‘India is not there yet’

M. VEDHAN

“Of all the countries, India has the most potential, not only talent-wise but also from the commercial and spectators angle. It is very important to bring Indian hockey back to where it belongs,” says the High Performance Director of Indian hockey. By K. Keerthivasan.

Roelant Oltmans, one of the most successful hockey coaches in the world, says that being the High Performance Director of India is one of the “most challenging assignments in international hockey”. In an extensive interview to Sportstar, the 59-year-old Dutchman speaks about the Indian coaches, their capabilities, the talent pool available in India and his vision for Indian hockey.

Excerpts:

Question: It’s more than a year since you became the High Performance Director of Indian hockey. Having watched the Indian teams during the period, do you think they are on the right track?

Answer: We are not there yet. Before you start changing a process, you have to realise the issues that you need to change. That could be, for instance, the talent development programme; we also need to focus on coaches’ development; we need to look at infrastructure. The objective is to get these processes in place first and then spread it all over the country.

What are the core issues that need to be addressed?

We have already addressed a lot of technical and tactical issues, which are absolutely necessary for the improvement of Indian hockey. It is also about coaches, about the (need for) best talent to get the best of opportunities and develop in the right way. India still play the 5-3-2 or the 4-4-2. Nowhere in the world does a team play with systems like that.

Are they outdated?

Yes. We have to change that. We have to make it clear to all the coaches that we need to be consistent. We are looking more or less at a 4-3-3 system. We need to play attacking hockey. At the same time, we have to play organised hockey.

What about defence?

Defence is important. More than that, we need to focus on the structure. The most important thing is we need to bring in all the modern skills. Each player should understand his role in the team, his individual role…

You coached successful Dutch teams (men and women); you also trained the Pakistan men’s team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. And now the Indian team. Is this the most difficult job?

Don’t forget, I am not the coach at the moment. The behind the scenes work is difficult. We have the requirements of the administration, the requirements of the coaches you are working with... Sometimes, they are different. Nevertheless, you have to work as one to achieve success. It (the job) is the most challenging.

Many major events are lined up this year — the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games and the men’s World Cup. How has the preparation of the team been so far?

The men’s team’s preparations for the World Cup are going on well. One of the problems is that we have not been playing enough matches against the best teams in the world through the year. India is going to Europe to play a number of matches. That is where we can see whether the work we have put in (during training) is translated on the field. It’s not about training; it’s about the real games.

In the men’s World Cup (May 31-June 15 this year), India is in a tough pool along with Australia, Belgium, England, Spain and Malaysia. If we do well, we can finish in the top three (in the group) and that is the objective.

A NEW DIRECTION. Roelant Oltmans with the Indian team during a training camp at the SAI South Centre in Kengeri, Bangalore.-K. MURALIKUMAR

What are the positives you have seen in the Indian team so far?

The positive aspect (of the Indian team) is that we have many talented players. Of the 33 players in the Indian camp, 16 are under 21. This shows that there is a lot of young talent. No other team has such a group of young players. The future is good as there is enough quantity and quality.

You have seen players at the junior Nationals in Chennai recently. Do you think they have the talent to be in the Indian camp straightaway?

The lack of talent is normally due to the lack of coaches and improper use of the talent development programme. I have seen some real good players. Without taking names, I have seen some very good players in Odisha, Punjab and Haryana. I am not afraid of the potential of the boys.

You are not happy with the Junior Development Programme. Could you explain why?

What is important is the Youth Development Programme. So, that means, by the time the boys come into our programme, they need to be at a certain level. That has to do with vision, fitness, tactical awareness, skill execution. In all these areas, we are not there. At the same time, we see in particular that the signs are getting better. The junior boys who played in the Hockey India League are good. You can see what huge development their game has seen. You can see these boys were the most consistent in the Junior Nationals (in Chennai). That is what we need. If we put the boys in the right programme, give them the opportunity to grow, they will get better. But we need to start at a young age. If you look now, the boys coming into our junior programme would be 17-18 years old. You look in Europe, they enter when they are 12 or 13 years old. So, we are missing six-odd years. In Europe, they have National u-16, u-18 teams but the players have played international tournaments already. It is important to set up an academy in more or less every state for youngsters. The best of youngsters can meet a couple of times a year for an elite group and play international matches. (These ideas) are not only in my mind; they are on paper as well.

Which has been the most difficult — coaching Pakistan or India?

Both are difficult in their own ways. In Pakistan, my job was to coach the senior men’s team. My focus was only on a group of 25 players. Here, my focus is on the whole country. It is a completely different area. Both the countries have equally talented players. With Pakistan, every time they had a foreign coach their performance went up, up, up. Without a foreign coach, they went down, down, down. That is exactly what we don’t want in India. We want a certain consistency. I also want the Indian coaches to be fully involved so that the moment we leave, the Indian coaches can take over the job.

