Will choose a team for the Olympics that India can be proud of — Graham Reid
Graham Reid, coach of Indian men's hockey team, talks about team selection for the Tokyo Olympics and course of action with no tournaments to play before the Games in an exclusive conversation.
The Indian men's hockey team is currently stationed at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus in Bengaluru hoping to take part in a much-needed international outing before they set sail for Tokyo for the postponed Olympic Games.
Following a spike in COVID-19 cases across the country, India's tour to Europe for Hockey Pro League matches against Great Britain, Germany, and Spain were indefinitely postponed owing to the imposed travel ban. Further adding to their woes, New Zealand has refused to travel to India for the Hockey Pro League matches, which were supposed to be played at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on 29 and 30 May 2021.
Amid all uncertainties that have cropped up, Graham Reid, coach of Indian men's hockey team is asking his players to focus on the controllable factors of the game. Speaking to The Bridge, in an exclusive interview, the former Australian player said, "We have had a good outing in the Hockey Pro-League and there were also some good practice matches. We gained valuable experience to keep us motivated before the Olympics. Unfortunately, we have come to a point of realisation that we won't get to play any more tournaments before the Olympics. We are hoping to get some action during the end of June but things look pretty uncertain right at this point. I spend my time with players working on the things that are controllable. If you think a lot about stuff that you cannot control, then it is a waste of time. We are trying to get the better off from both ends of the pitch and trying to get more quality into the action. The defense needs more work as we have to plan well how to get the ball off the opposition."
When asked about how the preparation will pan out if at all the team does not get to play a tournament before the Olympics, Graham responsed "If we do not get competition outside, we will plan out enough internal competitions to prepare ourselves for Tokyo."
India achieved impressive results in its recent tours of Germany, Belgium, and Argentina. India remained unbeaten in their tour of Europe in Maraimsand was handed one loss in their tour of Argentina in one of the practice matches. "If you were to ask me before the Pro League match against Argentina, if I was expecting to win six points, I wouldn't say yes. But now of course I am happy we made it happen. I was particularly pleased about the 3-0 win in the second game, it was a sign that we have been improving in our defense. I think it was one of the big positives we needed before the Olympics," says the coach.
Reid has a decorated playing career as the defender for Australia. He was a part of the silver medal-winning team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as well as the Australian squad that won back-to-back Champions Trophy titles in 1984, 1985, 1989 and 1990. But it is the coaching career more than that as a player that stands out. He guided the Australian team to their fifth consecutive Champions Trophy title in 2012. He was at the helm as Australia extended their reign as World No 1 team. Under his guidance, they won the World League semi-final in Antwerp and went on to win the World League Final in Raipur the same year. He was also the coach at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The seasoned coach knows very well about the pressure of choosing an Olympic team and the permutation combination one has to undertake particularly choosing the 16-member India team out of 30 player would be quite stressful. The Australian also discusses the Olympic dream a hockey player harvest. "It is definitely one of the most stressful periods of an athlete and a coaches' life by selecting a team for the Olympics. When a child starts playing hockey, he/she doesn't dream of playing a Champions Trophy or a World Cup, they dream of playing the Olympics. It is a very tough honour to be able to choose a team for the Olympic games. You can either crush someone's dream or make someone's dream come true. When I came in charge, one of my aim was to build this team for the Olympics. I have to choose a team of 16 and 18 out of 30 good players. Whoever I choose, I would keep in mind their performances in the last six to eight tournaments and also how they worked in the last 14 months amid the grueling times of COVID. We surely choose a team that India can be proud of," assured Graham.
Unable to flex their muscles in real competitive action, the Indian hockey team is working on the basics as Graham says, "I am a big believer in basics and have been focussing on the basic nature of training for our players. Besides, we are working on creating opportunities in both ends of the field with greater emphasis on Penalty corners and shootout-like situations. We also engage in PC competitions between the players to let their competitive juices come out against each other."