With World Cup, Asian Games on the horizon, India coach Graham Reid looking to drill in winning formula
Men's hockey head coach Graham Reid talks about how India has tried to set up a good foundation for sustained success in the long-term, what they are working on in the ongoing national camp and the buzz that has been created in the camp by a spate of FIH awards coming their way.
It would be a bit of an understatement to say that the Indian men's hockey team has ticked off a few significant milestones under Graham Reid's tutelage, the most prominent of which would be ending the country's nearly four-decade long wait for an Olympic medal in Tokyo last year. However, if there was anyone going on flights of fancies about the return of the glory days of Dhyan Chand et al., Australia gave them a good reality check by beating India 7-0 in the final of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Reid was certainly under no illusions and he has very specific ideas of where the team needs to improve ahead of the 2023 World Cup, which will be played from January 13 to 29 in Bhubaneshwar and Rourkela. He is pretty confident that there is no need worry too much about just how hapless India looked in the CWG final. The Australian, who recently won the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) Coach of the Year for 2021/22, spoke to HindustanTimes.com about all of this and more in a recent interview.
First of all, congratulations on winning the Coach of the Year award. Is it a validation of all that you have done here in the past one year?
Graham Reid: It's a great recognition of where Indian hockey is at the moment. What I said to players the other day is that this really has nothing to do with me. Any individual awards are always about how the team has performed and a real reflection of how hard everyone has been working. We still have a lot of work to do of course. We don't go out looking for those awards so when they come it's very nice but it is more of a recognition of where the group is.
It may be the team trophies and medals that you value more but does awards like these create a buzz in the camp?
Graham Reid: Of course. For example, having someone like (PR) Sreejesh win an award (FIH Men's Goalkeeper of the Year), he is a livewire anyway so you can imagine when something like that happens, there is definitely a little bit of a buzz. As I said, it sort of validates a lot of the stuff that you do.
The national camp started on October 3, are there any specific things that are you are working on before you leave for Australia for the Test series later this month?
Graham Reid: We had a selection camp in August and then we did a lot of work with the 48 players there at that point. We also had a strong internal look at ourselves while reviewing the matches from the Commonwealth Games, particularly the Australia match. We have been working since then on things like developing a collective defensive mindset, which is basically that everyone should be involved with tackling and other defensive efforts.
It starts with when we have the ball. One of the things that we are not so good at is our counter-control, which is stopping the opposition getting the ball off us and going down the other end and scoring. So it starts from there and then goes to our defensive transition and the mindset as soon as we lose the ball. So that's one of the things we have been working on.
We are also working on another type of press. We already have three or four types of presses but the one that I want us to get better at is one that is quite aggressive. If you find yourselves behind then this enables you to get the ball off the opposition more effectively.
In attack, you may know that India loves to smash the ball at goal, really lift their stick up. What I have been trying to work on with these guys is more around the shorter areas, closer to the goal. Whether you smash it or push it past the goalkeeper, it is the same. So it is really about polishing the skills around that five-metre area. We quite often miss an opportunity because we feel there is no time to shoot, but there is.
India were quite competitive throughout the Commonwealth Games and it was only in that final against Australia where you looked completely outplayed. Do you go back to those kind of games to analyse or do you just keep it aside saying, that's just a glitch?
Graham Reid: This happened to be in the final so there was a lot of time to look back at it. The Australia game during the Tokyo Olympics (which India lost 7-1 in the group stage) was during the tournament. You don't want to pick the scabs too much at that time. Afterwards, in that first few days in August, it was a good period to do that, get people's thought processes and stuff.
My initial feeling was a mixture of three things. One was the intimidation of Australia. Between 2013 and 2017 we played the Hockey India League. Lot of Australians played in that and I think we got desensitised with them and felt well, they are just humans. Perhaps we missed that (awareness of how intimidating they can be) between 2017 and now. We haven't played them that much in this period. We will now be going there on November 20 for a five match series against them. That will give us an opportunity to hopefully get a training session with a state team so that the guys will understand their training mentality as well. Last year if you remember we went to Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands and had training sessions with them. When you train with other people you get an idea of just how good you are.
Could this test series be a bit of a double-edged sword in the way that you are playing a formidable team which is always good, but at the same time there is a chance that you could suffer big defeats and that might affect the confidence of the team. Is that something that you are factoring in?
Graham Reid: Yes of course, but then we didn't create too many opportunities during that game (the CWG final). We were probably playing at 30 or 40 percent. If we were playing at a 100 percent or 90 percent and still lost like that, then we would have really needed to go back to the drawing board and work it out. In the Olympics, although they beat us, we created a lot of opportunities against them. It is something that I am definitely aware of, the boys are also aware of the strategy we need to fall back on if we feel things like that happening. But sport is a really tough thing, no one knows the real answers, you keep trying different things. We were handed a lesson, let's make sure we learn from it. I still think that if we play them while at our best, we can easily beat them.
You had said earlier that you wanted to widen the pool of players going into the World Cup. To what extent would you say that target has been achieved?
Graham Reid: We had a group of 48 and you saw the Asia Cup earlier this year where India A went and played. I think that was a fantastic thing for Indian hockey to be able to provide that many opportunities for those players. The number of guys who played in the Pro League these last few months is in the 30s and I am very proud of that. It goes to my goal about trying to make sure that we keep India succesfull on a longer term. To do that, you have to build a bigger base and I feel we have done that. Over the next few months, we now need to refocus back on picking our best 18 players.
Are there any targets that you have set for the big tournaments coming up next year?
Graham Reid: I do talk a lot about zooming out and zooming in. If you zoom out, then of course we are always trying to be in the final of a tournament and giving ourselves the best chance to win the gold medal. But it is such a tough competition and as I said, people are always trying to win. The most important thing we need to do is making sure we are playing at our best and we are at our best fitness levels. That is what you can control and that is what we will be focussing on. The zoom out is definitely wanting to be in the final game, then you zoom back in and you realise there is a lot of work to be done. That is the process and it works if you are used to zoom back out in between, see if we are heading towards the goal or not, and then zoom back in.
There is always a big emotional reaction to India winning something big in hockey, we saw that in the Olympics and the CWG and there is surely going to be an outpouring if the team does well in the World Cup. Does that have an effect on players going into a big match?
Graham Reid: I don't think there is an effect before the game, it is only after it that we realise it. I think our mentality is to just focus on the task in front of us. When you do that, all those other things like crowds or expectations or pressure will be pushed to the background. Of course that is in an ideal world but if you practice that enough, hopefully you start to see that in the results.