Graham Reid: India men's hockey team needs to get a little more consistent

India’s hockey coach Graham Reid, who won an Olympic silver with Australia in 1992, discusses the India job, dressing-room culture and his background.

Published : Oct 06, 2019 21:15 IST

“Because of the rich history India have in hockey and the amount of people who play it and follow it, it’s a lovely place to be able to do your trade,” says Graham Reid.
“Because of the rich history India have in hockey and the amount of people who play it and follow it, it’s a lovely place to be able to do your trade,” says Graham Reid.

“Because of the rich history India have in hockey and the amount of people who play it and follow it, it’s a lovely place to be able to do your trade,” says Graham Reid.

The next 12 months will come to define Graham Reid’s tenure with the Indian men’s hockey team. There is first an Olympic qualifying tie against Russia to think of and, should India go through as is expected, there are the Tokyo Games themselves next year. Reid took charge only in April, knowing he had just over a year to prepare his team for the Olympics, but the Australian is cautiously optimistic. “I would not have taken the job,” he asserts, “if I didn’t think I could do it.”

Reid won an Olympic silver with Australia at the 1992 Games in Barcelona and later coached the Australian and Dutch national teams. In between, he worked as a software engineer and even ran his own program-management business. Reid’s father, Alan, was a wicketkeeper who played Sheffield Shield cricket for Queensland under Ray Lindwall’s captaincy. The younger Reid was a keen cricketer himself and remembers playing against Ian Healy as a junior in Queensland.

In this interview with Sportstar at the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru, the 55-year-old discusses the India job, the dressing-room culture and his own background.

You took over in April. How has the job been so far?

It’s been really enjoyable. As I've said a few times, for foreign coaches, coaching India is always one of the things that you dream of doing one day. Because of the rich history India have in hockey and the amount of people who play it and follow it, it’s a lovely place to be able to do your trade. Coaching the Indian team is an honour and a privilege. It's been a really interesting time. The boys have been really welcoming. It must be difficult for them because I’m another new coach. But I have someone like (analytical coach) Chris Ciriello with me, who also comes from Australia, so they’re fairly used to our ideas of playing hockey.

Indian hockey has a rich history and expectations in India are always high because of that. The reality is India has not won an Olympic medal since 1980. Were you not apprehensive of the scale of the task before you took it up?

I didn’t have apprehensions. I’m very aware of the scale of the task. It’s a little bit like tennis in Australia. We were very good and then for a long time we didn’t have anyone. There is now a revival and we have a girl who’s No. 1 (Ashleigh Barty).

They’re the cycles that tend to happen with sport. As a sport changes, the country has to change, and perhaps with Australian tennis, we didn’t do that. The rules change as well, and that’s a big thing with hockey. They’re constantly changing the rules. It’s been a great thing for the sport, but the game has changed so much. So you need to change. Coaching India is a daunting task, but the timing for me was right... the timing in my life. I saw this team at the 2018 World Cup and I thought, ‘If things go well, they could have a very good shot at the Olympics’.

eid with the Indian team during a training session at the national camp at the SAI in Bengaluru. “They have the ability to do it. They’re a cohesive unit. They’re like a family. Now we just have to translate that into a high-performance culture,” Reid says of the Indian team.

You’ve coached in Australia and the Netherlands. How different is the dressing-room culture in India?

The team is very respectful. It’s actually very nice as a coach to see that. Everyone listens and there is a respect for the coach. That’s a cultural thing as well. It’s very refreshing for me. We have to try and move that into performance culture. I had similar things in Holland where their schooling system does not push for excellence. Developing that high-performance culture in Holland was also a different challenge. I see similar challenges here in that they are used to being told what to do and you have to try to get them to make their own decision. They have the ability to do it. They’re a cohesive unit. They’re like a family. Now we just have to translate that into a high-performance culture.

Indian hockey churns through coaches at an alarming rate. Does that worry you?

(Laughs) You can’t let that worry you. That’s something you can’t control. I will be doing my best and we’ll be trying to move the team towards the goal. I try not to worry about that and try and get the job done. What will happen will happen.

The ideal scenario for a new coach would have been to come in at the start of an Olympic cycle. You have taken charge with just over a year to go for the Olympics. Do you think you have enough time to prepare this team?

I would not have taken the job if I didn’t think I could do it. I have to try and assume that the time we have is enough. Of course it’s not very much time and we have to try and accelerate a lot of things that you would normally have four years to work with. It’s a good challenge for us. What is positive is that Chris has been here for the last year and a half. Chris is someone who had played with me for nine years. He understands the way I like to play. So a lot of the things we are now going to be refining rather than having to totally change. But because they have had more coaches in the last few years... that also brings with it a band of knowledge that these guys have picked up along the way.

Qualifying for the Olympics is critical. How do you deal with that pressure during those two games?

We talk about not worrying about the outcome but worrying about the process. These two games will be no different. We know the job we need to do and we will go out there and be focused on the task. We will focus on our game plan and not qualification. If we do that, then the result will look after itself.

You’ve been to the Olympics as a player in 1992 and later as a coach. What does it feel like?

