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What should be built first: state of the art facilities or quality coach education programs? 

This article throws light upon what should be built first and why.


FIH Men's Hero Hockey Champions Trophy 2016 - Day Four

Press Statements:

June 24, 2017 “CM inaugurates an international-standard hockey artificial turf at a Delhi government school in Ghumanhera village”.

August 3, 2017 “No proper hockey turf for Uttar Pradesh’s budding players”

When I read these types of statements from India – my birthplace - a land of plenty of hockey and unlimited inherent hockey talent. It shows how the top sports executives and sportsmen, look at the things and think.

The naked fact is that the budding stars, who train on these world class facilities, hardly ever reach their true potential, due to talent mismanagement and below average coaching imparted. Especially, during their pre to early teens, which is the most important stage for an elite player’s development. On the other hand truckloads of money has been and is being invested in these facilities. You be the judge, what should come first on the priority list?

The key question

What is more important and needed first? Quality coaching and scientific training methods or State of the Art facilities?

One must be crystal clear regarding, what is needed and what one wants, in a given situation. Should one follow their heart or head, in making vital decisions? When we peep into the past, the majority of the decisions regarding hockey matters in India, are made more from the heart (emotional) rather than from the head (rational). And this way we put the cart before the horse.

Who says world class facilities are not needed?

I would like to make this absolutely clear, that world class training facilities and Astro turf fields are definitely needed. This is obvious. They are a must. But even more important, before investing in them are the following, if they are not in place.

Where Hockey India is concerned, I believe they are not present in a very well organized and developed way.

Coach Education

 It is a must to have highly educated coaches, who have been trained and exposed to the latest scientific training methods, tactics and techniques, which are implemented by the top world teams. This way quality coaching is imparted to the budding stars, which sadly is missing in Hockey India’s Elite Player’s Development Pathway.                                                                                                             

Solution: we know, that the National Institute of Sports, India, (NIS) has an intensive coaching course, for hockey and other sports. Although its syllabus needs to be revised and upgraded, to meet the current coaching demands. Not every coach involved at a junior level can attend NIS, due to their own circumstances and constraints.

There should be mini refresher courses offered for theses coaches, on the following topics;

1.    How to develop a young hockey player step by step?

2.    What exactly should be taught at the various stages of their development?

3.    How do you teach the correct technique of executing the basic technical and tactical skills, in a progressive way?

4.    How do you? design and conduct an effective practice session, while having goals and action plans, for daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly and 4 year goals and vision?

5.    What the new research suggests, in regard to developing creative hockey players?

6.    Should the skills be taught in isolation or in the context of the game?

National Coaches Seminar

World class coaches should be invited as guest speakers, while giving talks on the topics covering the technical, tactical, physical and Psychological aspects of the game. I don’t believe, it is being done currently on a regular or yearly basis.

Having an annual national coaches seminar - once a year, will go a long way in bringing awareness and promoting latest coaching methods. All the state coaches should also be invited to attend these seminars. I believe it will come under the jurisdiction of Sports Authority of India or Hockey India.

Please don’t tell me that Hockey India’s current and former, High Performance Directors - namely David John and Roelant Oltmans are developing coaches. They are very busy focusing on the national team programs, which brings its own type of Joy and Stress upon them. On top of this Hockey India believes in the philosophy of “short term gains for long term pains”, which is not a good strategy either.


Audio Visual Aids:

Equip the Indian coaches involved at the junior level in sports academies, with the latest Technology; Lap top, audio visual aids, video camera and a game analysis program. With having one less state of the art facility, in a state and diverting these funds into Coach Education and Audio Visual Aids, will go a long way in raising the standard of hockey.

Just for comparison and awarness, what the country, which wins the most medals at the Olympics - USA does at the school level.                                                            

On August 1, 2017, I received this email;

“Kossover named official video analysis provider of California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and its sections. Further, this six years partnership will provide the school athletic directors, coaches and students at the high school level, the opportunity to realize the many benefits of world class video analytics and statistical analyses.

Personal observations

I would say, there is hardly a high school in California, USA, which has an international standard hockey artificial turf field as good as the one newly laid at the Delhi government school, in Ghumanhera village. 

Mostly school league matches are played on long grass fields. Yes, during the past 5 – 7 years, schools have started installing field turfs, which are much cheaper than the water based AstroTurf, and are used for multi sports - American Football, Baseball and Soccer, and even the ordinary citizen makes the best of it.

Culture of self-responsibility

Foster the coaches, where their mindset is, “I want to learn, improve and coach at my best and not feeling that I have to coach. In other words, embrace the motto of continuous learning and improving and become more self-responsible and self-accountable, this way having an extreme pride in one’s work of developing world class players, with a growth mindset and not a fixed mindset.

Shining Examples

 It is hard to not think of the following coaches, who have influenced Indian hockey at the junior level tremendously over the decades; Gurcharan Singh Bodhi, Sukhvir Singh Grewal, Jude Flilex, CR Kumar and Baldev Singh. Coach Baldev Singh, brought Shabad training center, Haryana onto the world map. This is a hotbed of talent, and where the majority of the Women’s national team players come from.

Stepmotherly treatment

Hockey India has lately developed a mindset where they are giving stepmother’s treatment to some of their own outstanding coaches. On the other hand, in a way, worshipping foreign coaches. In some cases even hiring some foreign coaches, as national coaches, who had a below average hockey knowledge, with a poor or no international coaching track record. Yes, they were let gone, very soon. But why hire them at the first place? One needs to do their homework.

During my annual visits to India, where I have been working closely with Punjab Sports Department and Punjab Institute of Sports (PIS), since 2008. When the seeds of greatness, were sown. Now the bumper crop is being harvested in each Olympic cycle, as there are more than 50% players, on the Indian Senior and Junior national teams, who are the product of PIS, under the leadership of Sukhvir Singh Grewal.

