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Hockey India target Asia Cup victory

Hockey India target Asia Cup victory image

India women’s national team has been moving up the rankings and making waves of its own in a country where hockey is regarded as the national sport. A good 2015 Hockey World League performance saw the Eves qualify for the 2016 Olympics. This time around, India finished eighth in the 2017 HWL Semi-Finals in Johannesburg, a position which leaves them waiting on the results from continental qualifiers to see if they can be at the top table of teams participating at the Women’s Hockey World Cup in London next year.

It is an event at which the 12th ranked team in the world desperately want to be competing and there are ambitious and expensive development plans in place to achieve that aim. To that end, the team and the coaching staff are now looking for a top spot finish at the forthcoming Asian Cup in October and there have been many structural and organisational changes over the past two seasons that will further help achieve these ambitions.

After years of playing second fiddle to their male counterparts, the women’s senior and junior teams now has a similar set-up to the men’s teams. There are seven to eight support staff including analysts, a scientific advisor, a video analyst, a masseuse, physiotherapist and a goalkeeping coach.

Underpinning this is a sub-junior programmes which mirrors the senior and junior programmes in terms of approach and support staff.

Director of High Performance for Hockey India is David John and he is very pleased with the direction that Hockey India has taken: “Getting the basics right is a priority but now the whole idea is to get them up to speed with international standards at a very young age and I feel having a sub junior programme is the best thing to have happened to fulfil our bigger goals in recent times.”


 

Just as the programme mirrors the men’s, so the training process and techniques run along similar lines for both genders. John says the basic focus is on the speed, agility, skills, and team-play along with factors such as strategy. The aim is simple: to become one of the best teams in the world.

The first target, says the High Performance Director, will be to win the upcoming Women's Asia Cup in Japan. If the team achieves that goal, not only will they qualify for the 2018 World Cup but they will also have recorded their best performance at this event since 2004, when they took gold.

India has tasted more recent international success. The team won the 2016 Asian Champions Trophy, beating higher ranked China in the final. And with confidence high and national support for the women’s team growing, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be victorious in Japan. They just have the higher-ranked teams of Japan, Korea and China standing in their way.

But whether they are successful at the Asia Cup or not, this is a nation that is determined to break into the top echelons of the game. And India is a nation with a huge talent pool at its disposal.

John expands upon this point: “When we talk about the women's team, one of the major factors that is contributing to the success isour domestic circuit, which is getting stronger. We have a huge pool of players who are nurtured from the grassroots level and are further developed in the junior as well as senior national coaching camps.

“Investment, of course, always helps the sport and with more prize money and secured government jobs, young players are now getting encouraged to take up the sport. This helps in keeping together a set of long-term core players (known as Probables) who are consistently involved throughout the year in both the national camps or tournaments.”

The focus of the camps is both physical and psychological. There is an emphasis on fitness, speed, and agility but there is also a lot of work on increasing the players’ confidence levels. “Also, we keep encouraging our players to have confidence within themselves so as to match the level of other top players,” says John.“They should not feel as if they are lacking in anything when it comes to their opposition. Playing and performing well against big teams in big tournaments will also help us in growing our confidence levels. To help with that aspect, we aim to regularly keep playing with the other top women's teams from around the world to make sure that the girls are getting the appropriate experience under their belt.”

While breaking into the top 10 is the end aim, becoming the top team in Asia is the first goal. It is, says John, a realistic aim so long as the progress that has been made in the past two years is maintained, not just by the players and coaching staff but also with the continued support of the Hockey Federation, the Sports Authority of India and the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports.

For John, there is no reason for either the support to end or for the players to not keep progressing. All the factors needed for continued development are in place. “I have faith in Hockey India's development system that is in place for the women's team, both at senior and junior levels.

“From a playing perspective, I want the team to be fearless, and to play exciting hockey. Exciting hockey does not mean that we only focus on attack, but it means that we focus on playing well together as a unit, and create new game strategies according to our knowledge of our opponents. It is important for the team to be efficient in their goal-scoring and shot conversion rate to maximise the opportunities on the field. Therefore, our main focus will be on growing our performance to emerge as winners in key tournaments.”

Many of the current India women’s squad have been together for a long time. Rani, Ritu Rani, Savita, Sunita Lakra are all household names and all have well over 100 caps each. For john, that experience is invaluable. “We have these experienced players who have helped the new generation of players by giving them the right guidance about the sport and helping them in improving their game.

“The strength also lies in these set of players playing together for a long time, which means that there is good cohesion within the core group. This translates onto teaming up during the matches and in practice which helps in maintaining the confidence level of the team.”

One big change the old hands such as Rani and Savita will have noticed is an new emphasis upon player feedback. The coaching staff are much more at ease with receiving player feedback and incorporating that feedback into overall strategy.

Player involvement is just one of the many strategies that newly appointed coach to the team, Harendra Singh, will be employing as he seeks to fill the shoes of Dutchman Sjoerd Marine who was appointed men’s head coach early in September.

“With my staff, I am looking forward to working with this talented group of players,” said Singh. “We will concentrate on providing the team with the best possible environment and opportunities, in return we expect our players to deliver and take their rightful spot at the top.”

India women will be competing in the Asia Cup from 25 October - 5 November 2017.

 

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