'Very difficult to just create a club culture out of nothing': Graham Reid
India coach Graham Reid on the mood in the team, his own contract and why a redesigned HIL could be a big help.
The last four days have been quite mentally strenuous for the Indian hockey team. The pressure they were under, the painful exit from the World Cup at home, the difficult questions asked of them – it has been tough to take for the Harmanpreet Singh-led outfit.
But the 8-0 hammering of Japan has helped soothe things a bit. The comprehensive victory without conceding a goal against the Asian Games gold medallists on Thursday night upped the confidence, bringing a smile back on the faces of the team that lost to New Zealand in the crossovers on Sunday.
"The first 24 hours after the defeat to New Zealand was tough to get over. It's been a tough three days. There was a mixture of lots of feelings – disappointment and frustration that we've let people down and all those sorts of things. But what I was proud of is that we tried to keep the focus on these next two games. It's only half the job done at the moment,” said India chief coach Graham Reid.
Having won the 9-16 classification playoff, the hosts will now face South Africa in the 9-12 position match in Rourkela on Saturday. If India win they will finish either ninth or 10th. If they lose, 11th or 12th. Twelfth is the worst finish for India at London 1986 when India ended last.
“It's really good that we would put some context on the fact that there’s the Asian Games coming up later in the year and we'll be playing Japan again at that point. So, it was important to perform. But also just for our pride. That was the main topic of discussion – we needed to do it for ourselves.”
There has been a lot of chatter about Reid’s future in the Indian setup after the defeat to New Zealand. The Australian joined the setup in April 2019 with his highlight coming when he guided India to their first Olympic medal in 41 years in Tokyo. But results in tournaments have wavered since then.
"I have signed a contract through to Paris (2024 Olympics). But we'll be reviewing I assume at the end of this (World Cup). But for now, our next game is South Africa. That is what I'm focusing on,” said Reid.
The situation could be a bit tricky if Reid leaves or is asked to with the Asian Games coming in September and the Paris Olympics next year. A new coach coming in so late before important multi-disciplinary events could be risky.
Hockey India (HI) president Dilip Tirkey earlier in the week discussed the possible appointment of a mental conditioning coach for the team. Most top teams around the world have sports psychologists travelling with the teams, aiding the players whenever in need.
“The discussion has come up before. We have access to sports psychologists within SAI (Sports Authority of India) but it's a bit different when they're operating inside your team environment. It's a big thing to have one attached to your team and then have trust within the group. I need to be able to feel trust in the coaching group so it's not a thing that's taken lightly,” said Reid.
“We were making progress on the mental toughness side. But the home World Cup does bring that extra pressure. Sometimes it is difficult to process. I also needed to feel comfortable that we can trust that person and it needs to be the right person. They're sometimes difficult to choose and it needs to be an Indian.”
There has also been a lot of talk about the bench strength of the Indian team, and whether it is good enough to match the best in the world. Top teams like Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany – the four semi-finalists here – have a club culture where players usually play matches against the best in the world and are in shape because of regular matches.
In India, however, there is no club culture with the top players attending national camps for most of the year, playing practice games against each other. When they get time off, they normally play domestic tournaments for their departments whose level is way off the international standards.
“We need a competition that is closer to international competition. We had Hockey India League (HIL) before. That was really good. But it's very difficult to just create a club culture out of nothing. That's the problem. It ends being a hard task whereas something like HIL is perhaps a little bit easier. You have the monetary factors behind all that. I don't think there's anyone who wouldn’t love to see HIL back. Maybe it needs to be designed from scratch,” concluded Reid.