What was good and what was not so good about it?
Shiv Jagday FIH Coach
There is so much to write about this topic -- Asian style hockey and European style coaching -- and I don?t know from where to start and where to finish. One can write a thesis on this cross pollination marriage, topic.
Taking one baby step at a time, I will put my inner thoughts and views in this article, and share them with you.
There is more than one way to do things. When one does it, in a certain ? European, Oceanic or Asian way - this does not mean that their way or the other person?s way is right or wrong. It is simply different. What is important, is that it works. Respect each others way of doing things, while enjoying and honoring the difference!
I have written this article with utmost respect to my fellow European, Oceanic coaches and Asian hockey Gurus.
I was born in India and learnt the art of playing hockey there by observing and imitating the great hockey players of the 60?s from India and in the 70?s from Pakistan. In 1977, I moved to Canada and learnt the science of hockey by upgrading my scientific knowledge, and observing European hockey and learning the secrets of their philosophy and success by attending the FIH coaching seminars from 1981 onwards. Needless to add, these FIH seminars were an opportunity to exchange views and generate innovative ideas.
It is no secret that the Asian style of hockey - Indian and Pakistani - dominated the world hockey scene till 1984. The era when Pakistan were the defending champions of the 1978 Buenos Aires and 1982 Bombay World Cups and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. There were peaks and valleys for Pakistan, for the next 10 years. They finished 11th at the 1986 London world Cup and quickly bounced back like winners, winning the silver and gold medals at the 1990 Lahore and 1994 Sydney world Cups, respectively. After this their journey went down hill, initiating a slippery slope.
For India, my birth place, their slippery slope journey begun during the 1986 London World Cup where they finished at the bottom of the ladder at the 12th position. They have been struggling ever since and have had difficulty making the top 4 in the Olympics and the World Cup since 1980. My lord, twenty four years is a very long time. It is such a shame considering a nation which is and has been loaded with so much talent, has not been able to put it together for a winning formula. This is strange, very strange, indeed.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
To be perfectly honest, the administrators and coaches of these Federations from the late 80? are responsible, as they are the ones who started panicking, and could not figure out what had to be done and adjust to the rapidly changing game and cope with the vastly fast improving opponents from Australia, Holland and Germany.
It is not what their opponents did to them that hurt so badly, but rather, it is what they did to themselves that hurt them the most. This psychological self torture has affected their belief system as a hockey playing nation.
India and Pakistan?s staying rigid for too long and not being flexible to the changing game is also a major factor for their decline and downfall.
One of the highest hurdles these teams will need to recover from will be their Self Belief System. Their ability to genuinely say to themselves, ?We can - and will - do it!? Repairing the psychology of their athletes is likely going to be the toughest challenge for their coaches in the near future to make. They need to be able to visualize and believe that they deserve to win and that they belong in the top echelon of world hockey. There is not even an ounce of doubt in my mind that they cannot bounce back. They can and will, when they make positive changes.
Further more, it is damaging when the German born Indian team?s Olympic coach, Gerhard Rach says, ?It will take a long time before Asia are champions again?. It is a negative comment that affects moral and the overall team belief system.
?Winners expect to win in advance. Life is a self full filing prophecy and you get what you expect. Expect the best?.
WHAT WAS NEEDED WAS MINOR ADJUSTMENTS.
Asians (Pakistan to a lesser extent and India to a much higher extent), had to just make minor adjustments in specific areas during the past 20 years, to be at the top. Put it this way, their beautiful Jaguar car had only a flat tire, but instead of changing the flat tire, they opened the main engine and did not know how to reassemble it and fix it. What a tragedy! The beautiful Jaguar has major engine problems as a result.
A STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
To start with, one of the biggest blunders the Asians have made is that they stopped playing their style of hockey that had given them so much success in the past, and have started replicating the Europeans. This has landed them in the middle of the road - in the laps of the hungry lions (Europeans) - and now not knowing what to do and where to go. A confusing time for the Indian and Pakistani hockey nations as they do not completely understand the philosophy and the concepts of the European hockey and have forgotten or floated away from their Asian style of play, which has rewarded them with great success over the years. This was a step in the wrong direction.
