'I showed them a movie about self-belief': Coach Marijne explains how Indian women's hockey made a turnaround in Tokyo
- In a recent interaction, outgoing coach Sjoerd Marijne revealed how the team made a turnaround to finish fourth at the Games and scripting history in Tokyo.
To say India women's hockey team did not have the best of starts at the Tokyo Olympics would be a fair assessment, and yet one may still be not judging the situation fairly. In the lead-up to the Games, the Indian team led by captain Rani Rampal and coach Sjoerd Marijne had little to no practice matches against the top teams in the world, with Covid-19 leading to the cancellation of India's overseas tours.
It meant the last high-pressure affair that the team had been a part of was in the Olympics qualifiers against the United States back in November 2019. There was also a Covid breakout at the hockey camp at Sports Authority of India headquarters in Bengaluru just three months before the start of the Games, with Rani being among the players who had tested positive for the virus.
The scheduling was another big hurdle in front of India. Their first three group games were against higher-ranked teams - the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain, followed by the two games against South Africa and Ireland - which India were expected to win. But to make a comeback after losing the first three games against any opposition in the world, at the Olympics, with the elimination looming, certainly made things challenging.
So, while there were hopes from the Indian women's team traveling to Tokyo to make it past the group stages, events leading up to the Games made things that much more challenging. In a recent interaction with Hindustan Times, outgoing coach Marijne revealed how the team made a turnaround to finish fourth at the Games and scripting history in Tokyo.
How would you judge the team's overall performance in Tokyo?
I think we really did well. I think we reached our potential and that is one of the most important things you want to achieve as a coach. We did it step-by-step. It was not easy. We knew the first three matches were really hard, the level was a little bit too high for us, especially because we did not play matches under pressure for almost two years. Olympic qualifiers were the last moment. And I think we really did well. Because mentally we remained fresh. We got the message that we need to win.
In the end, we were very closer to Argentina and Great Britain to win a medal. They did not outplay for us. That was really important for us. We had our opportunities. Disappointments were really big. And if disappointments are really big, it shows you how the team is thinking. They go really 100 percent for it, and that was the main thing.
What did you tell the players after the first three defeats?
I was really angry with them. Against Great Britain, I felt there were a few moments that I felt really cannot happen. Playing in the field with your kneecaps on, which is not field, we got a card for that. Putting the mask off during a PC... it is not allowed. And I was really angry about that. 'This way we cannot continue', I said. 'It is now on the team themselves to... how do I say it... come back with a fresh mind'. And I said 'we need to do things differently'.
Did you make any tactical changes in the defence when facing off against Australia in the quarterfinal?
No, there were no tactical changes against Australia. It always remains the same. We always focus on ourselves, not on our opponent. And that is what I told them. It's just about being in the moment. That is what I told them. Like the big difference, I showed them a movie about self-belief. I know everyone wants to know about the movie - but you have to read about it in my book.
The movie explains how you have to stay in the moment. Not being busy thinking - what if we win? what if we lose? what happens if I miss this ball? Because then the mind plays with you - and that's what you don't want. That was the most important moment in the tournament that we made a turnaround.
Playing games in Tokyo under really challenging conditions must have been really difficult. A word on the team's fitness?
Wayne Lombard did an amazing job. The fitness of the team has improved so much. We have now played eight matches. Eight matches of the highest intensity. In the heat, you cannot believe no matter how much I tried to explain. And they kept running and kept running. That is big, big applause for Wayne how he did it, but also the girls, how they do it themselves.
What next for the team - how can they progress?
There is a need to play more games of the highest quality against top teams in the world. For the team to progress, they need to continue to keep playing high-pressure games against higher-ranked teams.
You see India making a bid to host the women's hockey World Cup as well in the future?
"I hope they do, I really hope. That would be great."