Bhubaneswar: There’s an amusing moment of scramble that recurs in the training sessions of the Indian team in the ongoing Hockey World Cup. Coach Harendra Singh, from a random part of the pitch, blows his whistle and the players – abandoning whatever they are doing – rush towards him. The ones who don’t reach him within the stipulated time start doing push-ups.
This routine was seen on Wednesday as well when India trained for their game against Canada on Saturday. The hosts are looking to finish atop Pool C. Failing to do so would require them to contest in a knockout game against a team from Pool D (Germany/the Netherlands/Pakistan/Malaysia) in the crossover stage to qualify for the quarter-finals – a dangerous proposition.
Before this crucial game, Harendra Singh spoke to the media about the aforementioned pushups, India’s recent struggles against Canada and more. Excerpts:
On the struggles against Canada in the past:
Past failures is an experience. This experience we will make use of in the present. The present is the match against Canada. The match will decide the fate of our pool. I am not thinking about what happened in Hockey World League Semi-Final [in June 2017, wherein India lost to Canada 2-3] or Rio Olympics [where Canada held India to a 2-2 draw].
On Canada’s playing style:
They don’t give space. They wait, wait and wait to get the opportunity. That’ll be their plan. But we have to play to our strength.
On strategic changes against Canada:
You can’t go and defend. You can’t be on the back foot. We have to play attacking hockey. The players have adopted attacking hockey when they were teenagers. It’s in our culture. You can make minor adjustments, but not change the mindset.
On ‘friendly punishments’:
Sometimes the players switch off. And, if that happens in the match, the ball will be taken away from us and we will have to face the counterattack. So, every moment is important. During training, I blow the whistle and make the players run towards me. This way, they are always alert and see where I am. I do this two-three times in the practice. The moment I see that any players are not in the game, I blow the whistle. If they don’t come within the stipulated time, they have to do 20 pushups. This helps in team bonding as well. The players are smiling; it’s a friendly punishment. I used to do this with the women’s team as well.
On how to keep the players mentally ‘switched on’ in long breaks:
First, you increase the intensity of the training. They go to gym, then video session. In the whole process, they can’t rest for long. One day before the match, they rest and that keeps them fresh. It’s a challenge. But I like it.