'Tech-savvy boys are the sum of all the coaches they have had' says Graham Reid as Indian men's hockey team prepares for a gruelling 2020
The past year has been relatively serene, tranquil, and steady for Indian hockey as compared to a tumultuous 2018 that witnessed some dizzying highs and tragic lows.
As the elite of the hockey world trotted across continents and engaged in some classic Pro League duels, the Indians played the Azlan Shah Cup and were kept busy in preparatory camps and tours before winning the FIH Series Finals and Olympic qualifiers as a result of which the eight-time gold medalists have earned a place in Tokyo 2020.
Conspicuous by its absence was the high drama of the Champions Trophy, the Asian Games, and the World Cup, but Indian fans can now look forward to more than half a year of exciting, high-quality hockey as Manpreet Singh and co. will be part of the second edition of the Pro League before they begin their Olympic quest.
Never before have the Olympic Games been preceded by a gruelling six-month-long competition - and, the man who has the unenviable task of guiding the Indians in both vital events views the unique challenges of the Pro League as an opportunity to perform under great pressure.
I like the fact that if a match ends in a draw, it goes to shootouts, and I think those sort of things are really important. From the point of view of trying to win every game, we always go out to win but probably more important is playing at our best every single time we go out there.
Graham Reid is the chosen one ahead of what could possibly be a momentous year for Indian hockey.
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, the veteran coach from Australia shares his vision for 2020, opines that the quarterfinal and crossover format now in place for the Olympics nullifies the perceived advantage of being in an easy pool, and reveals what has surprised him the most about the Indian camp thus far.
"Olympic pools are reflective of the state of world hockey today"
For Tokyo 2020, the Indian men have been pooled alongside Australia, Argentina, Spain, New Zealand, and Japan while Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, and South Africa make up Pool B.
Reid is emphatic that both pools are equally formidable - which is reflective of the state of world hockey at the moment.
Both pools of the Olympics are equally difficult - that is also fairly reflective of world hockey at the moment and I think that its positive for the game.
As far as easy and difficult pools, it is perhaps not as important as it used to be because you have a crossover or a quarterfinal, and so, if you are in a supposedly easy pool, you end up having a crossover with a team in a difficult pool.
Australia - arguably, the most accomplished team in the modern era have managed to win just a single Olympic gold - and Reid who was part of the Aussie team that won silver in Barcelona 1992 stresses on the fact that the level of competition at the Olympics is one of a kind.
I have said it before - and I say it again - the Olympic Games are very difficult to win. Every team in the world, whether you're the first in the world or twentieth in the world, everyone is pointing towards the Olympics.
"My mantra is to control the controllable - we cannot control the Pro League"
For the Indians, of course, the enormity of the task on hand is amplified considering the fact that they were not part of the inaugural edition of the Pro League.
Reid is pragmatic enough to accept the fact that his team will need to raise their game but prefers to focus on the pros and not the cons of the League.
Yes, it will definitely be difficult for us as we didn't play last season, and so it is important that we, as quickly as possible, get up to the level of the competition that is the Pro League, because that is the level that we will need to be at for the Olympic Games.
One of my mantras is 'control the controllables' and we can't control the Pro League - it is what it is. You can always debate whether it is the best thing or not, but for me, it will the best thing because it is a good opportunity for us to practise and prove our consistency and that is what, I think, is really good about the Pro League."
Also, a lot of the teams that we will be playing in the Pro League are ones that we will meet in the Olympic Games as well.
Coaches may well be faced with a dilemma of sorts about whether or not to hold back a bit in the Pro League to save the best for the Olympic Games - but Reid opines that the pressure situations in the League will help steel up his boys ahead of the Tokyo extravaganza.
For me, you have to learn to win - you have to be given the opportunities to play under any sort of pressure, and in finals situations - for me, that is always very good to practise.
Consistency continues to be the keyword for the Indian think-tank and the Pro League presents an opportunity to test the waters before landing in Tokyo.
As I said, consistency is my objective for the next seven months - consistently getting better, consistently performing at the best level that we can and that is what I do love about this Pro League competition.
It gives us a chance to see where we are at and try to put one good performance after another.
"Looking to build on the last few years"
Reid, who began his India stint with the tour Down Under in May says he was pleasantly surprised at how professional and tech-savvy the Indian boys are - and credits the former coaches for the same.
One of the things that I have been pleasantly surprised with is how tech-savvy the boys are because of the quality of coaches they have had over the last number of years. They review videos, they have their iPads and they are a sum of all the previous coaches that they have had.
So, it is a very professional environment, and so I am really looking forward to just build on those last few years and get as much improvement as we can. It's about taking stock of where we are with our skills and getting a plan in place for each of the players to get better.
The 2020 edition of the Pro League begins at the Kalinga Stadium with hosts India taking on the Netherlands on January 18 and 19.
Published 05 Dec 2019, 13:30 IST