It?s not always easy to tell whether a new idea is ?smart stupid? or ?stupid stupid.?
Gary Hamel and Gary Getz. ?Strategos? an international consulting company.
ASIAN STYLE OF PLAY
The Asian style of play is very different than the European style of play. They are poles apart, like their culture, religion, life style and mentality. This does not mean that one cannot use the management techniques, ideas, concepts, and tactics of the European style, and absorb them into the Asian style, without sacrificing the Asian heritage. The fusion of both, with the right balance can bring the winning combination. Asians should identify their strengths and weakness, and see how they can mold European strengths, to incorporate them in the Asian system and style of play.
Some immediate concepts which come to my mind are, running off the ball, moving the ball in the back, goalkeeping and penalty corner strategies. Europeans are the masters of this. The Asians should certainly take these chapters from the Europeans coaching playbook.
DIDN?T THE ASIANS DO SO, BY HIRING THE DUTCH AND GERMAN COACHING STAFF?
Yes they did. The timing was not optimum, especially in the case of India. Coach Roelant Oltmans did wonders with his Pakistan team, in this short time.
It should be noted that there were also certain concepts and tactics, that were hard for the Pakistani athletes to understand and execute, under pressure in the match situations.
First the positive things, Coach Oltmans did with the Pakistani players that are worth mentioning.
1. The moment the PHF announced that this world class Dutch coach was the new CEO of the green shirts, there was a big jump in the level of confidence and the expectations of this currently confused crop of players and in some innocent and ignorant members, of the management. The highly raised expectations brought in a new level of positive pressure. Now the show started.
2. First and foremost task the coach did was made the athletes realize how skillful and talented they were, and how great they can be, convincing them that sky was the limit. My sources have informed me that Coach Oltmans gave his players a symbolic ring to keep with them at all times to emphasizing and reinforce how great they are ? certainly positive reinforcement. He played creative mind games to boost their confidence.
3. Coach Oltmans brought self-discipline and structure to the Pakistani team.
4. Showed the Pakistani?s the value of work ethic and how to play as a team.
5. Developed a solid team defense. (Although there are instances that the team did get lost occasionally in attempting to execute certain defensive concepts).
6. Developed solid offensive and defensive penalty corner batteries.
7. Improved the team?s overall fitness level.
8. Strong goalkeeping. (As they learned from the experience and expertise of Ronald Jansen).
9. Coach Oltman?s introduced scientific training methods, which the Pakistani athletes were not familiar with.
10. Provided complete video analysis, with solid game plans.
11. Coach Oltman?s won his player?s hearts and minds. He earned the complete love and respect of the whole team. This is a big achievement for a foreign coach in a country like Pakistan.
12. Coach Oltmans was firm, fair, and Courageous!
13. He made some bold decisions. They may have been controversial and in some cases may have hurt the team. (For example, dropping Muhammad Saqlain just before the Olympics).
In the end, he did it his way. As Frank Sinatra?s sings, ?I did it MY WAY??
WHERE DID THE EUROPEAN MANTRA GO WRONG?
The tactical blunder Coach Oltmans and the German Indian coach, Gerhard Rauh made was that they tried to change the whole style of play, and impose the European style of play and system, on the Asians. Instead of changing the tire ? It was too much, too soon. In my humble opinion, the European style does not and will not suit the nimble footed Asians. Of course there are various adjustments that could be made, where incorporating the European tactics in the Asian style of play could prove successful.
A PERFECT CROSS POLLINATION MARRIAGE
A golden example is how the Australian men and women national teams have done so ? cross pollinating the European tactics and Asian skills, gracefully. And their records over the last 24 years speak for it self. This proves that cross pollination marriage can work.
Just for the records. The Anglo Indians who immigrated to Perth, WA in the 50?s had a profound impact upon the Australian style of play. As Richard Charlesworth quotes in his book, The Coach, ?Merv Adam, the man who helped us believe we could beat India and Pakistan in the 70?s. Perhaps the most influential figure in my sporting development?. Isn?t this a very sweet compliment from this, doctor cum politician cum winning coach and author!
