In a little over a week,national womens hockey team coach Neil Hawgood will face his first big assignment when he takes his side to the Champions Challenge I in Dublin. The Australian,however,isnt setting the bar high. Hawgood has been with the team for just six weeks. The period has given him just enough time to learn every players name.
The tournament will be a testbed for this team,which needs to build on fitness and mental muscle.
We will be playing in a competition that features four teams (Australia,Belgium,USA and South Africa) who have just played at the Olympics. We are still some way from that level. At Dublin we are going to find out where we stand and whether the path I have started the team on is the right one or not, he says.
Indias target,he says will instead be two years from now at the Asian Games. Im not saying were going to be number one in the world. It is going to be hard to chase down teams like Argentina or Germany. What I want is for this team to be number one in Asia. That is a very achievable goal. If everything goes to plan,we could be in that position by the 2014 Asian Games, he says.
One thing that didnt go quite to plan was the fact that the womens team was selected before Hawgood began his assignment. He isnt complaining however.
What Hawgood,who has formerly coached both the Australian mens and womens teams seems to be emphasizing,is fitness. However,he insists that he isnt preaching anything new. Everyone seems to be talking about fitness as if it is some new discovery. It is as essential in hockey as is trapping. That 24 players have a certain standard of fitness shouldnt be something remarkable but rather a given. he says. The way Hawgoods theory is put into practice isnt in scheduling additional training or gym sessions. The players in fact train for shorter periods but with added intensity.
The girls are getting used to not training as much as they did in the past but they are training with much more intensity. It is surprising to them that they are training for 11 sessions a week rather than 18 but are completely tired. Initially they would be training from 9 am to 11.30- 12pm. But I had them training from 9 to 11am. But they didnt have all the little breaks where they go to the side and get a drink of water and chat with their friends. I had them keep their water bottles on the field and have their drink and get back immediately. I tell the players that when we will be competing there wont be time to go have a break, he says.
Hawgood understands that there are things that must change. We need to work on our mental toughness. Right now I notice that when the side is a goal down,their shoulders drop.