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Women's World Cup 2018: 'Do not regret anything, happy with improvements made by my team,' says coach Sjoerd Marijne

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Sjoerd Marijne feels the Indian girls are dangerous when they intercept the ball

The city of Antwerp in Belgium saw the Indian women take on the might of the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the Hockey World League Semifinal in 2015.

Less than 45 seconds had elapsed before Naomi van Ass scored from the narrowest of angles to give the Dutch side the lead. Willemijn Bos, Caia van Maasakker, and Lidewij Welten were unrelenting as they added their names to the scoresheet as the world's number one side swept India away by a massive 7-0 margin.

Make no mistake, Savita Punia made some outstanding saves and it wasn't just the Indians who were brushed aside by their formidable opponents. The Olympic and World Champions went on to annihilate Australia 5-1 in the semifinal. Asian challengers Korea fought hard and took the lead but it was not long before they too were engulfed by Holland in the final.

CR Kumar -- who is currently India's assistant coach -- was managing India when the Women in Blue defeated the invincible Netherlands side, which was coached by Sjoerd Marijne, during the Antwerp tournament. Kumar now assists the Indian team with his expertise and translations.

Sjoerd Marijne, who was coaching the Dutch girls back then, subsequently made specific observations regarding the Indian's women's team and felt his experience of having worked with the best team in the world could assist the Indian girls to improve their fitness and adopt a more modern style of hockey.

Under his tutelage, the Indian girls won round 2 of the Hockey World League last year and their confidence increased substantially in round 3 as they took on the best teams in the world.

"As per the feedback I received from the players, the change happened after the match against the USA in the Hockey World League round 3 and also against England. We lost, but the players felt that we were in the match for long periods and could win against these strong teams," recalls the 44-year-old, who has also worked with the Chinese girls.

After half a year at the job, he felt he was on the right track with the help of compatriot Eric Wonink, when fate intervened and the departure of fellow Dutchman Roelant Oltmans prompted those at the helm of Indian hockey to entrust Sjoerd Marijne with the job of coaching the men's team.

The move surprised many -- including Marijne himself -- but he thrust himself headlong into the job and oversaw the men as they won gold in the Asia Cup and bronze in the Hockey World League.

As part of a long-term vision, he selected a new-look unit to challenge top teams like Australia and England in the Azlan Shah Cup but post the team's inability to capture a medal in the Commonwealth Games, he was asked to return to his duties with the women's team.

In retrospect, would he have done anything differently?

"I can be proud of the way the men played in the Champions Trophy"

"Afterwards, things are always easy to change, but I would make the same choices and do the same things again. If you saw the way we played, we created enough. One thing I cannot do as a coach is to put the ball in the goal because the players have to do that. A lot of things were good and I was happy with that."

While Marijne has no regrets for the decisions he took with the men's team, he harbors no resentment whatsoever and says he is happy that the Indian men did well at the Champions Trophy.

"Life is too short to be bitter. I do not have time to be bitter. I do not regret anything and I am happy with the improvements I made with the women's side and the 7 months that I spent with the men."

"I was happy with the improvement in the men's team, and we saw it in the Champions Trophy. I feel, I too can be proud of that."

Sjoerd Marijne is now more motivated than ever to help his old proteges continue on a path of ascendancy. As he explained to Sportskeeda, as part of an exclusive interaction, he is pleased to be back where he started his India journey and is determined to see the girls succeed.

Indian Women's hockey team
Indian Women's hockey team

Sportskeeda: As a coach, how did you motivate yourself to come back after disappointing ends to your stints?

Sjoerd Marijne: When disappointing things happen, it is not nice, but it is important what you do after that. In matches, sometimes things happen that one cannot control.

When the process is not finished, and you cannot finish that process, it is always disappointing. Yet, I have had more disappointments in my life so I know how to deal with it and I am a really positive person.

When I heard about this development (returning to the women's team), the first thing I said to myself was, what can I achieve with the women. I took my mind off the men's team and focused on the women's team. I am quite good at that, to close one period and go on with the next one. Of course, it is a great pity that you cannot finish the period and the process.

