Hockey World Cup 2018: How Harendra Singh is turning 16 individuals into a team

From mismatched slippers to using sign languages--India coach Harendra Singh has come up with innovative ideas to maintain team bonding in the ongoing Hockey World Cup 2018 in Bhubaneswar.

Harendra Singh during a training session with the Indian team at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.   -  Uthra Ganesan

A day before India’s game against Belgium, the Indian players had to wear mismatched slippers all day – one own and the other that of their roommate. A day before, they had to spend the whole day using both hands to lift a glass or bottle of water if they wanted a drink. On Sunday, the team had to ensure it had a fork on the left of every plate during a meal. The day before India played its opening game against South Africa, the team had to stay silent and resort to sign language to communicate.

READ: India holds mighty Belgium to 2-2 draw

It might look weird for an onlooker but these are just few things coach Harendra Singh has been trying in the team’s World Cup dream. “Signals and signs help communicate in a noisy crowd. Keeping an eye out for the fork helps ensure right positioning. Using both hands helps develop a sense of balance. Most importantly, these activities make a player alert. Anyone who makes a mistake is punished and then you are looking out for the next target. That is what happens in a match as well, you keep an eye out on the opposition for a mistake and then pounce on it,” Harendra explained.

Indian players after their Hockey World Cup match against Belgium in Bhubaneswar on Sunday.   -  Getty Images


There are other small things. Like being fined for earning a deliberate card during a game. Or using the words I, mine, yours during training. The punishment is same – 20 push-ups on the spot, regardless of where it may be, even if it is the hotel restaurant! With the juniors, he had also started making them wear nightgowns for mistakes, to be kept on till the next culprit is spotted. He is planning to begin that now with the national team as well.

READ: New World Cup format gets the thumbs up

At the Asian Games too, team members and staff were punished for making a mistake and Harendra himself had to suffer on a number of occasions. “I don’t believe in making only players accountable. Responsibility starts at the top. All these rules are not only for the players but everyone in the staff,” he said.

The one thing Harendra has stopped doing is swearing. “It is now less than 10 percent of what it used to be, and it has happened after his stint with the women’s team. Honestly, it still feels weird sometimes, when we are expecting a string of abuses for a mistake but all we get is a glare, it is unnerving,” laughed defender Varun Kumar, one of the seven in the side from that junior squad and so used to his coach’s idiosyncracies.

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