Balkishan Singh, the famous Indian coach who visited Australia in the 60?s to give seminars and coaching sessions, across this beautiful land down under, in the days when FIH did not have many organized coaching seminars, also sprinkled the Australian hockey system with the Indian skills and philosophy.
The point I am trying to make is ? did the Australians change their whole style of play? The answer is a big ?NO?.
Instead, they took the very best from the Europeans and the Asians and blended it nicely to suit their needs. They hammered the right balance. The Aussie way!
To further elaborate my point, here is an example.
WAS IT TOO MUCH TOO SOON?
With all due respect to this highly successful Dutch coach, he tried to change too much too soon. His European philosophy that one size fits all was not suited to the talented Pakistani players. In other words, European players can play on various positions, on the field. They are Jack of all trades and master of all - in some cases none. The Asian philosophy is mastering one position and being the very best at it.
Can an Olympic gold medal winning 100 meters sprinter be a middle distance gold medal winning runner? Of course the answer in majority of instances is ?No?. And, only yes, if the bar is lowered. And this is the price Modern world hockey is paying. Our world hockey standard from the creative and imaginative point of view has declined. And so has Pakistan?s and India?s.
Coming back to my point, Waseem Ahmed was shifted from his original left half position, to the left inner position or fourth half. This skillful halfback has played his entire international career, as a left half, coming on the international scene right after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
In Asian philosophy each position has a specific role and a style to play it and there are various specific skills to be mastered to play that position, effectively. I am not saying that the Europeans don?t have a specific role for their position to play. I also understand that Captain Mohammad Nadeem played in the center half position, earlier this year in the 2004 Aslan Shah tournament, Malaysia, where as his traditional position is playing as RW, LW or L.I.
Dhanraj Pillay did also comment about these shifting positions and how it unbalanced the Indian team?s performance and effectiveness. He had a point, but his timing, after India?s loss to Australia, during the Olympics was inappropriate.
The players should be thoughtful of criticizing the Coach openly in the Press. Why not request for a 1 on 1 meeting with the coach and communicate in a respectful manner.
A drop of honey catches more flies than a hogshead of vinegar. German Proverb.
ARE THE ASIANS DISCARDING THE ASIAN PHILOSOPHY?
Yes, they are. And this is a big mistake.
Here is what the Great Russian ice hockey coach Vladimar Yurzinov, had to say, when he left the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ?The major reason for the success of the Czech team is that they preserved the features that characterize their ice hockey. I can say the same for the Finns. If you maintain your traditions, it allows you to maintain your identity. That?s important. We are not supposed to pray to one god.?
Czech and Finns won the 1998 Nagano Olympic games gold and bronze medals, respectively.
My message is ?Asians should not underestimate their Asian philosophy, it is very powerful, and so is the European and Oceanic philosophy. Asian philosophy has become weakened, because the Asian coaches have sharply shifted away from it, rather than making optimum adjustments. This is an unwise move.
One can compare Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian Left half back to Waseem Ahmed. Did the coaches of Roberto Carlos change his position? He has 1 World cup gold and silver medal in his pocket to brag about from the last 2 world cups. And he still plays as a Left half back for Brazil and his famous Spanish soccer club. In the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign, there was a spell where Roberto was asked to play a different position which resulted in ?the lowest point in his career? as Roberto put it.
MY FEARS AND PREDICTIONS.
In January 2004, I was discussing the appointment of the Dutch coaching staff with the younger brothers of Pakistan Olympic hockey players Tariq Imran and Muhammad Usman, (member of the Pakistan 1994 world cup winning team) who are residing in San Francisco, CA, USA. They were explaining how the Dutch coaching staff has brought changes in the team, by changing positions. I mentioned to them that this process of changing positions will hurt the Pakistan team and the hockey Guru Oltmans, in the big games, as the Asian players are not used to it. This is a big mistake. They did not agree with me at that time.
