Hosts India are rated as strong title contenders in the Junior Hockey World Cup starting on Thursday, but the team’s head coach Harendra Singh is no mood to think so far ahead and has only guaranteed that his 18-member squad will showcase their best hockey.
Harendra said his side were focused on taking the first step correctly, to come out on top of Canada in the tournament opener.
“I have told the boys a very important mantra that a mountaineer never aims at the summit, he or she only concentrates on every single step. If he keeps on looking at the summit from the word go he will never succeed in climbing it,” he said on the eve of India’s opening match.
“We are approaching one match at a time. But I can guarantee all that I won’t let anyone leave the tournament disappointed. I can guarantee you one thing that these 18 boys will show their best hockey to you and the world,” said Harendra who took over the reigns of the Indian colts in 2014.
The coach warned his wards against doing “special” things in any match and asked them to concentrate on implementing their game plan.
“From my experience I have learnt that we try to do many special things against all teams. But this is not possible in modern hockey. You just need to do your own things. We must ensure that whatever we have learnt in the training should be implemented in match situations. If we try new things it won’t work,” said Harendra.
“I have told the boys to keep in mind just whatever we have learnt in the last 2 years and 8 and focus on that.
“Second thing I told them is that they should always remember why they started hockey, then only they can play normal hockey,” he added.
Regarded as a hard task master, Harendra said for him what’s important was discipline and professionalism.
He said before stepping onto the turf, every player should remember about the tricolour and their reasons behind picking up hockey sticks.
“What I believe is that Harendra Singh is a tough nut to crack. Whatever I am today is because of two things, one is discipline and professionalism. For me the tricolour is the tallest and most important and you have to play for that. Keeping that in mind I only can show you the right path.
“My simple logic is either it is my way or take the highway. But I can proudly say that the boys have realised the thing and the results in the last two years only proves that point,” he said.
Well aware of the expectations from the home team, Harendra advised his boys to play normal hockey and said the results will automatically follow.
“Never play under pressure, play normal hockey and try to enjoy, results will automatically come. I don’t think there is any pressure on us. We are approaching match by match and now the most important match of the tournament for us is tomorrow’s game against Canada. First step is always the difficult one,” the coach said.
“We are aware of the expectations and from the first day I have told the boys that they will have to come good at the expectations of 125 crore people. But having said that we are now not thinking about the Mount Everest, we are taking one match at a time,” Harendra added.
India senior men’s team head coach Roelant Oltmans, who is also a part of the coaching staff of the junior side during the World Cup, agreed with Harendra and said the focus now should only be on the job at hand and not think about anything else.
“The team has been preparing very hard. They know all the expectations and we like to take the challenge. From my point of view the team could not have prepared themselves better than what they have done,” said the legendary Dutchman, whose contract with the senior side has been extended till 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“For us the most important thing during a tournament is to find the right balance and stay focused. These guys have the experience and know when to get the focus back. There is plenty of outside expectations and that will be there but we take the challenge. We love what we are doing. We know how to execute our game plans.
“To be honest here it’s about performance of the Under-21 boys and that is the only thing that matters. Of course they all know if they play well it will increase their chances in the future but at the moment the only thing which the boys want to do is show their qualities which they have shown in the last couple of tournaments,” Oltmans said.
India colts captain Harjeet Singh, who has the experience of playing in the senior side, said the time has come for them to accomplish their mission which was set in 2014.
“We are very excited. When we started as a group in 2014, coach sir (Harendra) told us that we have a mission and we have been working towards that. We have been practising hard, putting in efforts and now it’s time for us to prove ourselves,” he said.
“When coach sir started with us he told us only to think about what is in our hands and not think about other things. The entire team has the same thinking,” he said.