In 2018, Belgium stunned the hockey fraternity across the globe when they lifted the FIH Men’s World Cup title. Interestingly, the team had finished 5th in the 2014 edition of the World Cup in Hague, The Netherlands and did not feature in the 2010 World Cup held in India.
Their staggering rise in world hockey, which includes a Silver Medal at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, has had a lot to do with the system they developed over the past decade. While they built a strong club culture and developed a solid core group of players including the experienced and young players, they invested in top-quality coaches at the grassroots level who were well-versed with the changing dynamics of modern hockey.
Former Captain of Indian men's hockey team Tushar Khandker
If one goes back through the careers of all the players who featured in the Belgian side that won the World Cup, you will find that they have all been guided by quality coaches right from their junior days. The clubs across Belgium ensured their players received a uniform structured level of tuition, adept with modern knowledge of the sport.
I believe, through the Hockey India Coaching Education Pathway that was launched in 2019, India too can achieve similar success as Belgium. It will take time. It took Belgium 12 years to rise in world hockey after introducing these simple changes in their approach.
A uniform coaching system right from the grassroots is certain to make a difference in India’s quest to glory.
There are very few academies / teams in India who have adapted to modern techniques of coaching in the past. The gap that is created due to this is very big when talented players from these academies/ state teams are selected to the national program and start to train under top Indian and foreign coaches. Players sometimes struggle to cope with this change and take a lot of time to adjust when they get selected for national camps and invariably there is a lot of de-learning that needs to be done in order to bring these talented young players to the level required to excel.
In my stint as an Assistant Coach with the Indian team between July 2015 – December 2016, I noticed that while we have some of the best talent, players who have the potential to match any top player in the world, there are times, especially in crunch situations, when they make very basic errors in trapping, pushing or passing. This is something that they would have learnt at grassroots and to unlearn these old methods is hard.
How uniform coaching system can help
The Hockey India Coaching Education Pathway is a simplified education structure that provides certification to develop coaches from grassroots through to a high performance/ international level. The program consists of a combination of web-based modules and face-to-face interactive courses underpinned by a competency-based assessment process. Once the candidate completes Hockey India Level 2, they can apply for FIH Coaching Courses as well. These Hockey India courses are conducted through the year in different zones (north, east, south, west) across Indian making it very accessible for aspiring coaches and the FIH Coaching Courses too are now being held in India on a regular basis, unlike earlier when one would have to travel abroad to get certified by the International Governing Body.
Having undertaken the Hockey India Level Basic, Level 1 and Level 2 Coaching Courses myself and having completed FIH Level 1 Coaching Course, I can say first hand that the courses are extremely informative, scientific in nature and pays emphasis on modern hockey which is fast evolving. Since the launch of the pathway over 750 coaches have attended the Hockey India Coaching Education Pathway and I strongly feel that these Coaches will impart what they have learnt through these courses to their wards and the gap between domestic players and players in the national program can be bridged. With coaches being upgraded with new skills, new techniques then there will be an easy transition of players from domestic to international level.
Increase player pool
While I personally believe the current Indian side is doing very well and have some extremely good players, a uniform coaching system in the domestic and grassroot level will help increase the player pool. With more competition, and more players pushing for a spot in the Indian core group, the level of individual performance will automatically go up.
I feel these aspects will help the team step up from World No.4 and break into the top 3 bracket in the not too distant future.
The author is an Olympian, Former Indian men's hockey team Captain and currently heads BPCL as a Senior Manager - Corporate HRS.