Hockey India on Tuesday announced the launch of zonal championships at the Sub-Junior (U-16) and Junior (U-19) levels for men and women as part of their new Grassroots Development Program.

The first inter-zonal tournament, featuring teams from the North, South, East and West zones, will begin on March 19, 2023, with at least 30 state teams participating, Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey said in a virtual press conference.

The aim of conducting zonal championships, Tirkey said, is to identify and track the development of players from the under-16 level. Teams in the zonal championships will be coached by a coach’s panel which will consist of coaches who hold a minimum FIH Level 1 Certificate.

“The Zonal Championships will provide young athletes with exposure to the same match conditions as the Hockey India National Championships. Shortlisted athletes identified in the zonal championships will be required to participate in the National Championships, giving them opportunities to further develop their hockey skills,” Tirkey said.

To promote identification of talented athletes, each zone will be equipped with selection committees that will consist of a minimum of three members each.

The former India captain also said that Hockey India will form U17 and U19 men’s and women’s national teams and send them on exposure tours abroad while also setting up an U23 team to act as a feeder team for the senior men’s and women’s national teams.

Post his election as Hockey India president, Tirkey had stated that he will focus on providing better coaching to drag-flickers and goal keepers. On Tuesday, Tirkey said that 10 men’s and women’s goalkeepers and dragflickers will be identified and trained by Indian and foreign coaches.

“We want to grow players in specialized positions such as goalkeepers and drag flickers. A group of ten men and women goalkeepers and drag flickers will be selected initially and trained under Indian as well as foreign coaches,” Tirkey said. The Grassroots Development Committee will identify locations for the players’ training and adequate facilities will be provided for conducting specialized coaching camps with the support of Hockey India.