Hawgood: Indian women can cause upsets in the Olympics

The Chief coach of the Indian women's hockey team Neil Hawgood feels that the players do not fully understand what it is like to play in the Olympics as there is no one from the team who has Olympic experience.

Chief Coach, Neil Andrew Hawgood, feels the team's core group needs to increase to 26 players, where anyone can turn up and play if they face injuries.   -  Sushil Kumar Verma

The Indian women's hockey team has a crucial year ahead. The Rio Olympics beckon, with the side making the grade after a gap of 36 years. Before the mega-event begins, there are plenty of international fixtures — including a tour to South Africa (Feb-March), a four-match tournament in New Zealand (April), and an away series in Great Britain — sure to pose a stern test.

This intense match-practice is much-needed, if India is to make an impression in the Olympics. The women have been clubbed in a tough group, alongside Australia, Argentina, Great Britain, Japan and United States.

Chief Coach Neil Andrew Hawgood is aware of the challenge ahead, but is confident that his wards can compete with the best. On the sidelines of the preparatory camp underway here, Hawgood spoke about creating a larger core group of players, and the team's chances at Rio.

Excerpts:

Returning to the Olympics after 36 years

I don’t think the players fully understand what it is like to play in the Olympics. The men’s team has played in the Olympics, but the women’s team do not have anybody whom they can talk to and find out about the Olympic experience. It is frustrating, but understandable.

Being part of a tough group in the Olympics

There are no easy groups in the Olympics. The other group has Holland and New Zealand, while we have Australia and Argentina. I don't think there is much of a difference. We need to have realistic goals, and I think we have good chance of causing some upsets.

On core group of players

We have a core group of six to eight players. We need to increase this to 26 players, where anyone can turn up and play when we face injuries. Be it the captain or goalkeeper, the replacement must be able to come in and do the job. That is what I am trying to create, and we are getting closer to achieving that.

Mental conditioning

I want the players to know that while they may be tired and sore, the Olympics wait for no one. There might be mental or physical pain barriers, but I want the players to push themselves to the limit. This camp will tell me which players I want in the heat of the battle.

About South Asian Games

The SAG (which starts on February 5) clashes with the South Africa tour, but we need to accept the challenge. The core group will go to South Africa, as we are more focussed on South Africa. We will field a team for SAG as well, which will include some of our senior players.