In Part 2 of the exclusive conversation with Akshay Saraswat of International Business Times, India, Indian men's hockey team coach Graham Reid talks about the biggest challenges facing the Indian team currently and the plans going ahead towards the 2020 Olympic Games. Reid also talks about the culture of the Indian team and his efforts to bring about a positive change in that.
In the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar, the Indian side was very aggressive but it seemed that they became somewhat vulnerable in defence when there was a counter-attack from the opposition.
Reid: Yes, that's something that we recognise. It's good to be able to attack but you also need to be able to cover the outlets. So, counter-control, counter attack control is something that we are working on at the moment and we will continue working on that in the next couple of months.
We will also try ensuring that our structure is right so that when we attack, we can do so with numbers but also have numbers in defence to be able to handle counter-control. I think it's also about where you attack the circle and sometimes, we were attacking down the middle too much. But again, if your structure is good then you need to be able to do that as well.
Since taking over, have you introduced anything new to the team in the realm of tactics?
Reid: From a tactical point of view, we would be changing a little bit now. We have got three or four weeks of training here. I don't want to go into too much detail as to what those tactics are. But it is certainly going to be about adjusting the press a little bit more so that when we attack, we've also got our defence sorted out. So, hopefully, we can solve those problems. But also, we can play a little bit more higher press.
Culture, as I said, is very important. We are doing a lot of work on our values. How does the Indian culture fit in with high performance culture and coming to terms with that and what that means for us as a group. So, that's what I am really trying to focus on – to get that level of awareness and to get that belief, we have to be on the same page and we have to be working together.
The teams you played in the FIH Series Finals weren't the top sides in the world. Going ahead, when you play stronger opposition like Netherlands or Australia, would your team be able to adjust their style of play since the defence of those sides won't allow as many attacks?
Reid: Yes, of course, we will have to. But having said that, one of the reasons why I like to play a high press is that, the way you get out of it is by increasing your skill level. If you have really, really, really top class skills, then you can get out of the press or, at least, you make it a bit easier to get out of the press.
So, I don't care whether you are Germany or Holland or Australia, you are still vulnerable to having pressure on you and not having the time that they sometimes get when they play each other. We certainly found with the Australian team that, sometimes, we couldn't understand why teams didn't press us as much because no team likes it.
But I think one of the important parts for us next year, moving forward, is qualifying for the Olympics in November and then we get to play in the Pro League. That's a really important step in the next 12 months. What you saw when we went to Australia was that they had been playing at that level for the last few months. So, that's really going to be important for us.
Over the years, different reasons have been proffered for India's decline in international hockey. First, it was our inability to get used to astro turfs, then our obsession with dribbling, then it was said that our team isn't fit enough. None of those reasons are present now. So, what is the missing ingredient keeping India from becoming a top side?
Reid: That's the thing that we as coaches are always trying to find – what that missing ingredient is? To me, it's about trying to incorporate the skills that we currently have and making them better. Things like, as I said earlier, defence. We just finished our defensive camp where we were really focussing on our one-on-one tackling. I think that's an area we can still get better at. That's something, which to me, is really important because we have a natural attacking flair. So, you don't have to teach them too much about attacking. Having said that, I think our goal shooting is the other part that needs improvement. So, those two things are, still to me, to be world class, requiring improvement.
But I think, as you say, when you have scientific things, you can always work on your fitness, you can always work on your skills but the thing that often makes the difference is the culture of the team. So, that's our next area of focus in the coming three or four weeks. We are now starting to work on our culture. Today, we would be putting a bit of final touch on what our culture is going to look like, how we want to be seen by the outside world. Once you get that culture, then you can start to build a belief and that's what I am trying to do.
You have a side where most players are young and there aren't too many senior players. Is that lack of experience causing some problems at times? Would getting someone like Rupinder Pal Singh back into the team going to help?
Reid: Yes, Rupinder came back in and also Ramandeep Singh came back in for the last tour. We still have a really good mix in our training camp group of 33 players. So, for me, one of the advantages that we have in India is that we have this training environment here. To me, that's also been a successful trait of the Australians. To be able to have access to your players longer means that you can work on those sort of things.
So, the inexperienced players can be training with the experienced ones and they share that knowledge that they have. I am still, at the moment, to be honest, trying to work out, you know, that good blend between experience and youth.
At the moment, the Indian team has a young captain in Manpreet Singh. How important is the role of the captain in a hockey side? In cricket, a captain does everything on the field. What about hockey?
Reid: I think it depends on what sort of team you are trying to build. For me, leadership needs to be with everybody. Yes, the captain is important and he provides a fantastic example to all the players. He (Manpreet) has a very nice way of communicating with his players and he is very positive but also hard, which you need.
But, I also think what I am trying to build now is a team that has leadership from within. So, everyone needs to stand up because that's part of the problem. When you are under pressure, when chips are down, everyone needs to play a role and understand that ownership is a big part of the way we want to play. "It's up to me, if it is to be, it's up to me" is a saying which I love.
In cricket, the captains tend to formulate the game plan. With hockey, their on-field leadership is really important. Also trying to extract some leadership skills from the younger players is what we are trying to do.
In hockey, captains generally tend to be mid-fielders who control the game from their position, for instance, Billy Bakker currently or Mark Knowles in the past. Are you happy with the way Manpreet has played that role for India?
Reid: He (Manpreet) has had a lot of hockey in the last year or so. We are trying to work out the best way to keep him fresh. Because that is important, as you know, with any kind of job. You need a freshness about it and I have been really happy with how he's (Manpreet) handling that.
The Olympics next year would be your big goal and your team is also going to play the FIH Pro League in 2020. Will there be some experimentation with the aim of bringing in new players before Tokyo?
Reid: Initially, we have to qualify. In the upcoming tour to Japan, there would be a few faces in the team that I need to see because, as you can imagine, we have a squad of 33 and we've only had two tours so far. So, I need to be able to see all these new guys and how they perform.
Obviously, the team that will be picked for November (Olympic Qualifiers) would be the strongest that we believe could get the job done. With Pro League, what you saw this year is that teams like Holland and Australia were probably the main two that experimented a fair bit. It would be interesting to see what they do next year.
I think, what it does allow us to do is, perhaps, experiment more on the tactical side. For instance, how do we tweak our press? How do we make sure our counter control is right? How do we ensure those sort of things? So, those are the things.
I was involved with the Dutch team during this Pro League. What we found was that, normally in a tournament, you haven't got too much time to change tactics. You go into a tournament and you have a way of play that doesn't change too much. But what you saw in the Pro League is that each week, each fortnight, whenever you next game was, you would be able to change your tactics a little bit more than you would normally do in an international format. So, yes, we would be looking forward to do that.