though the final result for India in Tokyo was something the country can be proud of for times to come, the start of the campaign was not that great. India started off with three losses against Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain in the group stage and the coach certainly was not impressed.

"I was angry after that third match loss against Great Britain because I felt we were not playing to our potential. They were not giving their 100% and we were doing very stupid things. I did not want to talk to the players. I wanted to make them realise they were throwing away what probably is the biggest opportunity of their life. I know in India if the coach gets angry the girls know he is not happy and we have to work harder," he chuckles.

Sjoerd Marijne is now in the process of writing a book – something which he started during the covid-19 imposed lockdown last year. The coach thus prefers keeping some things secret.

"I made the team watch a movie after those three losses. I know a lot of you want to know what movie it was; I will reveal it in my book. I made them watch certain clips which were all about living in the moment and thinking only about things which you can control," the coach says.

No dream runs happen without any controversy. It was the same for the Indian women's hockey team. But, the only thing is the fact that the controversy took off the field with their star player Vandana Katariya's parents being subjected to casteist abuse.

"We found out about it via social media and did not want to break it to Vandana. However, we later came to know that she already found out about it. It was very disappointing, but the way Rani handled it being the captain was brilliant. Her putting out a tweet, raising her voice sent out a message that we are one unit and we will protect each other not only on the field but also outside it," he said.

Sjoerd Marijne was first appointed as the coach of the Indian women's team in 2017. He was then shifted to the men's team before being shunted back to the women's in 2018.

"It was very different coaching the men's and women's team. The main focus for me working with the men's team was bringing them together as a team and instilling some discipline. The girls on the other hand were better disciplined. I did pretty well with the men's team before the poor show at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and suddenly a lot of people got involved in the process and I was switched to the women's team. Graham Reid has done well with the boys since then and I hope one poor tournament does not cost him his position. Coaches need time and people need to understand it," Sjoerd explained.

Following the successful campaign in Tokyo, Marijne has stepped down as the coach of the Indian women's team and was all praise for his assistant and now the head coach of the Indian women's team, Janneke Schopman.

"Janneke is an experienced coach. She is tactically very aware and her being a woman understood the players better than I could. This made my job a whole lot easier. She added a lot to the team process, made the communication between the girls better and she is definitely the perfect one to take over the team after my departure. She knows exactly how the girls are, what is needed in India, where do they have to improve," he asserted.

He might have left India after a long four and a half year but Sjoerd Marijne has definitely picked up some Hindi and uses it quite often even now.

"I learnt a bit of Hindi during my stay in India. I know some basic words like Shabaash, Thik hain, and Bhaago Bhaago. Funnily, I still use these phrases; it has been ingrained into my brain. I coach a men's team here in the Netherlands and accidentally uttered, 'Accha…Thik hain,' in one of the team meetings. The boys now tease me with it," he says with a grin.

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