On August 21, 2004, Liaqui Imran ? younger brother of Tariq Imran - called me, the day when Pakistan missed the boat for the semi finals, by loosing to Spain badly 4-0. He now, understood my point and agreed. Further, I added that Pakistan forwards / team are like a horse who loves to run - we sure have to stop them running like wild horses with the ball - but still teach them to run fast with and without the ball, depending upon the given game situation. This is their natural talent. Educate them to not overdo it and allow the ball to do the hard work for them. And success will kiss their feet.
In a way, Coach Oltmans tried to control the wild horses too tightly ? A lion in a cage is no more a lion - and stifled them, rather than nurture them. One can see whenever Pakistani team and forwards were let loose or got loose themselves they shined and outplayed the opponents. The second field goal Pakistan scored against Korea in the Athens Olympic pool match is a good example. Every move was done on the run, with flair and fluidity.
By the way the Australian forwards / team did exactly this ? playing attacking hockey with flair - and bagged themselves an Olympic gold medal for the first time. Didn?t they out run the Dutch in the finals by playing fluid attacking style of hockey?
Please say, YES.
LET THE RECENT PAST AND STATISTICS GUIDE US
Let?s ask ourselves this question, when did Pakistan generate more penalty corners and field goal scoring chances, in the Athens Olympics or in the past? I understand that they could not generate even one penalty corner against Spain, in the Madrid Olympic qualifier and manufactured very minimal penalty corners in the Athens 2004 Olympic pool match.
In Coach Oltmans defense, he did not have the luxury to have the players, of the caliber of Manzoor Junior or Shabaaz Ahmed playing for him. His current talent pool is not as skillful as of the past.
Even Hasan Sardar, the goal scoring machine - the dashing center forward of the Pakistan?s 1982 Bombay World cup and 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games gold medal winning team - acknowledged this naked fact after the Athens Olympics by saying,? In the past we had very talented players in the team, but unfortunately it is lacking now?.
?A general ? coach - is just as good or just as bad as the troops under his command make him?
Douglas MacArther. The great American Army General.
OVERLAPPING AND INTERCHANGING POSITIONS
I am in all favor of players being versatile and being able to play at more than one position and also be capable of overlapping and interchanging positions during the run of play. This can be a very effective and deadly strategy. It is an advanced concept but one that can be easily learnt. As we also know, that one has to learn first to walk before he can run.
This highly advanced concept is not introduced in the Asian coaching system at a junior level or for that matter even at the senior national level. It is hard for the players to understand it and employ it, if they have not learned it, when they were young.
Bend the willow while it is young. Italian Proverb.
This is a different story that Pargat Singh, the Indian Right Full back 1985 ? 1996, loved to overlap and attack. A classic example is, during the 1987, Perth Champions trophy, he overlapped and scored 4 field goals to tie the match with Germany, who were leading 5-1 with 5-7 minutes remaining. I wonder, did the German defense under the leadership of Carsten Fischer go to sleep? Hare and the tortoise!
THE THINGS WHICH WERE CHANGED AND DID NOT HELP THE ASIANS
1. There was a little bit too much structure introduced in their play, this way flair and fluidity was snatched from their play.
2. The deep defenders did not deploy their newly learned indoor tackling at the appropriate moment; a skill that is not effective in the open spaces.
3. There was a big communication and culture gap between the coach and the athletes. This neither helped.
4. Motivation was not so easy, when it had to be done through an interpreter. In the Olympic pool match between Pakistan and Spain, Pakistan suffered their heaviest defeat ever by loosing 4-0.
5. As I have mentioned earlier that changing the style of play was a step in the wrong direction.
MORE IS NOT ALWAYS GOOD ? A SHINING EXAMPLE
In May 2004 Muhammad Usman, Member of the Pakistani 1994 Sydney World Cup winning team, was visiting San Francisco, USA, to meet his two younger brothers. We had an opportunity to sit down and talk about the current Pakistani team situation, with the Dutch coaching staff. I expressed him my views and concerns regarding the induction of the European style of play and changing the player positions, on the field.
I further inquired how many changes did Hans Jorritsma - the famous Dutch coach, and the only one who has guided two different national teams to win world cups back to back, made when he coached the Pakistan team in the 1994 World Cup? According to Usman, Coach Jorritsma did not make any major changes in the positions, and did not disturb the team structure and style of play. He did lot of video analysis work on the opponent teams and used this information in designing effective game plans.
