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Here, hockey means hope of a better life

With help from Dutch great Floris Jan Bovelander, some children in Jharkhand are learning skills with the stick and more.

other sports Updated: Feb 18, 2017 20:08 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Indian hockey,Floris Jan Bovelander,MS Dhoni
Girls of the Upgraded Primary School in Gutu Hatu village in Jharkhand’s Khunti district after an evening session of hockey.(Tata Trusts)

A cluster of hockey sticks, one of them made of wood, lean against rows of books in the airy room of Pratap Chandra Kumar, teacher-in-charge of Gamhariya’s Government Upgraded Middle School. “Now their interest is not just in academics; hockey is also taking up a lot of their time,” said Kumar, referring to his 139 students where girls are a majority.

Some 20km away, near the community centre of Gutuhatu village, boys and girls in school uniform play separately on a mud patch. Dust eddies around bare feet, no shin guards offer protection from the hard hockey ball and training ground cones serve as goalposts but it is evident they are having fun.

These supervised sessions are held twice weekly for children in the 10-14 age-group in 65 schools in Jharkhand’s Khunti district through a collaboration of Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI), an associate organisation of Tata Trusts, and the hockey academy run by former Dutch great Floris Jan Bovelander.

Boys of the Upgraded Primary School in Gutu Hatu village in Jharkhand’s Khunti district play after school. (Tata Trusts)

Some 50km from Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi, hockey internationals Pushpa Pradhan, Nikki Pradhan, Manohar Topno, Sylvanus Dung Dung, and Sumrai Tete matter as much if not more than cricket icon MS Dhoni here. Better livelihood and improved education through other CInI initiatives have led to focus on quality of life and for that, hockey provides an appropriate trigger in this region.

“Hamare bachche mey se Nikki Pradhan banana hai, (we must get another Nikki Pradhan from one of our kids),” said hockey trainer Jasmani Turu, a former Bihar sub-junior captain and a University of Ranchi blue. Nikki Pradhan is the first from Jharkhand to have played in the Olympics’ women’s hockey competition.

Former India captain Sandeep Singh with trainers from Floris Jan Bovelander’s academy. They are (from left) Wisse Kopal, Merel de Blaeij, who won the Olympic gold in 2012, and Nicolaas den Ouden. (Tata Trusts)

With smiles brighter than the Palash flaming through central India now, the children say when they are not playing hockey, they prefer football. “I think the enthusiasm for hockey is the same among these children as in my country,” said Bovelander on Skype.

It is this enthusiasm the initiative seeks to tap into. Bovelander spoke of getting players from this project into the Jharkhand team in four years. Former India captain Sandeep Singh, who is a consultant, said he hopes players from this programme would be in the 2020 Junior World Cup squad.

Plans to that end include not only organising an inter-school league and a hockey festival at the grassroots but also setting up a regional development centre in Khunti and a residential academy in Jamshedpur. At every level, technical inputs from Bovelander’s company would be sought.

Merel de Blaeij, an Olympic gold medallist with the Holland team in 2012, (in front), former India skipper Sandeep Singh, Wisse Kopal and Nicolaas den Ouden (from left) train coaches at Uchcha Bidyalaya (high school) stadium in Khunti, near Ranchi. Called Master Trainers, the Indian coaches teach students in 150 schools in Khunti district twice a week. The Dutch coaches were sent for this programme by Floris Jan Bovelander’s academy. (Tata Trusts)

Since the partnership began, the Dutch coaches come every six weeks to train Indians, mostly state level players from this region. Called Master Trainers and paid R 8000 per month, they train the school children. Among the Dutch present this week was Merel de Blaeij, 30, who was part of the 2012 Olympic gold medal winning team.

“The Dutch coaches help us teach the children right,” said Turu. “It also means unlike us, they are introduced to the European style from an early age,” said Singh.

At best, only a few will become hockey players from this programme. The initiative’s success thus hinges as much on how hockey teaches children life skills, boosts self-confidence and treat triumph and disaster the same. “From my first batch, only three played for India. But hockey helped all of them get a life,” said Singh.

First Published: Feb 18, 2017 18:33 IST