The results have been good of late but India’s women’s hockey coach Marijne Sjoerd feels the team lacks self-belief against higher-ranked opponents – a problem he is trying to resolve by keeping the side “busy”.
Sjoerd took charge of team last month and in his maiden assignment, the team won the Hockey World League Round 2 title in West Vancouver recently. The win helped the side advance to the next round – Hockey World League Semifinal – also a World Cup qualifier.
“What I understood is that Indian girls lack self belief. They sometimes lose a match even before stepping on the turf. I think they consider themselves smaller when they play against a higher-ranked country,” the 42-year-old told PTI in an interview from Holland.
“I want them to be busy and think about themselves and the team, not about others. Thinking about others will only lead to wrong distractions. I want them to focus on their task and fulfill that in the best possible way,” he said.
India played the likes of minnows Uruguay, Chile and Belarus in Hockey World League Round 2 and Sjoerd refuses to read too much into the side’s successful performance in West Vancouver.
“We were the favourites in the tournament as we were the top-ranked side but indeed it was a good start. My main target is to reach the quarterfinals in the 2020 Olympics,” he said.
“For that we have to think step by step. I always keep the big picture in mind and the girls have to focus on small targets for every session and tournament. We have to focus on small goals to achieve the big goals,” Sjoerd added.
He was handed over the reigns of the team for a four-year tenure till the Tokyo Games.
Incidentally, Sjoerd was the coach of the Dutch women’s side that won 7-0 in the only match against India he was involved in – at the HWL Semifinals in 2015.
Sjoerd achieved plenty of success in his previous coaching stints, which included leading the Dutch junior women’s side to a World Cup title. He then followed it up with a gold medal at the World League Semifinals in 2015 with the senior team.
“I have coached the best teams in the world. So, I know what it takes to be the best. Mental toughness is very important. If you think and fear about others before taking the field, you will never progress. It’s always a challenge to perform as a team and as an individual to the best of your abilities. ”
The huge gap between the Indian girls’ fitness and the rest was visible during the Rio Olympics, where India failed to win a single match.
“In modern day hockey, fitness is another area which is of paramount importance. If you have to match top teams of the world you have to be physically stronger,” Sjoerd said.
“We have Wayne Lombard who is a specialist in this side. We have to work on speed, duel power and basic strength of the body.”