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"Difficult to choose players after Tokyo success," Coach Janneke Schopman ahead of Hockey World Cup

From analysis to expectations, The Bridge speaks with Indian women's hockey team coach Janneke Schopman at length before they begin their campaign at the FIH Women's Hockey World Cup.

Indian womens hockey team coach Janneke Schopman (Source: Hockey India)

Indian women's hockey team coach Janneke Schopman (Source: Hockey India)


Md Imtiaz

Published: 28 Jun 2022 1:25 PM GMT

Riding on the success of a successful campaign at the Women's FIH Pro Hockey League, the Indian women's hockey team are ready to take on the challenge at the FIH Hockey World Cup head-on. Though they will have the experienced Rani Rampal in the squad because of her injury, the veteran goalkeeper Savita Punia will be shouldering the captain's responsibility.

India are placed in Group B in the tournament alongside England, New Zealand and China. In their opening match on Sunday, they face a stern test against group favourites England.

Ahead of the opener, The Bridge got an opportunity to speak with head coach Janneke Schopman at length. Joined as an analytical coach in 2020, Schopman worked alongside Sjoerd Marijne and was responsible for India's transformation to a world-beater and a creditable fourth-place finish in the Tokyo Olympics. After Sjoerd's departure, Schopman took over as the head coach and also guided the team to their best-ever sixth position in FIH rankings.

Janneke Schopman with Indian women's hockey team players

With Schopman at the helm, we spoke about her expectations from the team, analysis of Pro League matches, the comeback against Argentina after losing to Belgium and how the team is shaping up before the World Cup.

Here's the excerpt of the conversation:

Hi Coach, before heading into the World Cup how is the team shaping up?

I think we are doing quite well and I am happy with the team's ability to be in Europe and play the Hockey Pro League matches. Of course, we did not get the expected results against Belgium, but it provided us with the opportunity to look at ourselves and see what we need to change and where do we need to improve. After the Belgium encounter, I think both the games against Argentina as well as the USA showed that we are heading in the right direction. I am quite happy where we are right now and we are ready to head on to the World Cup with confidence.

It's been quite a busy roster for the team. The Pro League is followed by the World Cup and then comes the Commonwealth Games. Do you think there will be concerns about fatigue?

Potentially! But I think, as a player especially, this is what you want to do. I think the girls have trained hard in the last two years when there were not many opportunities to play because of the COVID as well. But all this training has been done with the World Cup and Commonwealth Games kept in mind. Though there will be some physical fatigue, mentally it is kind of exciting to be able to play at these high-level tournaments.

How do you assess India's group stage challenge in the World Cup?

I think our pool is pretty interesting to be completely honest. China has made several changes, and England did well in the Pro League. New Zealand is a little bit of an unknown, but from the past, we know that they have a good team. This is a group where on a good day, everyone can beat everyone.

This is also dangerous at times because you don't have those games where you know, that there won't be any team whom you will be able to defeat easily. So for me, it's not so much about our opponents. I know where we are and what we can do. We want to go one game after the other. I want to simply know if we can play the way I know the team can play? And then let's see if we are good enough to beat a team like England, I would like to think we are. But if we are not good enough on one particular day, things can happen the same way it happened against Belgium.

On paper, England is a team who are better than India in FIH rankings. But they haven't had the desired result in the recent FIH Pro Hockey League. Does it give you more confidence in your girls that you can beat the group favourites?

I think as a team and as a coach, you have to be confident enough to know that you can beat anyone. If you go into a tournament knowing that you are going to lose, that is not the best mindset to have. But at the same time, you cannot also hope you will win you will have to work really hard for it. England is a good team. In the Pro League, they had some of their players missing because they were playing in the Dutch League. So they have not been training together for a long time. Besides, they are the same team as we played in Tokyo Olympics, so we know what to expect from them. We know what we are up against. We also know that we can struggle against them because to be honest, in the pool stages in Tokyo, they were all over us. But we have grown a lot in this last year and we know what we want to do against them. We already had a meeting with the team about our tactical plans. It is just about executing the plan.

The Indian team showcased brilliant form in the FIH Pro League, with only a defeat against Belgium. But they came back solid against Argentina and USA. So what went in the dressing room after the Belgium match?