On the other hand, I was happy with the women's team in the past as well and we were taking some really big steps together. It was a great feeling to be back with that team as I feel they deserve a coach who gives 100% and that is why I switched my mind off from the men to the women's squad.

Sportskeeda: When you have to pass on urgent instructions to the team in less than a minute in between quarters, can language be an issue? Can sentences be misunderstood or lost in translation?

Sjoerd Marijne: Both with the men and with the women, language is not an issue, because the things I tell them (in between quarters) are not new things. They are things that they have heard many times in the team meetings and those things are really clear for the men and for the women.

They are short things, what you say, and when we do meetings before, I always use the services of CR Kumar (Assistant Coach).to translate, just to be sure they understand but most of them understand irrespective.

Sportskeeda: Eric Wonink (Analytical Coach) was with the women's team when you were with the men. Are you happy with his role?

Sjoerd Marijne: From the moment I left, until the moment I came back, nothing at all had changed. I implemented the tactics, together with Eric Wonink and he maintained the structure of the team even after I left. He is the one who helps them individually and is good at analyzing things and discussing the same with the girls.

He organizes meetings for the team like strikers meetings, midfielders meeting, and defenders meetings regarding what we can improve. He chooses the topics together with me. To top it all, Eric shares a very good relationship with the girls and is a hardworking guy who works 12 to 13 hours a day.

"When we intercept the ball, we can be really dangerous"

Mari
Marijne credits Wayne Lombard with improving the speed and fitness of the girls

Sportskeeda: What are the biggest positives of the Indian side as compared to the Netherlands team which you coached in the past?

Sjoerd Marijne: It is difficult to compare our team with the Netherlands as they play a different style of hockey. Also, they have been No. 1 for many years now and we are just No. 10 but we are getting closer to the top 5 as you saw in the Commonwealth Games. We beat England in one match but we also lost one and we are also close to Australia. Now, it is time to take the next step.

If you see our qualities, if we intercept the ball, we can be really dangerous. Over the last year and a half, the discipline and the structure are improving a lot. Discipline and structure are keywords and if both are in place, it will be difficult for opponents to score against us. Maybe they will score a goal, but it will be really difficult.

Defending with a grounded stick may look easy but it never used to happen. Now, they do it consistently and so they intercept more balls.

The other thing that improved with Wayne Lombard (Scientific Advisor) was the fitness. The girls are getting faster and faster. Such changes cannot happen overnight. Last year, we were not fit enough but the girls really worked hard with Wayne and put in a lot of effort. As they are getting faster, they are now able to compete with all the countries in the world. Speed makes it easier to attack and to defend.

The process continued with Priyanka, the psychologist and her team and they did a really good job.

The structure is clear, they can adjust to opponents. Lots of hours of video footage had to be put in but we did manage to change things.

"It is not about me, it is about the girls"

Sportskeeda: Are you looking forward to the girls doing well in the World Cup and the Asian Games, so you can retain your credibility as a successful coach?

Sjoerd Marijne: It is not about me. It is about the girls. They train 6 days a week without meeting their brothers or sisters. All credit to the girls for putting in a massive effort in spite of staying far away from their families.

We help them to find the right direction but it is they who perform on the pitch. It is not only Wayne and Eric who helped, it is Sonika Sudan (physiotherapist), Radhika Bhikan (masseur), Prakash -- the video analyst who puts in a lot of effort and CR Kumar (Assistant Coach).

Sportskeeda: When things got difficult with regard to the coach swap, did your friends or family ever advise you to reconsider returning to India? Did you reconsider it yourself?

Sjoerd Marijne: The life of a coach is never easy and one struggles with many things. Sometimes, it is a lonely job. The moment it is lonely, I have my family back home and my wife who has also supported me. Without her, I could not have managed this. She is always there to help me through my most difficult moments.

She has never told to leave the job and go back. The moment she sees I am unhappy, however, she will surely ask me to return to Holland.

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Edited by Abhishek Arora
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