Oltmans ‘became an Indian’ to connect with players

In an exclusive chat with Sportstar ahead of a new season for the team, Roelant Oltmans explains his ability to gel with the hockey players and how it's as important to sell the sport as it is to play it well.

Indian senior hockey team coach Roelant Oltmans is also the manager of HIL side Uttar Pradesh Wizards.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Roelant Oltmans has been at the helm of Indian hockey for four years now and admits he is almost an Indian by now. In his new role at the chief coach of the men's team the Dutchman, who was previously the High Performance Director, believes India is now a realistic contender for medals at major tournaments on a more consistent basis.

In an exclusive chat with Sportstar ahead of a new season for the team, the 62-year old explains his ability to connect with the players and how it's as important to sell the sport as it is to play it well.

Excerpts:

You have been here much longer that what most foreign coaches manage. What's the secret?

I became an Indian, that's all! The moment I decided to come to India, I knew I was going to work in a different culture. I also knew I was not going to change the culture so I have to adapt to the Indian culture. Yes, there are a couple of things important in my coaching and I am very strict in that. At the same time, I understand that things are different from what I was used to in Europe. It's about finding the balance in accepting things the way they are and convincing people for what is really needed.

You players appreciate your ability to connect emotionally to the players.

It's always been my style not to look at someone only as a player but as a person and to try to understand his world. The talent is there otherwise he wouldn't be in my group but if I am able to do that I am sure he will be a better player. I try to understand their psyche and it's difficult, specially when the languages vary. But if you can trigger a guy in the right ways, it works.

How do you manage to keep your roles in the Hockey India League and as national coach separate and still concentrate on both?

I am very good at multi-tasking! I have seen every match and every player in the HIL and I am able to keep them separate. It's nice to experience a different way of working for a couple of months. We did a lot of hard work with the seniors the last 12 months, then enjoyed my time with the juniors. It always takes a little time to set a team in the HIL. You just have a week and have to integrate players from seven different countries. We enjoy it but I am also watching videos and looking at things because a new year for the national team is coming up. We have also had the Junior World Cup and the Hockey India League and I will take them that into consideration to make a new core.

What are your plans for the new season starting after the HIL and any young players you have identified?

I have said it before, I don't talk about specific players because if I say something positive about someone and he is not selected later for whatever reasons, that's not correct. I always think about a team. Of course, I see a lot of talent and the good part is that we are not only going to select the national team, we are also going to select the development squad. The seniors start their camp on March 15.

Can you explain the programme for the Development Squad?

They will have their own programme separate from the seniors. We will work on the younger guys who are too old for the juniors and may be not good enough, yet, for the seniors but have the talent to be there. We want them to play international matches, maybe participate in the Australian Hockey League next year. In the past, for such players, there was no direct future. You had to go back into the domestic system and hopefully, at a later stage, you could show yourself again.

What's your realistic aim for the next Olympics and the World Cup?

We definitely want to win medals but it is unfortunate that there are another eight-nine teams in the world that are all very competitive! But we are going to do everything in our hands to make the team competitive in these two major tournaments and make the country proud. Can I assure that? No, because nobody can. Is it something we will work for? 100 percent. We have the under-21 boys becoming world champions and we have had senior tournaments where we have won medals, so it's realistic. But Australia, Argentina, Holland, Germany, Spain, Belgium, England, New Zealand – I think these countries can all be beaten on a day, we have to find out if we can be that team that can beat them on that particular day.

Your take on the new Home-and-Away league?

I understand the decision to do it though we have to find out how it will exactly work out. Today, in most tournaments, if the home team is playing there are many spectators but not otherwise. When we play in Belgium and India is playing England, maybe a few local Indians come but the local Belgians are not there. The stands are empty and that is not good for our sport. But now, if we play England versus India, one game in London and one in India, then it's packed and that gives a completely different picture on television. That's the way it is. We cannot think only about the sport now, we have to think about the marketing and selling as well because every sport is on TV and we have to make sure there's a way sponsors and broadcasters prefer us.