As Indian team gets ready to take on USA in the two matches of Olympic qualifiers, there is a feeling of cautious optimism in the camp. The coach of the team, Sjoerd Marijne, reflects this sentiment.
In an exclusive interview with International Business Times, India, the Dutchman talks about his coaching philosophy, his view of the team, his assessment of their recent performance and some other issues.
Here is the text of the interview:
What was your first reaction when you heard that USA would be India's opponent in Olympic qualifiers?
Sjoerd: Most important was the reaction of the girls. I was standing at the back watching the girls and they were like, "OK, it's fine." They didn't have one favourite country to play against. If they feel good about it, then, for me, it's good.
Your team played a tournament in Tokyo, in the same ground where Olympics matches would be played. Were you satisfied with their performance in that event?
Sjoerd: In the first match, I was satisfied with the last two quarters. I was not happy against Australia. But in the last two matches, I was very happy. They did very well. We performed consistently and that was the main thing for us.
I think the three countries – Australia, Japan and China – are all very good. I think we played very good hockey. We can create a few more chances but overall, I was very happy with the structure we played.
Was the team good in all three departments – attacking, midfield and defence?
Sjoerd: We are one unit. So, I never talk about one line being good or not. It cannot be that the strikers are one day not good and the midfielders are. They are one, we defend as one team and we attack as one team.
Your team also had a 2-2 draw against Australia. Do you think your side is now ready to take on even top sides of the world?
Sjoerd: Yes, the most important thing for us is that we are not afraid to play anyone. The match against Australia, yes, we played a draw but the team and myself, we were not very happy. Because we knew we could play much, much better.
I think that's the attitude you need. The attitude of always wanting to improve, of not caring whom you are playing against. It's the same now for the qualifiers. We play USA. We are very happy that we finally know, against whom we play. I think that's the most important thing. We can focus on that.
After the qualifiers, do you expect to play more matches against top teams in order to prepare for the Olympics?
Sjoerd: I am a really careful person. First we have to qualify and after that, I can talk about Olympics. For Indian women, it's always important to play against higher-ranked countries. Because you learn a lot from those matches. Yes, I would love to play even more.
You have a great-looking forward line with players such as captain Rani, Lalremsiami, Vandana Katariya, and others. Would you like players in the midfield and forward line to also step up?
Sjoerd: But we don't talk about our forward line or midfield line. It's one group and I am happy with the whole team – how they are performing, how they are improving, how they are open to my coaching, and how, every day, they want to improve themselves.
They are really dedicated athletes. It's really an honour to work with them. And I think that is the most important thing. So, I am happy with the quality of everyone. Of course, in sports, you want things to be better. But that's my role as coach.
Over the years, Indian players, especially men, have been perceived as too keen on running with the ball rather than passing it. Did you find the same problem with the women's team as well?
Sjoerd: No, we don't have that issue. It's about finding the balance between what we are good at and what can we improve. What I mean by that is, the hockey culture of India has been dribbling the ball, from a long time ago. If we completely remove that, we will lose our strength.
But nowadays, passing the ball is important. The speed of the game is very high. But you have to keep an eye and use your strength. So, use the dodge. But you have to do it at the right moment. That's what we are teaching the girls and they do that very well. For instance, if a player is in a one-on-one situation and she has the skills, yes, why not try (dodging).
Have they fully taken your advice on board or is there a habit of holding on to the ball?
Sjoerd: No, they are very disciplined in the structure we give them and they like the fact that there is a really clear plan. The clearer the plan is, the easier it is for them. So, that for me, is always the challenge, that I take the message to them in a good way. So, far that has worked well.
I saw you talking to Graham Reid (coach of Indian men's team) once. Do you discuss team-related issues with him?
Sjoerd: Yes, we often talk. He is a very nice guy. He, of course, coached my former team Netherlands, and he played in the Netherlands as well. So, we have a lot in common. I have been here for a long time, so sometimes, he asks me about what I experienced here. He is a very nice and friendly guy.
Players of the men's team are taking English lessons from Mrs Reid. Would you like members of the women's team also to learn English from her?
Sjoerd: This is not the time for us. We have a really full schedule. She is doing an amazing and terrific job. But for now, our girls, 8-9 of them speak English. They can translate everything that I say. So, that works pretty fine now. But it's always good to improve.
Mr Reid told me that his son brought him Vegemite – a famous sandwich spread in Australia – that he was missing. Is there any food item of Netherlands that you are missing?
Sjoerd: Yes, I miss the bread. But, I like the food here also and I adjust easily. So, for me, there are enough places where I can go to have other food items. There are some good places where you can have steak. I also like that.
Any special dish of India that you have taken a liking to?
Sjoerd: Yes, I like chicken tikka very much. Of course, naan is very good. I like that very much also. Paneer is very good as long as it is green. So, I like a lot of things. You need to adjust in a culture where you are working. That's a nice thing. It's for me, also, something that develops me as a person.