Bovelander: 'The Olympics will be a big surprise for most of us'

Hockey great, Floris Jan Bovelander, talks about life at the NTHA, upcoming Tokyo Olympics, Indian hockey, the art of drag flicking and more.

File picture of Floris Jan Bovlander.   -  Manob Chowdhury

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to shred sporting calendars globally, emerging talents at the Naval Tata Hockey Academy's (NTHA) High Performance Centre in Bhubaneswar, Odisha continued to toil in a bio-bubble starting as early as June last year, under the watchful eyes of legendary Dutch drag flicker Floris Jan Bovelander.

'Boem Boem Bovelander', as he was often called in his playing days, the 55-year-old has a World Cup and Olympic gold against his name. An adviser at Tata Steel Sports Academy's hockey wing and an ardent follower of Indian hockey, Bovelander believes Indian spirits combined with a bit of Europe's technical nuances can spew magic on the turf.

The hockey great, who has scored 216 goals, in a conversation with Sportstar, talks about life at the NTHA, upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo, Indian hockey, the art of drag flicking and more.

The international calendar has been interrupted twice in Europe and Indian teams haven't played international hockey for quite some time. How could this affect things at the Olympics this year?
In international hockey, there has hardly been any match for the last one year and the few matches that happened, were without any supporters. Especially in Europe, I think it will take at least half-a-year or till the Olympics to play with spectators in a full stadium.

READ: Different surfaces, different formats key to spread hockey in the world, says Bovelander

I’m curious to see how the Olympics are going to be because you don’t have many top matches. You need top matches to see what the standard is and what level is of your team and the opposition as well. The Olympics will be a big surprise for most of us.

You have been a close observer of Indian hockey for a long time. How do you see the process of talent scouting that has developed over the years?

I think the scouting has definitely improved in the past decade. The big advantage is that there are more academies with artificial pitches and good coaching, so that definitely helps to develop young children. Of course, more is better, but I think improving the infrastructure has definitely picked up over the last decade so you can see a big improvement in talent scouting. I see some changes there and it is good for Indian hockey.

As a drag flicker yourself, do you think it's a skill that needs to be practiced from a very young age?

In general, basic techniques and skills are learned at a young age, however for drag flick, I think you need to be more mature. At 14-15 years, it’s a good period to start a drag flick. Even at 16-17 years old, you can still start if you are a physically strong girl or boy and have a good technique. In drag flick, it’s a combination of the body and technique. Taller players always have a stronger drag flick.

I have developed my drag flick only at a later age, as I used to hit the penalty corners, however it went pretty well, but not as good as the drag flickers now, as they may have started younger.

As Asian countries adapt to the European way of playing hockey, do you think young Indian players could lose some of their unique individual skills?

If you look at the Indian men’s team, they have had many Australian and Dutch coaches and thus, they adapted some technical parts of European hockey. But they still have their Indian spirits. I guess that’s how it should be. It would be dull for hockey if we all played the same way. We need some attractive players like the Indians always have had. I prefer to have the skillful and powerful dribbles of the Indians, although sometimes it is not as effective as it should be.

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What were the influences for developing the plan for Naval Tata Hockey Academy?

The NTHA has some influence from our very own Bovelander Hockey Academy which is based on European (Belgian and the Netherlands') style of hockey. Not just running and dribbling, like some of the young stars especially from districts like to play. We have different players -- like the players from Punjab have different personalities than players from Jharkhand, Odisha and Assam. Some are specialists in defending, while others are more into attacking.

The COVID-19 bubble demands a lot from athletes, mentally. What were the measures taken to keep your players motivated for long periods?

The players from the NTHA and Odisha were very lucky to live in the bubble and start already in June-July with hockey activities. Yes, it’s harder to motivate them when they are only practising and not playing any matches or tournaments, but to be honest, these girls at the academy in Bhubaneswar were very happy. They understood that they were quite privileged and had the opportunity to play.