Graham Reid played 130 international matches for Australia in his career and won Olympic silver with the Kookaburras in 1992. As a coach, he has led Australia and Netherlands in the past an also had the opportunity to work with the illustrious Ric Charlesworth when the latter was the head coach of the Kookaburras. Australian team before taking over as head coach.
Currently at the Sports Authority of India facility in Bengaluru where the national side is having a training camp, Reid, in an exclusive conversation with Akshay Saraswat of International Business Times, India, discussed a wide variety of issues related to the Indian team and his role with it.
In the first part of the interview, the 54-year old talks about his background, his decision to join the Indian side, the commonalities and difference in the hockey cultures of India and Australia and the current status of the Indian team.
You have worked with legendary Australian coach Ric Charlesworth in the past. He had been the coach of the Indian team as well. Did you talk to him before joining the Indian side and get any inputs?
Reid: Yes, I spoke to him after the (2018 Hockey) World Cup and he suggested I apply for the position. He thought it would be good timing for the Indian team. Also, from my point of view, I was really enjoying living in Holland and my wife and son were there as well. But I always saw coaching India as something that was in my future.
The question was the timing of it and when the opportunity came up, I thought it was a really good team and I would love to be involved with them. My passion for seeing India return to the top of the hockey world has been paramount for me.
Australia has been a regular supplier of coaches to the Indian hockey team. But were you worried about the instability regarding the coach's position in the Indian hockey set up?
Reid: Let me address the first part about Australia and India's hockey relations. I think there is a link between India and Australia in hockey and if you look back at history, especially in Western Australia, where hockey is very strong, there was a very strong presence of Anglo-Indians in hockey.
There were a number of those sort of players that had an Anglo-Indian background. So, when we grew up, we were always informed and told about how important India was to the world of hockey. That's why there is always a bit of interaction with Australia. I think the way we play is also very similar. We both love to attack. Trying to get people to defend is always difficult with our teams. It's the same in Australia and India.
Was I worried? You can't afford to be. Otherwise, I wouldn't have taken the job. I just go, "Okay, here I am, I am what I am and we will do what we can do. And I'll try to get this team to be as good as it can be." I try to teach the players that you have to focus on the process and not the outcome. Whether you have the job or not is the outcome, the process is making sure that they can be as good as they can be.
For millennial Indian hockey fans, Australia was a greatly feared side as they always seemed to score heavily against India. Was there something about the Indian team at that time which made them especially vulnerable to the Australians?
Reid: Yes, that mentality was very strong in the Australian team at that time. And it's as much about resilience as anything else. I think you would hear the Dutch team of that time say the same thing. Perhaps not so much the Germans as they and Australia were the two best teams of that time. So, I don't think it was only the Indian team.
I think the mentality that the Australian team had at that period was very much, "Okay, we need to get the next goal and the next goal and the next goal." We didn't sit on our lead, which, for some cultures and some teams, is difficult to understand. Especially, the European football scene is much more about protecting the lead. That was not in our vocabulary.
There has been a clear improvement in the performances of the Indian team in recent years. Which are the areas where you have seen the most improvement and how much has Hockey India League (HIL) been responsible for it?
Reid: It's always difficult to point out the causes and reasons for this improvement. I am sure the Hockey India League had a fair bit to do with it. I think the guys now get a better understanding of what's required to be at the top and there is no easier or better way to learn than having people around you with different mentality or a mentality that is different to your own.
I am not saying it is better, but that it is different. So, Australia had a large contingent of players in the HIL but there were also Germans, Dutch and players from other countries. There were different mentalities and also different coaches. So, all that has helped mould these youngsters into better players and come through with a different mentality in understanding what's required.
Mark Knowles (former Australia captain) had said in an interview, when asked if he would like to see a tournament similar to HIL in Australia, that he would. Now, there is a brand new tournament that is being launched called Hockey One. What do you think about it and would you like some Indian players to take part in it?
Reid: It would be really interesting to see how Hockey One goes. Anything that can generate interest in hockey in the world is a positive step. When I was there, they were trying to generate more interest in the national competition. I was suggesting at the time that Australia should put a couple of teams in HIL when it was going well. Previously, the Australian national competition had an Indian side and a New Zealand side but it was more of the under-21 teams from those nations. So, it can be very interesting to see how it goes.
When you joined the Indian team, did you introduce anything new, perhaps in their style of play or their thinking?
Reid: One of the advantages I have is that my assistant Chris Ciriello (former Australian penalty-corner specialist) started working with the Indian team about a year and a half ago. He was under us for nine or ten years. So, he understands the way I like to play hockey.
The major things that I am starting to do is change the way we press and make it a little more, well, pressing! I like to put pressure on the opposition and the speed of our team lends us to that. I also think that's the best way to defend.
In India, people often complain about hockey not getting as much attention as cricket. But in your country also, despite Australia having been a top team consistently and winning World Cups, the sport hardly gets any attention compared to cricket, rugby, Aussies-rules football or even tennis. Is the hockey fraternity in Australia also concerned about the lack of attention to this sport?
Graham Reid: Look, I don't think it's necessarily a concern. But it's something that we will like to see change and increase the exposure that the game gets, as we would like to do in India also. One of the things, that I think, HIL started to do that. That's been a real positive for the game.
From the Australian point of view, I think they have accepted the fact that that's where we sit. The thing is the changing landscape of hockey. The world is changing and that's part of the thing that sports has to do – work out what is your niche. We have been talking for a long time about hockey getting a wide appeal. To be honest, in India, I think, compared to Australia, the appeal of the game to the public is much higher.
You said that you and your family were enjoying your time in Netherlands. What about India? Have you bought your family over here as well?
Reid: My wife arrives next Wednesday. My son is staying in Holland because he is studying there and will be finishing off his studies there. So, it would just be my wife and myself. She is really looking forward to it. She has a job in an online business. So, she is able to do that wherever we are. That's a nice positive thing.