The bright blue of the Astroturf is the first thing that catches the eye at the preparatory camp for the Indian national men’s hockey squad at the Sports Authority of India campus in Bangalore.

Continuing further along, muted chattering is heard at the far corner of the field, where a sole goal-post is placed, and where the players are gathered, completing the last couple of their remaining exercise routines for the day. The nature of the conversation is low-key but it’s clear that the players are fully enjoying themselves.

Image Credit: R Sharada

“The work rate [of the players] is fantastic. The boys are training very good. The attitude is great and it’s where it starts, of course,” is, thus, the first thing that Roelant Oltmans, the team’s head coach mentioned to when asked about the team’s preparation, ahead of their journey to Malaysia for the 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, towards the end of April.

‘Oltmans’s unique coaching style’


On his part, Oltmans rarely interrupts the players’ training session, preferring instead to observe his boys at work quietly from under a seating area, which has training equipment and laptops for monitoring of the players’ training statistics of their practice sessions, set up on one side of the goal-post. This aspect is part of what makes Oltmans’ coaching style so unique, combining discipline with light-heartedness, even as it has brought out an overwhelming receptiveness from the players.

According to midfielder, and former captain, Sardar Singh, Oltmans’s stints with the Pakistan hockey team in the past has enabled him to understand the similar cultures that prevail in both countries and, thereby, put them to good use in the Indian hockey paradigm.

“With the players [current generation] if we are open with them, we can get them to work harder. His way of working with the players, his way of talking with the players, players can approach him easily, these are the things that make Oltmans the coach he is,” Singh went on to add.

An air of inclusiveness

While communication channels need to be open and free between the coache and the players, it’s also necessary to have an air of inclusiveness among the players, regardless of the existing seniority in the hierarchy.

Image Credit: R Sharada

And, this team, despite the new roster of players, get along very well with each other. Watching the players inter-mingle with each other, laughing and joking about how some players are losing their speed as their age advances, it’s clear that they have developed a strong camaraderie, a few weeks into their 40-day national camp.

The team skipper PR Sreejesh believed that the team’s oneness has been brought about by their interaction with each other during the Hockey India League, both as teammates of a particular team and as opponents.

Elaborating further, the 30-year-old, who is one of the senior members of the squad, also added, “When we [the seniors] were in our camp in Bangalore, the juniors were also there preparing for the Junior Hockey World Cup [in 2016]. So, we knew each other very well. And I was with the team as the junior team’s mentor so I knew everyone there. The way we are mingling, the seniors try to open up with the juniors and try to communicate well with the juniors and always there to answer their questions. And, that’s how we build the team.”

On the anvil: podium finishes in major tournaments

Image Credit: R Sharada

Despite them banding together as a tight-knit unit, Oltmans though is aware that his players are still adjusting to the newly devised playing rota.

“We are seeing that this is a new group of players. So, the automatic decision-making we had before is not really there yet. So, the players have to find out their positioning and that’s normal. Besides that, we are trying to change our style of playing a little bit and that also means, for the more experienced players that they have to adapt to the new systems that we are introducing. So, that’s where we are working at and day-by-day we are getting better,” said Oltmans, summarising the team’s current training positioning.

At the same time, however, the 62-year-old has full confidence in his players that they will be ready to toughen it out against their opponents, when the time comes. Not only in Malaysia, but also for the marquee tournaments scheduled thereafter, including the 2017 Hockey World League and the 2018 Hockey World Cup, both of which are to be held in India in Bhubaneshwar. And beyond these, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

For, according to Oltmans, these are the tournaments for which the players and he have been focusing on predominantly, and where podium finishes matter the most.

There’s a burst of intensity as Oltmans says, “Don’t forget we have the Hockey World Cup in 2018, in India, in our country,”. There is a determined purposefulness in his next set of words: “What do you think these guys want? They want to perform, and we don’t see it as pressure. We see it as [a] challenge.”

Encompassed within these two sentences is then the summation of Indian hockey’s rejuvenation, long awaited as they have been, for over decades.