Bengaluru, May 29: Hire and fire, hire and fire - Hockey India's formula for recruiting coaches has forced the national team to start from scratch every few months. And now that the national hockey team has an Indian, Harendra Singh, at the helm for the first time since 2008 when Joaquim Carvalho coached the side, the hockey campers have suddenly found an inner voice telling them the federation should have hired an Indian coach much earlier.
Sjoerd Marijne, who was appointed last September after Roelant Oltmans was sacked, swapped roles with the women's team head coach Harendra after the Commonwealth Games 2018, where India finished fourth. Before Oltmans, who took over from his role as high performance director, there were several foreigners in-charge of the team - Paul van Ass (2014-2015), Terry Walsh (2013-2014), Michael Nobbs (2011-2013), Jose Brasa (2009-2010) and Ric Charlesworth (2008).
Wearing this smile to hide the pain inside .... Expecting this life will give us a new opportunity to over come this .. Time to say goodbye to the village ... Bon voyage #CommonwealthGames2018 @GC2018 pic.twitter.com/vGDQZpQxpS— sreejesh p r (@16Sreejesh) April 17, 2018
Having seen foreigners come and go and then complain about the system, India captain and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh is happy to have a fellow Indian coaching the side; someone who understands the Indian culture and work ethic.
"In India, all players are used to following their teachers from childhood," Sreejesh said on the sidelines of the team's preparations for the Champions Trophy (beginning from June 23) and the Asian Games (starting on August 18). "That's how our culture is. That's how we have grown up. I used to ask my dad before doing anything major in my life -- even now I'm 30 plus but I follow the same thing. He (the coach) can show me where I have to walk, and then I will ask him where I can improve. Or I can suggest, 'If I take this turn, how will it be?' That's how the system has to be. If he draws a picture, I can help him to paint it so it looks better. He can't ask me to draw a picture and say he will paint it. He should have an idea of how we are going to play and we can help him make it beautiful."
Sreejesh feels Marijne's player driven approach was a big failure with the side. The 30-year-old was one among the senior players who reportedly complained to Hockey India over Marijne's methods after the team's poor outing in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
"Sjoerd used to eat a lot of cheese and Harendra sir eats chawal and dal," Sreejesh said. "Every coach has his own style. He knows the perfect Indian style and what we are capable of. He knows how to prepare us for that. When someone else comes in from outside, and he wants to try his own style, maybe the team won't adjust to that or sometimes they will adapt."
When asked specifically what differences Sreejesh found in the methods adopted by the two coaches, the captain said: "You can choose what you want to eat from the table. But coaches have restrictions about the food that is there on the table. You are responsible for your own performance but coaches will show you the way. I can give you an example about Sunil. He's one of the fastest players in the world. The coach cannot ask him to slow down his game and dribble past 10 people. If someone is really skillful, you can't ask him to run with the ball. That's how things work. It's important to have a system, and within that system you need to ask players to give their best."
Chief Coach of the Indian Men’s Team, @HarendraSingh66, is looking forward to further challenges in 2018 as the next six months have three prestigious international competitions on the horizon. #IndiaKaGame pic.twitter.com/jWx4yTseHr— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) May 29, 2018
In Harendra, Sreejesh sees familiarity. Not just for him but for the rest of the team. "Like I said before, every player in this team has trained under Harendra sir (who was the junior hockey team coach) at some point," Sreejesh said. "So everyone knows what he wants. If you're in the hostel it's hard for you to adjust to a new atmosphere, but when you come back home, even if you get sambar rice you're happy with that. There are no complaints. It's easy to adjust to a homely atmosphere. That's how we are feeling now. The first thing is language -- there is no need for translation. If there is a mistake on the field, it's quite easy for us to discuss it. And any player, even a junior, can directly go to the coach and discuss things. Language is a big thing.
"The second thing is the comfort zone...how he makes players comfortable with him. Everyone feels free to talk, discuss things and accept their mistakes. That's the change...the process of improving as a team. That's a positive sign before the Asian Games."
Sreejesh finally admitted that Hockey India should have gone for an Indian coach after the repeated failure of foreigners. But one can only wonder why the players did not ask for an Indian coach much earlier.
"We should develop our own coaches, that's for sure," he said. "We need to take experience. But Indian coaches are developing players from the grassroots levels. We need to give them more experience and technologies. We should conduct clinics to update their knowledge, so that more coaches come through."