How India has built an impressive youth hockey lineup – The New Indian Express

Express News Service

BHUBANESWAR: There was a time when the officials who ran hockey in the country did not pay too much attention to the next generation. The year was 2011, Michael Nobbs had just been named, and the senior men’s team wasn’t even sure they would qualify for the 2012 Olympics. Even in this background, the powerful who led the game had apathy toward junior development.

The politics in sports led to Hockey India not even sending a team to the Under-18 Asian Cup in Singapore in 2011. The logic was that the match was not recognized by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). This was wrong because it was an event played out under the auspices of an international body.

Such was the attitude towards youth development. Even when the elite began to look at exclusive policies aimed at establishing a viable path for the junior transition to a senior setting – for example, around 2011 when Belgium’s development accelerated due to a focus on youth and their development – Indian authorities stuck principles that would not have been out of place in the Middle Ages.

In 2021, that is no longer the case. Youth is an active word and this was evident when senior management selected the lineup for the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka, which should start on 14 December. PR Sreejesh was given a break, the oldest in the 20th was coxswain Manpreet Singh (29), the average age of the team was 24.5 years, and eight of the 20 were 23 years old or younger. As for recent history, it is one of the youngest senior teams India will ever lead to a big event. ‘If you are good enough, you are old enough’ is the mantra.

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“As we choose this team, we must now keep our eyes on the future,” Reid said after choosing a side for Bangladesh. “It takes a deep and strong team to build lasting success, so players need to be given a chance to perform.”

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Striker Maninder Singh suffered a tendon injury and was ruled out until the end of the tournament before the quarter-finals against Belgium. It was a blow in the sense that Maninder earned the implicit trust of management. He knew what was expected of him, and with India turning to a systematic approach in which the collective transcends the individual, it is important to ensure continuity.

The replacement was Boby Singh Dhami. He started the game and imperceptibly intervened with his constant running and synchronized pressing with the front line. The first five minutes made it clear that the hosts will not miss Maninder. At a certain level, this reflects the depth, both in quality and quantity, that the Colts have built over the last five to six years.

Dhami, not to be forgotten, like other young Indians, has not played a competitive game for more than two years. Still, he played like a man, actually a boy, who was never far from the turf. In the future, thanks to the newly introduced HI policy from 2021, there will be more children like Dhami in the system.

HI’s decision to expand the national selection is to give more Colts a chance to come on the national stage. Citizens now have a clear demarcation: for example, juniors will play for citizens according to their academies, departments, or states. Reproduction is not allowed, so if a player plays for a department, he cannot play for the academy or for the state.

Those who impress (usually around 55 or 60 of the best are chosen) in these tournaments are brought to camp at the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru. The list is reduced to about 30 before players begin to lead an often hermetic life on campus for the next 2-3 years until they turn 21 or older.

This path means that when they come to the camp, they are mostly all first among equals. It works. Of the 20 players on the World Cup junior team, more than ten entered the national camp for the first time in November 2019.

These players also get the same facilities and infrastructure as seniors to get better. They have their dedicated staff on a full-time basis, including assistant coaches who continue to work on their game. At the 2016 World Junior Championships in Lucknow, for example, 18 juniors were accompanied by 10 support staff.
In Bhubaneswar, 20 players are with eight support staff.

To put this in some sort of correct perspective, Hockey India sent more support staff for its junior team than for its senior team (seven followed them at the 2018 World Cup).

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The only common complaint raised by all 16 teams was that the Covid-19 pandemic had destroyed already underfunded programs for juniors. Some teams could not meet for 20 months. In other countries, players were involved in individualized training sessions before meeting at a one-off camp. Several teams like Germany had players who trained in small groups. The Indian argument was that, like most other non-European teams, they have not played a single game since the end of 2019.

However, their junior program was not affected. All the players stayed at the camp except for a few months when the pandemic raged in the country. They all trained, practiced and lived under one roof, making sure they were never denied access to facilities and infrastructure. They also received help from all the coaches and support staff who remained on site. This has helped them continue to develop at such a crucial moment in their careers.

The effect of continuing their hockey education is visible in this team in the last 10 days. After the defeat by France, they did not throw themselves on their heads, and they showed clinical effectiveness from dragflies in the matches against Canada and Poland. However, what makes me happiest is that they seem to be more mature and above their age. Calmness and discipline against Belgium set the platform and it started with two goalkeepers, especially Pawan.

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Reid, who was reluctant to single out the players, took the time to check their names. “They both impressed me tonight,” he said after Wednesday’s game. “They both played well … if that means going further in their careers, that’s great. The goalkeeper is like any other position. It creates competitiveness and that’s what I want to see in these two. They challenge each other, it’s very nice to see. “

Goalkeeping was a problematic area in terms of depth – there is an alarming drop in quality after PR Sreejesh – but Pawan and Prashant Chauhan have shown that it has not worn out.

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In 2011, HI did not even send an age group believing it to be a worthless event. Ten years later, they are an alliance that invests serious money in hockey for age groups. Both men’s and women’s teams under the age of 21 go on multiple trips a year. They have also hosted each of the last three Junior World Championships for men.

The question now is can the 2021 Class repeat what the 2016 Class did?

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