They say to be successful in sport or business one must a long term vision and plan. Those heading Hockey India have a plan to lift India back into the top echelons of world hockey, but it would appear that they are not taking the most direct route.
The appointment of former Netherlands coach Paul van Ass as the new national head coach has many baffled. Van Ass has a reputation as a great motivator, an attribute on which his success at HC Bloemendaal and with the national team was based. The question is whether India is at the stage where they need a motivator, or whether this form of coach is premature.
There is no doubt the Hero Hockey India League has helped in the progression of India’s young talent and prepared many for making the step up to play at international level. They have been exposed to international players and coaches and learned new techniques and styles of play. The trouble is for many once the HHIL ends no one is there to continue that development. Players return to their India clubs and many no longer focus on the skills that they were honing with their HIL sides until the next year.
Former Head Coach Terry Walsh and his predecessor Michael Nobbs both highlighted that when Indian players came into the national camps unlike countries such as Australia and the Netherlands they had to spend time coaching technique and body positions when defending and attacking; things that players in many other nations have already perfected before they make it into a national camp.
Walsh worked wonders in a year and India recorded some of its best results at international level for many years, Silver at the Commonwealth Games, fourth place at the Champions Trophy and Gold at the Asian Games an event India had not won since 1998. India also won a test series in Australia, and was the first team to win three games in a ow against Australia for a number of years. The junior team also became the first to win back to back Sultan of Johor Cups. As a result Walsh’s departure in November last year mystified many. It appeared that India were on the right track and had a coach who was bringing the best out of his players and developing them into a competitive international side.
Walsh’s departure was controversial, but that is nothing new for Indian Hockey, so too were the departures of Nobbs, Jose Brasa, Ric Charlesworth and Gerard Rach.
Van Ass has had success as a coach at every level he has coached but is he what India needs? Is he a coach that can raise India’s skill level and technical ability? Time will determine that. Will he try and instil a more defensive style of play to India’s game, one that goes against the grain of their natural impulses? Again we will have to wait and see.
One thing that many hope is he can continue the progress that was made by Walsh, and he and High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans can set up a system whereby those playing in the HHIL and those in the levels below are having their game continually developed. World Hockey needs India in the top five.
Another thing that those who love hockey in India wish for, but know is unlikely to happen, is that there will be some stability in terms of the head coach holding the position for a longer period than has been the trend in the past.
One thing that is sure is Walsh has raised the bar of expectation and Van Ass is going to have deliver. HIs success in the past will mean nothing unless he can bring success to India, and lay the foundations for ongoing success