Interview with Indian women's hockey coach Neil Hawgood: Performing in major tournaments is the focus
Neil Hawgood knows his girls quite well now – after all, he has been working with them for a long time now. He took charge of the Indian women’s hockey team in mid-2012 and left the job in late 2014 before again taking up the head coach role in November 2015 to prepare the national women’s team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Aussie, who had played in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, talks about his team’s improvement areas and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q The recent tour of England has been a big disappointment for the Indian women’s team – they lost all their five matches – conceding 21 goals. How would you sum up your team’s performance on the England tour?
While the results were disappointing, ass you have stated in our big losses we conceded goals in short periods of play, like the last game where we had to replace our goalkeeper at halftime due to an injury and then conceded 4 goals in about 8 minutes.
But that was us dealing with them for two quarters of the game. So the results do not always tell you a whole picture, so yes it was disappointing but there were signs of us being able to compete and be competitive, but we could not sustain that for four quarters of hockey.
Q Ever since we qualified for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years, do you feel that the Indian team appeared to have gone off the boil if their performances in South Africa, New Zealand and England are anything to go by – your thoughts?
Well, Argentina and South Africa, were actually quite good tours for us, we were able to beat South Africa for the first time in 10 years I believe, so that was encouraging, and prior to that we toured Argentina where we drew with Australia, and drew with China and drew one game with Argentina.
Since those tours, we have put the group through one of the hardest training phases that we could, and while the results were not media-friendly, I think we were expecting this down in performance – obviously England was a bit more disappointing than we would have hoped for. So we are now coming out of that training phase, so hopefully in the next phase we will see recovery faster and also more consistent effort during games.
Q Indian forward line is quite talented but hasn’t delivered much in New Zealand and England. Does that concern you?
Talented yes, but definitely has not delivered since New Zealand, but before that in Argentina and South Africa, they did deliver.
Q This is your second stint as Indian women team head coach – you had a pretty successful stint from mid-2012 to 2014-end – the team won a silver medal at the 2013 Asian Champions Trophy besides bagging a bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games. How would you differentiate your two coaching stints with the Indian team?
I cannot say any differences, as I treat them both as projects, the first project was to promote the youth and change the way we trained and prepared physically for tournaments. The second stint is the same, progress the group to another level which is required at the Olympics in August.
Q Realistically speaking, the Indian team isn’t expected to make a podium finish at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but the team have shown that they can hold their own against top teams. What’s your take?
Dealing with external and internal goals is different – our goal is simple, first to make the quarter-finals and that means winning two games. When we achieve that it is just one game you have to win to have a chance to proceed, that is what we want to do, put ourselves into that position.
Q How would you assess our penalty corner conversion rate and also our ability to defend them?
On both areas, we need to work hard in the last phase on these areas, but all has to be put in line with what our priorities are and move towards having all areas covered and PCs are one of those areas.
Q Fitness- wise Indian team have made rapid strides in recent years – where do you think our team needs to work on before they start regularly beating sides like Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Great Britain?
It is the strength to be able to push that fitness level to match the rest of the world if you are physically not strong there is a limit to where you can push the physical limits.
Q You have been a big match player yourself having played in two World Cups and Seoul Olympics. The Rio Olympics is a first big tournament for the Indian girls – surely your big match experience will help our girls.
Our new assistant coach has been to 6 Olympics and as you have stated my tournaments, we can only advise on our experiences and the first will always be difficult. But the issue will be that all 16 players taking the field, not having that experience, so we can explain and talk about our experiences, but playing we can only prepare as well as we can, and hopefully mentally they are prepared as well as they will be physically.
Q Do you feel there is more awareness about women hockey in India after we qualified for the Olympics after a gap of 36 years?
Yes, I believe there is a more general awareness of women hockey in India, and we have played our part, what we need to do is start to play a bigger part in women’s sport by becoming consistent and performing in major international events.
Q What are the international tournaments India are playing heading into the Rio Olympics?
We have a Four Nation Tournament in Australia next week, then we select our Olympic team and then we head to USA fro a pre-Olympic holding and training camp and play matches against USA and Canada in July.
Q What will be your message to the Indian women hockey fans?
Remain positive as change takes time, and this is a major step in changing that.