Moreover, going in to the world cup final match against Netherlands, the Pakistani team was fully aware of each and every option the Dutch had on their penalty corner battery. Further, he disclosed that, when certain Dutch players positioned themselves in a certain specific position, they exactly knew, what penalty corner option was going to be employed. This valuable piece of information was a big help and one of the key reasons for their winning the 1994 World cup.
One has to do their home work and pay the price of success in advance.
PRAYER OF SERENITY
?God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference?.
Asians have not kept themselves abreast with the modern trends and technology, this has also been a key factor to hold them back. How can a team like India go into the Athens Olympic Games expecting to win a medal and not have a video analysis program? Even, university field hockey teams, in USA have this advanced match analysis program.
The FIH President, Els Van Breda Vriesman, when being interviewed by an Asian journalist during the Olympics, made a fair comment, ?You have got to have video analysts and specialists coaches working for years with the same players and then expect good results.? Truth hurts, at the same time one can?t argue with this. It is so true.
WHY ARE ASIANS LATE IN ADOPTING MODERN TRENDS AND TACTICS?
It is very hard for me to understand this. It is mind boggling. Asian teams did not start employing the tactic of moving the ball in the back, till the late 90?s, where as, Germany and Holland were employing this tactic from the early 80?s. Of course they replicated what they had learned from European soccer.
For example, Germany employed this tactic during the 1982 junior world cup, Kuala Lumpur and comfortably won it. In other words Asian teams did not play indirect hockey, they only played direct hockey, attack attack and more attack, their opponents were aware of their strengths and weakness, they designed their game plans accordingly. They defended for most of the game and frustrated the Asians and than caught them on counter attack goals. Penalty corner is and has been always European team?s deadly weapon. .
WHAT TO TAKE AND WHAT NOT TO TAKE FROM THE EUROPEANS.
There are some strong points in the European hockey which the Asians can learn and use them for their advantage. They are as following.
1. Moving the ball in the back.
2. Running off the ball, individually and as a team.
3. Out of D free hits and deflections. Especially the decoy runs.
4. Penalty corner variations, offensive and defensive.
5. Self Discipline, Self Responsibility, Believe system and Organization skills.
6. Goalkeeping. They must hire a full time European goal keeping coach.
7. Long term planning. They must hunt for an Asian NRI with a MBA degree, residing in USA to provide this vital tool.
8. Physical fitness, Periodization and Peaking for the major competitions.
1. Playing flat footed hockey on the heals. Play on the toes.
2. Overprotecting / shielding the ball.
3. Indoor style tackling.
4. Playing static hockey and not being fluid in the play.
1. Keep working on your strengths and improve upon the weakness.
2. Be selective and know when to attack and when to defend, as a team.
3. Above all, listen to your former great Gurus of hockey, Brigadiar Atif, Zakaudin, Islahuddin, Shenaz Sheik and Balkishan Singh to just name a few. They have lot to offer and blend their traditional wisdom with the modern tactics.
Once again , allow me to repeat this statement, by the Great Russian ice hockey coach Vladimar Yurzinov, when he left the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ?The major reason for the success of the Czech team is that they preserved the features that characterize their ice hockey. I can say the same for the Finns. If you maintain your traditions, it allows you to maintain your identity. That?s important. We are not supposed to pray to one god.?
General George Patton, an American commanding general in the Second World War, stated, ?We must always know exactly what we know and what we do not know ? and never get the two confused.?
This says it all?
Everyone wants to see the Asian teams in the top four, as they bring a unique entertaining style of hockey to the world. They are to hockey what Brazil is to soccer. At this moment Aussies have the right to be named the Brazilians of field hockey.
I also know that how happy and proud the Aussies are, when they are compared to the Brazilians. And by the way, both have yellow golden uniforms to match their gold medals.
Everyone loves a winner and at this moment both these teams ?Australia and Brazil - are the darlings of world sport. If not, at least mine.
Your opinion counts.
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