Do you think the concept of ‘A’ and ‘B’ divisions in the senior and junior Nationals works?

It is much better than before. (This time) we had better games. In the Holland National Championship, it was a tough fight in the knockout matches. In the end, you want the players to fight. Down 2-1 or 5-0, they have to think how to fight. If you see the Haryana team for instance, when they were playing a stronger team, they didn’t perform to their level. It is a challenge for all other teams who have not done well to improve their level. Punjab and Odisha have set the mark. We have to create situations at the junior level to have more tournaments throughout the year in India.

How do you react to being called the ‘de facto Indian coach’? You are the power centre in Indian hockey…

It is the biggest challenge in international hockey. Of all the countries, India has the most potential, not only talent-wise but also from the commercial and spectators angle. It is very important to bring Indian hockey back to where it belongs.

The media have talked about your conflict of interest — as the coach of Uttar Pradesh Wizards in the Hockey India League and the High Performance Director of Indian hockey, and that you pick your favourites from UP Wizards for the Indian team…

I don’t see that as a conflict of interest. One of the important things we have is to look at the development of individual players. In a matter of weeks (during the Hockey India League), I had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented Indian players and explain to them how they can work in the best possible way and learn from their fellow international players. I could see a lot of improvement in the UP Wizards players in the last one year. Therefore, my presence as coach in one of the teams has helped.

If you say I pick my favourites from UP Wizards (for the Indian team), then you are talking about my integrity. If you talk about my integrity, I’ll say, I never ever take some player who I don’t believe in. I am only looking at performances.

We have had 10 coaches in eight years. The previous India coach Michael Nobbs was shown the door. Do you feel the frequent shuffling of coaches has affected the Indian team badly?

It is interesting to look at why the coaches were there or not there for a long time. Did we follow the right recruitment process, is the question. I don’t say yes or no. Did we give them the support they needed? I don’t say yes or no. These questions should be answered if you want the best for Indian hockey. If you get the right candidates, you have to give them support. Then it might work. Did you do that in the past? I don’t know. I can’t answer because I was not there. Coach Nobbs wanted to resign because of medical reason, and we respected that. Most of the time, we are looking at coaches who can stay for a period.

In my country, we look for a cycle. In 2006, we had a difficult men’s World Cup, but one year later, we became the European Champions. Firing is needed only if the coach has done something really wrong, or the communication between the coach and the players is breaking down. Then you have to admit that you have made a wrong decision upfront.

The debate over foreign versus Indian coaches continues. What is your take on it? Where do Indian coaches stand in contemporary hockey?

Of course, there are some good coaches here. But let me give you one example. I have been watching the senior and junior Nationals (in Lucknow and Chennai respectively). How many video cameras you saw? Nothing! If you talk about development of Indian hockey, you should talk about match analysis. You can’t work without technology. In Holland, where I have been working since 1986, at the National and the club level, technology is used. You have to develop these players. So, if we are not ready as coaches, I have my doubts. The Indian coaches are not up to date with technology. Of course, there are exceptions. What do they know about exercise physiology? What do they know about modern tactics? Once again, these teams (state teams at the Nationals) are playing 5-3-2 or 4-4-2. We have to involve the coaches in Hockey India League. Try to bring coach development in the country. It will help. Potentially, we have some good coaches. You have to invest in yourself to become a good coach. I did many courses. It should come from your heart; it should be your passion.

The focus has always been more on men than women. What is happening on the women’s front?

It is not correct to think that way. Australia’s Neil Hawgood, the women’s coach, is doing a good job. The women did a very good job in the Asian Games and in the Asia Cup last year. The junior women finished third in the World Cup. It shows that the women’s team is improving as well. Neil and Matthew Tredrea, the scientific advisor of the team, are doing a very good job; they are going to take part in the Champions Challenge in Scotland (April 27). The women’s team has the potential to be one of the best in Asia. With Korea, Japan and China, it’s not easy. There is no Hockey India League for women. There is room for improvement there.

As the High Performance Director, what has given you the most satisfaction?

In the end, the satisfaction is not there, of course. There is no doubt about that, because we are in Step 1 (out of Step 5 or 6). For me, it is not only about the results but also about the process. That should make the difference in the long term. And in that process, I don’t think we are there. We need to work harder.

So you think you are on course for a long term?

I have always said that we can win medals at the 2018 men’s World Cup in India. If we try to do that earlier, well and good. With the talent we have, a good coaching staff for the senior men and senior women’s team, the future looks bright.