I was impressed by the men’s hockey team’s performance at the Rio Olympics. The team led by PR Sreejesh was knocked out in the quarterfinals, but the fact that India beat Argentina 2-1 in the pool match shows the players had set higher goals for themselves.
Our performance in Rio also indicated that the national team means business when it comes to major tournaments.
If the players were able to showcase their talent in Brazil, it was due to Roelant Oltmans. The Dutch expert has been at the helm for the past one year, and has transformed the players’ fitness levels and mindset. This proves that we should give coaches a free hand to train on a long-term basis.
Instead of brooding over not entering the semifinal at Rio, we should start preparing for the 2018 World Cup, which is on home turf. A good performance will build the momentum for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
To sustain our efforts at the international stage, we shouldn’t ignore grassroots development. Youngsters should be provided with facilities that are given to the core group preparing for the Asian Games or Olympics. So, when a young player makes the transition from the state to national team, he should be comfortable.
Lack of planning
It has been observed that due to lack of planning at the school level, players with potential are not able to advance to the senior level. We are making half-hearted efforts. At the sports hostels and academies, we invest in a player for five or six years, but due to lack of foresight the players aren’t able to move up. Like we invest our hard-earned money in a better way, we should do the same while nurturing a talented player.
I feel foreign coaches should be nominated to oversee the training of the national school team, as it will help us strengthen the foundation.
The academies and sports hostels are supposed to be breeding grounds but hardly have facilities to groom talent. There are no physios, masseurs or sports medicine experts to keep the players injury free. The coach does multi-tasking, as he is the mental trainer and manages injuries. This is not the right way to build a strong foundation.
I believe the Sports Authority of India should have a wider outlook for the Olympics or Asian Games. Instead of focusing on three-four disciplines, the emphasis should be on 20 disciplines. With long-term planning and regular monitoring, we can have better results at the Olympics. For example, nobody thought gymnastics could fetch us medal, but Dipa Karmakar showed us the way. There are other disciplines too where we may not have a good chance at the moment but with right planning things can be better in the long run.
All this will be possible if we enhance our budget for sports.
The writer is former India hockey captain and Olympian