‘Indian fitness levels truly elite,’ says Scientific Advisor to senior men's hockey team

Scott Conway had been working as a sports scientist with the Australian rowing team for three years when Terry Walsh offered him a role with the Malaysian Hockey Confederation, where the former India coach was Technical Director.

Scott Conway, Scientific Advisor to the Indian senior men's hockey team, poses with Assistant Coach Arjun Halappa during the National camp at the Sports Authority of India.   -  Shreedutta Chidananda

Scott Conway has only been in India a fortnight but he likes what he sees. The Australian, who earlier this month was appointed as Scientific Advisor to the senior men's hockey team, is impressed – and perhaps mildly surprised – with the superior fitness levels of his players.

Consider, he says, the midfielder Sumit, who was part of the Junior side that won the World Cup. “We ran a yo-yo test and he got 22.3 (more than anyone else) and that's a truly elite score. Then we did some strengthening tests: back squats, where you go as low as you can and lift as heavy as you can. There were five or six players who lifted 1.7 times their body weight. If any player is lifting 1.4 or 1.5 times his body weight, he's already strong enough; his limitation is not strength. A number of boys are getting to that range where physical fitness and strength is not a major limitation. But we can always get better. So we will keep working on fitness, strength, agility, speed etc.”

The hackneyed image of the physically inferior Asian team has, in India's case at least, been shattered, Conway feels. “There's definitely a big culture in western countries – Europe, Australia, NZ – where fitness is a part of life. Within Asia...[that may not be the case]. But we did some testing here last week and some of the numbers are truly elite. Definitely in India, we don't have that problem [of poor fitness]. Look at teams like Korea...they're physically fit and tough. Japan and China may be a little behind but in India, we're not worried about that.”

Conway had been working as a sports scientist with the Australian rowing team for three years when Terry Walsh offered him a role with the Malaysian Hockey Confederation, where the former India coach was Technical Director. After 14 months in Malaysia, Conway joined Hockey India, who had been seeking a replacement for Matthew Eyles. “The experience of working with elite coaches – Roelant Oltmans, (Strategic coach) Hans Streeder, (Assistant coach) Arjun Halapppa – that type of experience doesn't come often. Working with the senior players who have so many caps...even I can learn from them,” he says.

Walsh told him what to expect. “He told me: 'The team you will be with is a truly elite, professional team. Players will ask you questions. Be prepared to answer them. Prepare to be challenged.'”

Conway is quickly settling down, with some changes in the team's diet already planned. Among other things, he intends to replace white rice with brown rice, a healthier alternative. “Maybe not every single day but every second day. Roelant and I were talking to the head chef yesterday. We're working with the staff in the kitchen on how we can make the daily intake better...options where some of the dishes use less oil and less fat. Just things like that.”

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