We came back to an international competition after a long training camp maybe thinking we can continue where we left off. But we were missing some core ingredients. We knew we had to do the work and fight hard. However, I think we didn't expect Belgium to come out the way they did and they were more aggressive. We went on our backfoot and struggled with getting back into the first game. We had a good conversation after the match. The girls had their conversations as well, which I'm very happy with because I feel that, in the end, it is them who are playing. They need to solve their problem. In the next match, the performance was better. But then, unfortunately, we didn't defend very well as a team, and they scored pretty much from every opportunity. We were playing better, but the score looked a lot worse. Again, we had a good meeting after that and decided who do we want to be in the Indian Women's Hockey Team? We needed this reminder badly and you could see the results next match onwards.

How would Rani Rampal's absence impact the team?

You don't want any good player missing out on a vital tournament like this. But it is what it is and we have to move on. I strongly believe in the group we have, and not just the 20 players. Since Tokyo, we have been training with 33 players and each of their levels are going up and it's quite competitive in training, which is what I am looking for. We were prepared for injuries and it might happen to any player during the tournament, but we will move on and still be looking to give the best we have.

What is the one quality in this team that you like the most?

I think their ability to learn and to want to get better every day. They are so hungry to show that they can play good hockey, but they're also at the same time willing to say, "I don't know, I am not sure what's happening. I want to be better." For a coach, you can't ask for anything more.

Indian women's hockey team climbed to sixth position of FIH rankings

You took over as the head coach after Sjoerd Marijne's departure. So what are the new elements you think that you have brought into the team?

I built upon what we did for the past two. Sjoerd had laid a good foundation. Of course, as an assistant coach, I was involved in whatever we did before Tokyo as well. My key is to explore more. We are the Indian women's team, what is our DNA? What do we want to look like? How do we want to show ourselves to the Indian people but also the rest of the world?

I was having those conversations with the players and tried to figure out whether we could play more attacking hockey. It also comes with risk as you saw against Belgium because if we don't do that, we are very vulnerable in defence. So trying to find that balance with stuff we want to show on the field and using the skills which we have. I think it is mostly about their ownership. I have tried for the last year to give them the information as a staff and now the big tournament is coming up. Just play you know what you need to do, but you need to make the decisions right in. On Sunday, they can expect me to coach, which I will but they have to make their own decisions because chances are they won't hear me.

After the success in Tokyo do you think there will be added pressure on the team before going into the World Cup?

Yeah, of course, it's logical if you started having success then there's more pressure. What I like to remind the girls when we practice is a lot about mindset and mindfulness, like on things that we can control. We cannot control what other people are saying or thinking. The stadium will be sold out, but at the same time, I think in India, there will be more people in front of the TV than there will be in the stadium. So if you start thinking about all those things, it will be added pressure. But if a player knows why she is here and does everything to get the results for our team, that would be much better. I know people will be disappointed if we don't get the result. But actually, I simply hope they put their best foot forward.

If you can assess the youngsters in the team and how they have been performing?

We have youngsters like Salima, Lalremsiami, and Sharmila who played in Tokyo. They have been developing very well. It's also encouraging Bichu Devi's development as a backup goalkeeper, having the experience of playing in the Junior World Cup. Similarly, there are players like Ishika or Akshata, who are performing really well even though they didn't make it to the 20-member team. Opportunities are knocking on their doors, so to speak. It creates this great environment where juniors are getting ready in a way that we can immediately put them on the senior team.

How difficult was it to choose the team for the World Cup?

It was not that hard before Tokyo. But I must say that this year, has been quite difficult for me. It did not only involve thinking about injured players but also about finding the best balance in the team. But I think I have selected the best team possible. A good result in the World Cup or the Commonwealth Games will not only be the outcome of the 20 members but the 33 members who have given enough competition to push the others to do well.

In which area do you think the team has a scope for improvement?

It may sound strange, but what we've been working on a lot is our consistency and I think our success in the World Cup will probably be based on consistency if we play well. It's just about not dropping our level too much so that we suffer. I do not want the team to give away too many penalty corners as we did during the Pro League match against the Netherlands, where we gave 10 PCs in seven minutes. I don't want my team to lose control of the game.

What are your expectations in the World Cup and what will you consider a good result for the team?

There are eight to ten teams who can play in the quarterfinals and I want India to be in the quarters for sure. But it means we have to give the level of competition from our first game against England. And my base as a coach as I said, if we perform well in our pool stages, and even against England, then it will change the course of our tournament for sure. I, of course, hold myself accountable for the results because that's why I am here, but more so, for the way we play. And if we can play the way I know we can, let's see where it finishes.

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