It is definitely a different tournament. I remember before London and Rio, we did a lot of work on getting the team used to what-ifs. What if the bus lost its way? Because that’s a common thing. The bus drivers are normally not from the city they are driving in, so they will often get lost. So if that happens before a game and you get to the game late, how do you deal with it? You need to prepare for those sorts of things. So there are a lot of ways in which it is very different to how you would prepare for a normal tournament. These guys are used to the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, multi-sport events. And this is a multi-sport event, but this is the biggest. It’s a big stage. One of the things I do say about the Indians is that they always operate under a lot of pressure. They’re used to that environment.

Do you feel your experience of having played and coached in the Olympics will help?

I’m sure it will. The manner in which you teach and operate are a sum of your experiences. I’ve not only learnt things from Rio and London but also from Barcelona. We won the semifinal in 1992, and I felt like we celebrated a bit too much. We were so pleased, because in 1988 (Seoul) and in 1984 (Los Angeles), we had lost the semifinal. So to win a semifinal was almost the grand final for us. But there was still one more game to go. In the final, Germany scored in the second minute and we were behind the eight-ball the whole time. Those sorts of things you remember and as a coach you say, ‘No, we have to stay focused.’

Does that defeat in the 1992 final still hurt?

At the time, it was really disappointing. Because we came second. Then as you get older, you realise that a silver medal at an Olympic Games is pretty special. They are the lessons or things I remember most. Take your opportunities.

You played both hockey and cricket as a child. At what stage did you have to make a choice?

I’m from a country town called Redcliffe in Queensland. My mother and father both played hockey. My brother played, too. I started when I was five and I had a cut-off stick. That was when I started and I have continued to play. This year is perhaps the first year I don’t play in a competition. I’ve played veterans’ hockey every year in Holland or in Perth. So I love the sport.

Reid with Indian captain Manpreet Singh. “Our first step is Olympic qualification. After that we play the Pro League. That’s a really important step for this team, playing good quality matches before the Olympics,” says the coach.
What about cricket?

I loved cricket as well. My father played Sheffield Shield for Queensland, although not a lot. He was a wicketkeeper. He was of the same generation as Wally Grout, so when Wally went and played for Australia, dad played for Queensland. Dad loved his cricket and always wanted me to play cricket but he loved hockey as well. In Australia, they go together very often. So a cricket club will go with a hockey club. In summer it’s cricket, in winter it’s hockey. In cricket, I was a wicketkeeper and an opening bat. I was not very good at either. I got to state level or something. I had to make a choice at 16 or 17 between cricket and hockey. Hockey was more fun for me, so I chose that.

Ian Healy, who also is from Queensland, is roughly the same age as you…

I’ve actually played against him at under-12 level. We were wicket-keepers for rival clubs. At the time, I didn’t think he was anything special. But he obviously was, because in a few years’ time he was keeping for Australia and I’d stopped playing cricket (laughs) .

Who were your sporting heroes growing up?

Greg Chappell was one. Also Greg Browning, who played hockey for Australia. He ended up coaching me.

You have worked in the oil and gas and mining industries too...

I have a degree in computer science. So straight from university, I went into computing. I was still playing at that point. I was a software engineer and then went into project management, and then I started my own business in time-management training. That’s when we came in touch with all the different industries of oil and gas and mining. It was a very interesting time of my life. Ric Charlesworth rang me up during that period and said, ‘Hey, I know you’ve always coached and you love hockey. Do you want to get back into the Australian team?’ I said, ‘OK, that sounds pretty good.’ Also, because I was doing a little business coaching at that point, it made sense that even if I didn’t like hockey coaching as a full-time job, having Ric Charlesworth on your CV was very good, even in the business world.

How much of an influence has Ric Charlesworth been?

He’s been one of my mentors. When I was growing up, he was one of my heroes as a player. When I first started working with him, I was worried because he was a very intense person. We were looking at videos at 12 in the night. But he has a fantastic sense of humour, which I love. I didn’t know about that until I started to coach. He talks about the price of life being eternal vigilance. It’s a common line of his. And I really like that. Because you’re never quite sure which of the things that you are dealing with is going to make the difference. So every single thing needs to be important. Whatever you can do, you need to do. And that’s the thing with coaching. You never know…‘If I tweak this or tweak that, what’s going to make the difference?’ So understanding how that happens is really important.

India is currently ranked fifth in the world. How big is the gap between India and, say, the top two — Australia and Belgium?

It’s very hard to say. It was obvious when we were in Australia (for a Test series in May, when India lost the two matches 4-0 and 5-2). They’ve been playing in the FIH Pro League. We haven’t played. There is a gap. And that gap, you never know. Because if we’re both playing at our best, it’s closer than what everyone thinks. But if Australia is playing at its best, and we’re down 5 percent off our best, then that gap can look a little larger. That’s our challenge now, to accelerate that change. Our first step is Olympic qualification. After that we play the Pro League. That’s a really important step for this team, playing good-quality matches before the Olympics.

Has it been a disadvantage not playing in the Pro League so far?

Look, it is what it is. I can’t change that. But what I do know is that we’re in the Pro League next year. That’s a real positive change for us. We just need to make sure we manage workload. That’s something I learnt from watching this year’s Pro League. Towards the end, the European teams looked a little jaded.

You had seen Indian hockey from afar. What do you make of talent in the country now that you’re here?

The way I think about it is, it’s different. It’s different talent. It’s different to Holland and Australia. But we still have fantastic skills. Now it’s a matter of working out how those skills can be applied into the modern game. We’re getting there but we just need to get a little more consistency with that.

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