In November 2019, Indian women’s hockey team took on USA in a two-match tie for a spot in the Tokyo Olympics. The first match was won by India with a big margin of 5-1. This meant that USA would have to overturn a 4-goal deficit in the second game to qualify for the Olympics.
At halftime in the second game, the Americans led 4-0, having levelled the collective scores and thrown the contest in balance. In the end, a solitary goal in the second half, by India captain Rani Rampal secured India’s ticket to Tokyo.
The lady who was managing the USA team at the time, Janneke Schopman, soon left USA and joined the Indian team as an assistant to head coach Sjoerd Marijne. The two coaches from Netherlands led India to a historic campaign in the Tokyo Olympics where they reached the semis.
Marijne left the team after the Olympics to give more time to his family. Janneke Schopman took over from him to complete a seamless transition. Now, the Dutch coach has another big challenge in front of her – the FIH Women’s World Cup.
Rani Rampal, who had been India’s captain in the Olympics and for a long time before, missed most of the Pro League with injury. She won’t play in the World Cup also. However, in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda before the World Cup, Janneke Schopman said that a team has to be able to deal with such changes.
“It’s always difficult if you miss a key player, especially someone who has exceptional skills and has done so much, and played so well for India for so long. But I also know that a team needs to move on. We can be sad but you play with the players you have and I am very pleased with our total group of players.”
She also explained how the team’s bench strength has been developed. Janneke Schopman believes that the future bodes well for the Indian women’s team.
“We have a group of 33 that are training very hard and the level of our training in the last couple of months, I am really happy with. They are pushing each other and challenging each other. The difference between the top and the bottom of our group is getting closer and closer. I think that would be integral to future success for Indian team because you can’t just rely on 16 players.”
Janneke Schopman praises efforts of Navneet Kaur and Salima Tete
The absence of Rani also left a big void in the attacking department. However, in Navneet Kaur, India has another very competent forward. Her brilliant dribbling skills have often come to the fore. While delighted with her performance, Janneke Schopman believes she isn’t the only capable forward in the team.
“Navneet is a very, very talented player and I am really happy with her performance. I don’t like to compare players because they all are different, but she has definitely shown her potential. Like I said, she is playing well for the team.
“At the same time, we have other midfielders and other strikers that are also filling in the gaps. I am very happy with the progress of the youngsters. I think Vandana (Kataria) has done well. We have midfielders like Neha (Goyal), Monica, Salima (Tete), Jyoti, Sonika, they all contribute to the team.
“That is what I emphasize to every individual as well. You have to play to your strengths. What can you bring to the team? Yes, Navneet is very good on the ball so I need her on the ball. And I need to make sure that she gets the ball so that she can create attacking opportunities for us. But that goes the same for some of our defensive players, putting them in the best position also so that they can lead our defence.”
Another player who has made a big mark this year is Salima Tete. One of the fastest players on the field, she has shown the ability to slice open the midfield. Schopman had words of praise for her as well.
“I am very happy with Salima’s progress as well. I think she is super talented and like you said, she has a lot of speed. Again, using that speed, that is her strength, and ability to create opportunities for us will be very important.
“At the same time, using it in defence also. Like I said, its every player individually knowing where I am right now, what are my strengths, what can I do to contribute to the team. I think she is doing it really well right now and I hope she can continue doing that.”
Other challenges for Janneke Schopman
One area where no coach can do anything is the difference in the physique of players. Players in the European team are often much bigger in size compared to the Indian side. However, the coach of the Indian team doesn’t think that is an insurmountable barrier to success.
“Yes, when we play the Netherlands, they are probably two feet taller than what we are, on average (laughs). It means they have a little bit more reach defensively. It’s just understanding their strengths and understanding our strength.
“Some of our best defenders are very small. They know how to defend and they have to use their speed and their footwork to make sure that they can make the tackle because there reach might not be as long.
“So, instead of seeing it as a disadvantage, one of the former Dutch defenders used to say that ‘I don’t like playing against small players because they are so handy and they go around my footspace, they are so quick’. Yeah, so we are playing to our strengths and trying to utilise what the other teams don’t like.”
Overall, Janneke Schopman is enjoying the role of the coach. Having taken over from Sjoerd Marijne, she looks forward to more success with the Indian side.
“For me (coaching India), that’s a fascinating journey to be part of. Something I strive for as an individual as well, to work hard to push and challenge myself and others to get the best. And that’s what I think we are trying to do with women’s team right now and we have incredible talent and I am trying to add some other things to that. So yeah, more individual awareness maybe, learning more about yourself, understanding what happens when you are out there on the field, and the ability to make your own decisions.”
With India having drawn their first game against England in the World Cup, the team’s campaign is off to a decent start. Hopefully, there would be more joy in store for Janneke Schopman and her team in the latter stages of the tournament.