Head coach Graham Reid has taken full responsibility for not advocating for a mental conditioning coach for the Indian team before the FIH Men's World Cup, from which the team made a shock exit after losing to New Zealand.
After India thrashed Asian Games champion Japan 8-0 in an inconsequential classification match here on Thursday, Reid said that the home World Cup brought extra pressure to the team which "sometimes was difficult to process". He said when he took charge in 2019, he thought he would be able to manage the mental side of the players.
"Having seen this World Cup and being in a home World Cup does bring extra pressure. Sometimes that’s difficult to process. So, that was my thought process," Reid said at the post-match press conference.
"It (requirement of a mental conditioning coach) has come up (for discussion) before but I did not really think it was needed at that point. I thought I had enough experience to be able to impart the sort of stuff we have been talking about." After the defeat to New Zealand in the crossover match in Bhubaneswar last week, Reid said a mental conditioning coach was required to help the team deal with pressure.
"We had COVID-19 and it was difficult to get over all those happenings. Then, the Asian Games was coming up (was to happen in 2022) and then was not coming (postponed), it was always like when do we start that process (of having a mental conditioning coach) and then it did not happen."
"I take responsibility for that (for not having a mental conditioning coach)." Reid also mentioned that teams like Australia and the Netherlands have a mental conditioning coach which they called 'culture coach'. He said the mental conditioning coach will have to be an Indian.
The Australian team has had the services of a culture coach since 2017. "We have access to sports psychologists within the SAI. But it’s a bit different when you are operating inside your team environment. They (culture coaches) operate inside your team. It is a big thing to have trust in your team, within the coaching group. I also needed to feel we can trust that person and we needed it to be the right person. I think it needs to be an Indian," Reid said.
Reid said he felt the team was making progress on the mental toughness side of things, like scoring goals last minute. The 58-year-old former player and coach of the Australian national team also supported the national federation's bid to revive Hockey India League (HIL), which has been defunct since 2017. "Is the club culture here in India? I am not sure. It is very difficult to describe club culture out of nothing, that is the problem.
"We need something, we need a competition that is close to international competitions," he said when asked if India needs to start a long-term club culture which is prevalent in Australia and parts of Europe to play high-quality games on a more consistent basis.
"We had HIL before, that was really good. Having HIL will make it a little bit easier, though they have the monetary factor behind that. But yes, everyone would love to see it and maybe it needs to be designed from scratch. There is no one in world hockey who would not want to see it (HIL) happen."
Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey told PTI recently that it is hoping to restart HIL by the end of this year. Reid said the match against Japan was important as India may play against them in the Asian Games scheduled this year.
"Asian Games are coming up later in the year and we will be playing Japan again at that point, so it was important to perform well but also just for our pride. I have the utmost respect for the Asian Games, and how difficult a tournament it is. That was what I thought it's a very important match against Japan," she said. Captain Harmanpreet Singh, who struggled to get the goals from penalty corners in the showpiece, also said it was sometimes difficult to cope with pressure in front of a big home crowd.
"It is a bit difficult for less experienced players to play in front of a big crowd. It can even be for experienced players also sometimes. So, it is different (playing in front of a big crowd and without or less crowd)," he said when asked if the pressure was less during the Tokyo Olympics as it was played without any spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"But if you are focussed on your game, you can take this (crowd presence) in a positive way. It is a good lesson for us. If we play in this kind of atmosphere in future, outside the country or in major tournaments, we will know how we will prepare mentally and remain focused."
Asked how the team was coping with the situation arising out of the premature exit from the home World Cup, Reid said, "I said to the boys we have 24 hours to get over (after the New Zealand match) before we start focussing on the Japan game. It is a tough three days to be honest.
"Everyone had a mixture of a lot of feelings -- disappointment, frustration and emotions -- that we had let people down. What I was proud of was that we tried to keep the focus on the two (classification) games."
India and South Africa will battle it out on Saturday in the 9th to 12th place classification match.
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