In the first of our Coaches Corner series, we meet Harendra Singh, Chief Coach, Indian Women's hockey team, as he takes a break from coaching his side at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.
At time of writing, India has won two of its four pool games, including a 2-1 win over higher ranked England. The Eves need to win their final pool game to make it to the Semi-Finals of the competition.
The Commonwealth Games is one more in a line of competitions that serves as preparation for India’s foray into blue riband hockey.
The team will follow up with the defence of the Asian Champions Trophy in May and a test series against fellow World cup competitors Spain in June.
"Many of them come from difficult backgrounds...They are a determined bunch and have the willingness to achieve great heights in hockey because this is a way of life for them."
Harendra Singh, India Women's Chief Coach
The team qualified for the Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup, London when they won the Asia Cup in 2017.
Chief Coach Harendra Singh knows that the confidence the team will gain from a good showing on Australia’s Gold Coast will prove invaluable in London.
He said: “We have made good progress with mental readiness and physical fitness over the last few months."
He explains that the team has spent two 45-day periods at the Sports Authority of India National Camp in Bengaluru recently, working on both physical and psychological preparation.
“This is being showcased in our performance at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Our aim was to lay a good foundation with intense fitness work so that we can match up to the European and Oceanic Teams at the World Cup. In terms of mental readiness, the girls have gained confidence from recent results and also they can see for themselves that they can hold the speed while playing top teams which is also a factor for improved self-belief.”
Investment is certainly being put into the India women’s team. A scientific adviser, Wayne Lombard, has worked with the coaching team to prepare a road map for the year to ensure the team is fit, injury-free and yet can continue to play with high speed that match top teams of the world.
“We have been provided with the right infrastructure,” says Singh. “Some of the facilities include regular counselling sessions with sports psychologist who uses methods like neuro-tracking and so on to ensure the players are mentally on top of their game. Winning, I would say is one of the key factors to instil self-belief in this team and a win like the one against England (2-1) on Sunday at the Commonwealth Games makes us believe we are on the right track.
“It is extremely important to see where we stand ahead of the World Cup in London as well as the Asian Games soon after. Our performance here will give us an insight into what we need to further improve upon. Also, doing well against some of the higher ranked teams will give us the right momentum and confidence in the lead up to the World Cup.”
While Singh is happy with how his team are performing there are, inevitably, areas for improvement. He highlights man-to-man marking and penalty corner defence as two aspects of the game that will receive attention between now and July. The speed of attack is another area the Head Coach would like to see improved – his team can score goals, they just need to take their shots at goal a little quicker.
When it comes to the Vitality Women’s World Cup, the aim is clear: “First we must make it to the Quarter-Finals, which is a realistic goal. We don't want to think too far ahead but would like to take it match-by-match.”
Singh speaks with justifiable pride about his team:“For me, this Indian team is extremely special because these young women have broken stereotypes, they have faced several odds to make it to this level. Many of them come from difficult backgrounds where women are not allowed to set foot out of their household. They are a determined bunch and have the willingness to achieve great heights in hockey because this is a way of life for them. In their quest to achieve, they will give it all and my job as their coach is to channel this energy into the right direction.”
Tickets for some matches at the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018 are still available and can be purchased .