India leading revival of Asian hockey: Korean head coach Shin Seok Kyo
South Korea, one of the four Asian teams at the 2023 Hockey World Cup, think India are leading the way when it comes to returning the balance of power to Asia.
Former South Korea player and current coach Shin Seok Kyo has never shied away from taking pride in the Asian style of hockey. So, when his team landed in Bhubaneswar ahead of the hockey men's World Cup, he acknowledged India's dominance in the sport in recent times, including the bronze medal win at the Tokyo Olympics.
"Asian hockey should be very proud. India is giving a high level of performance now. They started preparing for it a long time ago," the head coach said when The Bridge caught him for a chat after Korea's training session at the Kalinga stadium recently.
In the previous World Cup edition in 2018, India was the only Asian team which made it to the marquee tournament as host nation. However, the 2023 edition features four Asian teams – India, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia.
Though the shift is welcome, coach Kyo feels that there is still a lot left to do to revive Asian hockey.
"There are a couple of things which are needed to improve Asian hockey. While coaching to players is important, coaching to coaches is crucial. Coaches need to pass on their skills to others, so that the good techniques are carried forward. Second, we need more tournaments. The European nations, for instance, have invitational tournaments and friendlies every now and then. We need more of it in Asia."
Shift in balance of power between Asia, Europe
Among the Asian teams, India is the highest ranked team at 5th. South Korea, at 10th, are the only other Asian team in the top 10. This is a far cry from back in the 1970s, when India and Pakistan were the two top teams in the world, with only some European teams like Germany and Netherlands capable of giving them some competition.
India is also the only team to have taken the services of a foreign coach.
When asked whether European coaches are an answer to the revival of hockey in Asia, he said, "Sometimes, high level coaching is needed. But national coaches are important. They know the local culture. Korean culture is different from India and Malaysia. For instance, we have school sports in Korea and most European nations have club sports culture. So, it will be better to have a national coach with support from foreign coaches. There could also be specialized one or two month sessions, say on goalkeeping, defence or penalty corner."
On the World Cup front, South Korea will be playing its first World Cup since 2014. They are tied in Pool B and will be facing the defending champions in their first match on Saturday.
"We had some player injuries in the recent past. So, my focus now is not on standings, but to gain experience for the Asian Games (next year), which will be an opportunity to qualify directly for the Olympics," the head coach concluded.