Being Maurits Hendriks

In India and Pakistan, the structure is not that developed. I think you can only be successful if there is a hockey culture, history, and sufficient talent and money.

K. KEERTHIVASAN

VINO JOHN

ONE of the most sought-after coaches in the world, Maurits Hendriks has his dairy full of appointments, spilling well over to 2007. "I have many things coming my way," explains Hendriks, the chief coach of Spain. "I am involved with the Premier Hockey League in India. I am also involved with a major sports software company in England and I have been approached by the Spanish Government to help set up an elite performance centre for all sports, not just hockey."

Rightly so, Hendriks is widely respected for his coaching knowledge. He is the only coach to have trained two different nations — The Netherlands and Spain — to Champions Trophy triumphs.

Though the defending champions, Spain, finished third in the 2005 Champions Trophy in Chennai, it looked the most attractive and attacking team in the fray after Australia. "It was disappointing but I am happy with the way we fought back. We were almost in the final," remarks Hendriks.

A big fan of the coaching legend, Hans Jorritsma, who had success with The Netherlands and Pakistan, Hendriks says he imbibed a lot from the Dutchman. "I have tremendous respect for him. He was one of my examples," says Hendriks.

In this interview to The Sportstar, the 44-year-old Dutch talks about how he transformed the fortunes of Spanish hockey, his success with The Netherlands, among other things.

Question: When you took over as the Technical Director of the Spanish Hockey Federation in 2001, Spain was struggling really. It was a good side but for whatever reasons, didn't display consistency. What was your plan of action and how did you go about implementing it?

Answer: The challenge was to bring Spain to the top of the world. I thought Spain had talented players. I think it is a country with a rich history. The challenge was in trying to build a team out of it. It was a collection of good players. But perhaps not so much with unity, which was missing. I think that it lacked the power to focus — especially in difficult moments. And Spain's programme was a little bit isolated from the rest of the world. We made the league much more competitive and that helped us raise our level in the National Competition. We broke down the number of teams from 12 to 10. We introduced a play-off system — one was the league and other the Cup. We changed the date of the Cup half way into the season. The play-off system made some clubs realise that with extra effort, they could make it to the final four and have a shot at the title.

When you took over Spain, you didn't know the language. Did you find communication a big barrier?

That was a big challenge. When I went to Spain, I spoke no Spanish whatsoever. If you want to coach a team you should be able to communicate with the players in their mother tongue. I took it upon myself to learn Spanish in as short a time as possible. Attended intensive classes every day for three months. Every thing I did in the first six months was only Spanish. I went to Spain to make sure that I would focus on finding my place within the Spanish culture.

How has your experience been with Spain? Personally, do you think the Champions Trophy victory in Lahore was a landmark for you in terms of taking charge of a new team and guiding it to a major tournament win?

My experience with Spain has been wonderful from day one. It's been hard work, but a heart-warming experience. It's great to learn about the Spanish culture, about the Spanish hockey history, about all the families that have represented the country through the generations. It's a wonderful team to be a part of. I feel so much at home. The winning of titles is important because that is the name of the game. That's why we are in it. I couldn't look at myself straight if we put in all the hard work and play beautiful hockey but don't win any titles.

What was your approach when you took over as Spain's coach?

The work I had to do in the initial period was to make the players realise that they were capable of winning. They knew they were good but didn't really have the commitment and understanding required. When I went to Spain, I spelt out my objective publicly; that I have come to Spain only to win titles. I made it very clear to them that our goal was to win titles. So by the time we came to Lahore, we had already played the final of the Challenge in 2003, final of the European in 2003, and the semifinal of the Athens Olympics. So we were already making big strides towards our objective. We were unfortunate to lose to Germany in the final of the European Cup in 2003 — we beat Holland in the semifinal. We were lacking that final step. That was the next step.

You were assistant to Roelant Oltmans from end of 1995 till the `98 World Cup for the Netherlands team. How did you combine to put the Netherlands at the top? What were the differences and similarities you had in terms of ideas and attitudes?

What one can say with hindsight during those three years is we began to complement each other. I think it was one of the rare combinations that you can forge with another professional where you feel that the sum of one and one is more than two. We won the Olympic qualifiers in 1996, the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and the Champions Trophy (CT) in 1996. We also won the World Cup in '98 (Utrecht) and then won the CT, again, in '98. I took over from there, winning the CT in 2000 and the Olympic Games in 2000 as head coach. I think we had some fruitful and lively discussions but we always had them behind closed doors. In those days Roelant was the boss and I was playing my part. It was very easy to find the same line because of the way Roelant and I worked, the amount of time we spent together. We talked about hockey all the time. We had a very professional set-up. In the end, it didn't matter what the personal opinions were. Roelant is known to give space to his management team, making you feel as an integral part of the setup. That is one of the qualities Roelant had. Whenever it got a bit difficult, I went out for a walk.

You are a consultant for the Premier Hockey League in 2006 at Chandigarh, where the third umpire would be used for the first time.

PHL meets its criteria of professionalism. We had a mission and a dream and that is to build PHL as one of the important leagues in the world. PHL has convinced me that it's serious stuff and can play a role in the development of Indian hockey. I am happy to have the role of the third umpire. It's an experiment and we don't know whether it's going to work or not. I think the world will be watching. Els Van Breda Vriesman, the FIH President, has told me she will be keen to see how well it works. So has the Chairman of the Umpires Board Peters von Reth. Last year, we had too many free stoppages. At the end of the quarter there were still a number of time-outs left. We have to figure out a way in hockey to work with stoppages without letting it affect the flow of play.

Sub-continental teams have had a love-hate relationship with foreign coaches. Why do you think India and Pakistan have not been able to deal with foreign coaches?

To start with, to be the coach of a National team, you have to have a true understanding of the language, culture and history. What happens in India and Pakistan is that there is so much pressure on the whole situation. Once they bring in a foreign coach, they expect results overnight. Results don't come overnight — not with a local coach or with a foreign coach. It took me a good three years of hard work within an already existing structure.

In India and Pakistan, the structure is not that developed. I think you can only be successful if there is a hockey culture, history, and if there are sufficient means — meaning talent and money. In the sub-continent, it will take you some time to start understanding the culture. You need time and they (Roelant with Pakistan and Gerhard Rach with India) didn't have the time.