Multi-faceted

S. V. SRIRAM

VINO JOHN

THINK hockey, think Australia and the name that springs to mind is Ric Charlesworth. Author of three books on coaching, Charlesworth's achievements in life itself would be worthy of being compiled into a couple of books at the least.

Charlesworth, who was in Chennai as a television commentator for the Champions Trophy hockey tournament, took some time from his busy schedule to give an insight on a wide range of topics in this exclusive chat with The Sportstar.

The first question obviously is how does he manage to do so much and what is it that drives him?

"Oh! I have done various things at different points of time; never together. I have been very lucky in the sense that I had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to. I had the support of my parents to pursue my dreams. And the fact that there is a strong sporting culture in Australia helped, too," says Charlesworth.

"Setting new targets and moving ahead in life have been important aspects. It is the choices you make that count. I don't want to look back and say, I could have done that. Just forget what you haven't done and get on with your life. To that extent I can say I have no regrets," he adds.

As a former player and now coach, his views on hockey carry a lot of weight. So, what in his opinion needs to be done to take hockey to the next level? "I have been saying this for the past many years but nobody seems to be paying much attention. The game is too caught up in itself. Players, when in the striking zone, just whack the ball in and hope for an edge for a goal to be scored. I would like to see more deft moves being created and a lot more stick skills involved."

He has a few ideas up his sleeve. Elaborating on them he says, "First up would be reducing the number of players per team from the current 11 to 9. That way more space would be created. The present tendency of teams to crowd the defence and generally smother the smooth flow is hampering the game.

"In our playing days even the long corner used to be dangerous with a lot of scope for goal scoring. But now that has been converted to a line hit.

"The next suggestion would be a change in the way penalty-corners are taken. In my opinion only two defenders should be allowed alongside the goal-keeper. The rest should stay behind the half line. The push can remain the same, only instead of the attackers being at the edge of the D, they should now be positioned at the 25-yard line.

"The attackers then will be forced to come up with some new moves. You can then see a lot of dribbling, lots of short passes, eventually working towards creating a goal scoring opportunity.

"Another idea would be to keep one defender at the back all the time. As for the aerial ball I have no problems as long as there is nobody in the five-yard vicinity. I'm fine with that. As long as it is not used as a defensive move, with players just scooping out into the other half, it shouldn't be a problem.

"If the game has to be packaged in a way so as to attract more television coverage, say four quarters instead of two halfs, I am all for that. That won't affect the game as such. And mind you TV coverage, in this day and age, helps a lot in boosting the profile of the game. I personally think that this is the way for hockey to move forward."

For someone who grew up watching the ball skills of the Indians and the Pakistanis, Charlesworth is saddened by the state of hockey in the sub-continent. "I have always believed that the game needs to survive in India and Pakistan for its growth. Look at the crowd support for such games here. In Australia it is at best a semi-professional game. It doesn't attract the kind of following that, say, cricket or football does. But it doesn't mean that the hockey players are in anyway less involved. They are also sincere, hard-working and committed to their sport."

Tipped to take over the Indian hockey team a couple of years ago, Charlesworth believes that the Indians can make a difference. Only a concrete long-term plan needs to be in place. "You need to reinvent yourself, grow and broaden your outlook. Unlike other games where you can afford to have short-term planning and even change coaches every other year, the dynamics of hockey just don't allow you to do that.

"What you need is a system in place, which, when utilised over a period of time, should fetch you returns. The need of the hour is to return to the drawing board. I'm willing to take up the challenge, it is up to the Indian federation to get back to me. A couple of years back they said there would be a process put in place to select the coach just like in cricket. I'm ready to take up the challenges but as yet I haven't got any word from the Indian federation."

Charlesworth believes that coaches are being overrated a bit. "A coach can only deliver as long as he has good players. No amount of coaching can get results unless the players on the field have the talent to translate into results what they have learnt."

He cites the example of his successful stint as coach of the Australian women's hockey team. "The women in Australia get the same facilities as the men do. But the success would not have been possible without the talent and the players' commitment to excel. They had the hunger and the energy to succeed and they did."

Referring to the India-Australia match, Charlesworth minces no words. "The Indians just weren't attacking enough. It was as if they were waiting for something to happen rather than creating opportunities. Playing in home conditions can be an advantage. But it is a skill in itself to make that advantage work for you. You have to go out there and make the effort or it will come to a naught."

He also talks of the superb infrastructure already in place in Australia to churn out athletes of repute. "Its far less population combined with lots of open spaces has helped Australia a lot.

"Families, on the whole, take interest in sports and that has borne fruit for us. Then the infrastructure is of the highest order, probably one of the best. In India, unfortunately it is the other way round. But even then I think India has a chance of making a difference on the world stage."

No chat with Charlesworth can be complete without talking about his experiences as an elected representative in the Federal Parliament. "My stint in politics has given me a wider perspective, made me see things which I normally wouldn't have as a normal person. I can claim that in that time I, along with my colleagues, did a lot towards bettering life in Australia.

"I would consider the setting up of the National Health Service, which I believe is second to none in the world, as the high point of my political career.

"Be it sports, environment, finance, defence or administration I have had to speak to a lot of people, gauge their expectations and reactions and put into motion initiatives which I think will help people.

"Yes it has taken its toll on my personal life. I had to quit politics at the time as my marriage was breaking up. But now I have another family and five children, grown-ups from my first marriage, and little ones now. They give me a lot of pleasure. All this travelling keeps me away from them and I can't wait to get back to them."

With all this behind him, what next for Charlesworth you wonder?

* * * RIC CHARLESWORTH * Born: December 6, 1952. * Doctor of medicine.

* Former captain of Australian hockey team, state hockey and state cricket teams.

* Federal parliament member for 10 years. First elected in 1983.

* Coach of the national women's team from 1993 till Sydney 2000.

* Worked as a high performance consultant to the Freemantle Dockers Football Club and mentor coach to five Australian Institute of Sport coaches.

* Selected for Olympics and retired after the Seoul Games. Named West Australian sportsman of the year in '76, '79 and '86. Advance Australia Award in '84 and Order of Australia '87.

* According to experts had everything — power and speed, flashy stick skills.

* As coach of the Australian women's team, won the Champions Trophy in '93 (Amsterdam), '95 (Mar Del Plata), '97 (Berlin) and '99 (Brisbane); World Cup in '94 Dublin, '98 Holland; Olympic gold at Atlanta and Sydney, and the Commonwealth gold in '98 (Kuala Lumpur).

* Wrote three books on coaching — The coach — Managing for Success in 2001, Staying at the top in 2002 where he talks about his five principles for being the best and Shakespeare the coach in 2004.