Indian hockey team in right direction, but need to work on their mental aspect

India hockey team at a practice session at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar 2About a week ago, the Indian hockey team members were celebrating their victory against the mighty Dutch in the FIH Hockey World League Finals which gave them the bronze medal. It was the first medal for the Indian team at a major FIH event after over 30 years and was certainly a reason to celebrate. But there are certain flaws that the team must address if they want to keep winning at big tournaments and leave a mark in Rio Olympics.

The third place playoff match against Holland was a classic example of a student having great potential but not being able to sustain it. Leading 5-3 with approximately 3 minutes to go, the Indian team shockingly allowed two goals to be scored against them, with the last one coming in the dying seconds of the match.

For any fan following Indian hockey, this was not the first time that the team had thrown away a winning opportunity to be on the verge of being the losing side. It has been a routine scenario for the past 10 years. Be it the Sultan Azlan Shah cup or the World Cup qualifiers or any previous FIH tournaments, the Indian Hockey team is notorious for all the wrong reasons in this regard.

Yes, optimists may say that what matters is the end result, which was victory against the Dutch in this case. However, with Olympics hovering around the corner, India can put to rest their hopes of winning an Olympic medal if they continue to let go their chances in the dying moments.

The problem with the team seems more of a mental issue than a physical one. With the upgrade in sports infrastructure, the Indian team is churning out players which are not second to any other country in terms of physical fitness. However, mental conditioning becomes equally important in big tournaments. Keeping one’s focus and concentration levels high even during the ending stages of the match is the most critical aspect, which the Indian team frequently fails to do. Physically the team looks fine, mentally: they seem burned out by the time the match nears its end.

The Indian hockey team certainly needs to work on this aspect. Six different coaches in the span of 11 years have only added to more problems than solutions. However, newly-appointed Paul Van Ass is optimistic of India’s chances at the Rio Olympics. With the right amount of mental conditioning coupled with physical fitness, India can certainly give the Aussies and the Germans a run for their money.

However, like they say, ‘The first victory is always in the head’. Unless the Indian team doesn’t think of themselves as champions, who have the ability to even play for long hours, if needed, mental fatigue will always be a problem. With a champion like attitude, if the team does work on the fallacies it currently needs to address, there is no reason why the team under coach Paul Van Ass cannot reach the heights, the Indian hockey had achieved during the days of Dhyanchand, Balbir Singh Sr, KD Singh Babu and likes.

By Parth Karwa