Charlesworth: Biggest change in Indian hockey is the mentality

Former India hockey coach Ric Charlesworth spoke extensively on how the team has evolved over the last decade, on Australia and Tokyo Olympics.

Ric Charlesworth with FIH president Narinder Batra.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Ric Charlesworth was among the first high-profile foreign names to be associated with Indian hockey and even though he left on a bitter note, his association with the country and its hockey seems to have an unbreakable bond. And the former Australian coach, considered by most as a guru of modern sports, believes the current Indian team is at par with the best in the world.

In the country to develop a high-level hockey academy in Chandigarh as a consultant with Round Glass Sports – who already have a football programme and are part owners of I-League club Punjab FC – Charlesworth, in an exclusive interaction with Sportstar, insisted that the biggest change in the Indian players was at a mental level.

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You and Indian hockey just can’t seem to let go of each other.

It is an interesting connection (him and Indian hockey). I think the future of hockey is intimately involved with the future of Indian hockey and so I want to see India do well. I grew up with Indian coaches and always had an affection for the way they play, and I think your team is progressing. There was a period when we (Australia) couldn’t beat you and then there was a period when you couldn’t beat us. Now I think there is parity and that’s good for the competition.

You have seen the Indian team closely for more than a decade now. What has changed and how has Indian hockey developed?

When I was here 10 years ago, I believed it was a 10-year job for India to climb back to the top. I think they have been steadily improving. India was, for a long time, the innovator and the dominant force in world hockey. Then they slipped off the pace but now they are climbing back up again. More than anything else, I think the Hockey India League (HIL) was the catalyst for that. It brought the international players here, the locals played with and against them and realised that the international players only had two arms and two legs, just like they do. So psychologically, it was an important barrier to be broken for India. Now your team can compete with anybody. You were always technically good and physically you were good too. I think it’s the psychological shift that has occurred, that has been the critical thing. There is more belief now and they understand that everybody is the same and they can compete at that level. I have seen that happen with your cricket teams too.

The Australian way was the Holy Grail for long. Where do you think they have slipped?

I don’t think so. I think the Europeans and the Australians were always up there but when I started, India and Pakistan were unbeatable. I think these things wax and wane. India has always had fantastic players but now they are building a terrific team.

How do you see the Australian influence on Indian hockey?

The Australian influence is not just on the ground (coach, staff etc) but their CEO (Elena Norman) also has been around for a decade and the administration of Indian hockey is immeasurably better than it was 10 years ago. I think you learn from everybody, you take the resources and get contributions from everywhere and that’s what India has been doing. We did that, we sucked the knowledge out of people, who left India after partition and came to settle in our country. All our coaches were from the sub-continent and so now you are seeing perhaps the reverse of it. But the game is world wide, there are 100 countries that play this game so it’s a more difficult task.

What is your prediction for the Olympics?

For me the ideal game would be an India-Australia final. I think both teams are good and both are capable of winning a medal. But the Olympics can be capricious and this time, when it will happen is also a question. So we will see what happens.

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