I strongly feel, that PIS can develop more creative hockey players, graduating from their nursery. At the same time developing creative hockey players is an advanced concept, and a process which demands deliberate practice regularly. On top of this young players are more impressed with the Rival’s style of Power Hockey and Tomahawks … More flash than class.

Not so shining example:

Quote: “Grassroots Level is almost non – existent”

“You need to teach at the right level, which is not mistake of the child but the coach. During my stay here, I have seen coaches sitting and sipping chai, while the kids are just left to play by themselves. In terms of equipment for village kids, I procured second-hand sticks and goalkeeper kits from Germany for my players, but it was still better than any other team in the tournaments they played. The grassroots level is almost non-existent and the kids are selected too late. It has to start at the age of 8 to 10,” opined by the HVI founder, Germany’s good will ambassador to India, Andrea Thumshirn.

The lobby to build more State of the Art Facilities:

Quote: With reference to the August 3, 2017 news and photo, “Many government-run hockey academies lack proper facilities, even though the game is played on artificial turf?as trainees at an Uttar Pradesh hostel still practice on grass”. Navneet Singh


Quote: According to Navneet Singh, Here are the comments of RP Singh, Director Sports at UP government, however, feels it isn’t a big issue. “There are three artificial turfs in Lucknow. The players get the best of facilities at the hostel. Moreover, travelling from one venue to another doesn’t take much time.” I completely agree!

“The proposal has been cleared and the work will start soon,” Singh assures.

Singh said adequate modern facilities are being planned for the grassroots level in the state. “We have plans to set up five-a-side turf at Agra. New turf will soon come up in Gorakhpur. The government has also constructed hockey turf in Jhansi and Etawah. There are plans to construct more across the state,” he said.

Kindly THINK of coach education programs also.

Techniques learned by the player in isolation usually do not transfer into effectiveness in match play or games. Why? Because, essentially, the player has to re – learn the skill (almost from scratch) within the ever- changing context of playing the game. As a result, it makes you wonder whether the skill would have been better taught within the game context in the first place in order to minimize transfer time.

Secondly, this approach grossly underestimates the abilities of children (and their neuromuscular systems) to learn highly complex movements quickly if given the correct environment and stimuli.

  • Rick Fenoglio, Sport and exercise researcher at the Manchester Metropolitan University, England.

Comparative Analysis

I would like to share the results of the study done by Rasmus Ankersen, in 2013, who visited the world’s hot beds during a period of 6 months, and documented them in his best seller “The Gold mine effect”

Let’s see what the nations who have consistently dominated the world scene, in a given sport, do differently. Please observe what type of facilities, they have for training. A picture is worth thousand words. Here we go.

Example 1. This is how world class footballers are developed in Brazil

“95% of our top Brazilian players are created on the street corners of the fevelas. (A slum area near the city) 

Pele, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Ronaldo, Zico and all others grew up in poverty playing on the streets every day

Eurico Miranda, President, Vasco da Gama Club

Example 2. This is how world class tennis players are developed in Russia

The two best tennis clubs in Russia are situated in Moscow. All of today’s Russian tennis stars have been through either CSKA or Spartak Tennis clubs. Nine year old Lena Kuznetsova - with a correct stance is -practicing at the CSKA training facilities while workmen are digging a new sewer.

A Player centered approach;  6 Year old Gunda Arzhba, practices her backhand with coach. Spartak Tennis Club, Russia

Example 3. This is how gold medal winning sprinters are developed in Jamaica

Where there is a will there is a way.

Jamaican world champion sprinters are developed on this 400 meters grass track. They could easily say – complain - that we do not have an Olympic size synthetic turf track, so how can we train to be the best in the world? No complains No explains, they just do it.

Example 4. This is where 23 Olympic gold medals winning swimmer Michael Philips trains in USA

At Meadowbrook, a weight room is nothing more than a slab covered by a tent. For pull-ups, swimmers grab a U-shaped pipe and yank themselves off concrete block. Photograph by Patrick Semansky

Numbers don’t lie. Facts before 2013:

·       Every other year since 1993 a Brazilian has been named the world’s footballer

·       Russia has produced 25 % of the players on the world women’s top 40 ranking list

·       Jamaica’s single athletics club has succeeded in producing most of the world’s best sprinters. They won 9 sprint medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics – 5 Gold 

·       South Korea today produces 35 % of the world’s best female golfer

Conclusion

We have seen the comparative analysis of the facilities, from some of the top sporting nations, who have consistently stayed on the top, while developing world Champions. How and on what type of facilities, do they train their world champion athletes? Obviously, not on the best of the best facilities. They clearly understand that quality coaching is the primary variable, which drives the development of elite youth players/teams. And facilities are secondary. One has to prioritize their goals. Have a well thought strategic plan to achieve them, while taking one step at a time, in an organized fashion.

In my opinion, one can get away without the state of the art facilities, but not having well qualified coaches/teachers to impart quality coaching, is not a good idea. The former can be substituted by substandard playing fields, but not the latter.

When one underestimates the power of quality coaching, training and timely feedback given, it surely becomes a recipe for failure or a strategy to develop below average players. Please Think about it.

Coach Shiv, the former Canadian and USA National team coach, learned the art of playing hockey in Punjab, India, imitating the all-time great hockey players, from the Olympic and World cup winning teams – India and Pakistan – in the 60’s and 70’s. He moved to Canada in 1977, and learned the science of hockey and the secrets of success of the European and Oceanic Hockey teams, while attending the FIH coaching seminars and observing the top teams and coaches, closely.

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