Sjoerd Marijne has an unenviable task on his hands. His side suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the Women’s Hockey World Cup earlier this month to Ireland in the penalty shootouts. To make matters worse, the team had barely 15 days to recover physically and mentally from the loss and play at the Asian Games in Jakarta/Palembang, where a gold medal also assures a spot at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Ahead of the women’s team’s departure for Indonesia, Firstpost caught up with the Dutchman in Bengaluru on the sidelines of the national team’s short training camp to discuss the World Cup defeat, their preparation for Asian Games and the team’s psyche.
India are currently ninth in the rankings — their best ever rank — and made it to quarters of the World Cup for the first time in four decades. What have you done right in your second stint?
I think it has to be fitness. The players' fitness has improved. Wayne Lombard, the Scientific Advisor, is doing a really good job with the girls, so that we can match the level of the other countries. The other thing is the mindset: it's all about self-confidence and belief. Our psychologist too has done really well. Our defensive structure also has helped us to make improvements. The girls are really disciplined, and that has helped us. We have not scored that much, but we have created chances, that is why we have done really well recently.
What were the biggest takeaways from the World Cup?
What went really well at the World Cup was the defending. If you look at the stats, we were the best defensive team. But we can create more, and finish more. And this will be important at the Asian Games that we create more opportunities and execute them. That is the most important lesson for us.
Has the frequency of penalty shootout training increased after the World Cup defeat to Ireland?
No, ever since I became coach, we have been doing it (training for shootouts) three times a week. The girls won at the Asia Cup through a shootout, so it's not as if our shootout skills are not good. You have to learn from what happened. We need to ask ourselves ‘Why did we lose?’, ‘where can we improve?’ You can only change the future. That's what we are training for now.
What did you do or say to the players to help them move on from the defeat at the World Cup?
If you lose, you can change that. You can't change the past, but you can change the future. That's the most important thing I told the girls. I told them that they should be proud of themselves, even if it at the moment it doesn't feel like that, since they lost in a shootout to Ireland, who we could have beaten. The players have to change their mind. We have a big tournament coming up. They're professionals, I'm sure they will.
Did the players need extra sessions with the team psychologist after the World Cup defeat?
No. We need to learn from our mistakes. Those things will not happen again. Otherwise, the loss will have been for nothing. We look at the whole process with the shootout, what was going on in their heads. Did they feel pressure? Those kind of things we talked about. We do the same in the group psychological sessions. This will ensure that if we are in the same situation at the Asian Games, the same mistakes will not happen again. It's not just because of the World Cup, we do two or three psychology sessions a week.
Did the players feel pressure against Ireland?
The players didn't feel tense. The game was difficult because the Irish played really defensively. It was difficult to create chances.
You views on the Asian Games coming on the heels of a draining World Cup campaign…
The most important thing is that we leave the World Cup behind us. We were happy to have made it to the quarters, but disappointed that we lost to Ireland. Our disappointment at losing in the shootouts is really big. That's the first thing we worked on. We're now fine. We don't have much time as we have hardly any training sessions before the Asiad. All the players of the team are not here at the moment as some are attending pre-Asian Games functions. At this moment, our players are focussing a lot on recovery. Our players have had to travel a lot over the last few days which doesn't help with recovery. But the moment we reach Jakarta, the feeling to compete will be there. We will be ready for the Asian Games.
How do you make sure players peak at the right time for a tournament?
I believe a lot in the mental side of the game. We need to be fresh for the Asian Games. That's why we're emphasising so much on recovery. We're always focussing on ourselves.
Which teams will pose the biggest threat to India at the Asian Games?
China, Japan and South Korea. When it comes to rankings, we're all close to each other. Really close. We cannot say that just because we are World No 9, we're the big favourites. The matches will depend on really small things. That’s why we're not busy with teams like China or Korea or Japan. We're focussing on ourselves, and our process.
Difference between Indian hockey players and players from other teams…
The way they are trained in the past is different than the country where I come from. We're trained more tactically, while here they train more technically. Sometimes, for me it's difficult to understand why they take certain decisions and then CR Kumar (assistant coach/team manager) tells me that's the way they learnt at the academy. That helps me understand their choices better. It's very much improved now and looks a lot like the way I want the team to play. You can see that in our defence. A lot of our players understand my ways. But sometimes, to be sure, I ask CR Kumar (assistant coach/team manager) to translate. To unlearn what they have learnt growing up is really difficult. But I try to show them that there are other ways. Take for example, how India players like to run with the ball. That's good also at times, so I don't want to remove that. But you have to know when you can do it. Wait for the right moment. Look at Netherlands, they're the world champions now. They only play give-and-go. Pass, pass, pass. We can add that more in our play. Then our skills will really have a big advantage.
Updated Date: Aug 19, 2018 14:20:52 IST