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India

For Graham Reid, adjusting to culture is ensuring that no player fears him: Manpreet Singh

Head coach Graham Reid, who took over the senior men's national team in April this year, is himself making an effort to build a rapport with players, not just on the field but off it as well.

One of the aspects often overlooked in Hockey India's much-cherished hire-and-fire policy with coaches is how every time players have to adjust to the new boss that comes in.

He might be Dutch, an Aussie or an Indian, but it falls upon the players' shoulders to get used to the new commander-in-chief's style of working, interacting and dealing with people.

This time, though, it's a tad different.

Head coach Graham Reid, who took over the senior men's national team in April this year, is himself making an effort to build a rapport with players, not just on the field but off it as well.

Quite simply, the Australian is quite happy walking the extra mile to know the culture of the team and gel with the players, and not just vice-versa.

"What he (Reid) tries to do off the field is he always goes and talks to every player," India captain Manpreet Singh, rested for the team's upcoming Olympic test event, told DNA from the national camp in Bengaluru.

"He wants to know everyone, about their feelings, their families, everything. For him, adjusting to the culture is ensuring that no player is hesitant to talk to him, or fears him, saying, 'He is the coach, how will I talk to him?'

"Off the field, he always jokes around with players. He always asks players about what they have been up to, what's happening in their families. He wants players to feel comfortable with him. He is constantly working on knowing our culture and also the team's culture. He wants to know every player as a human being," Manpreet added.

Clearly, unlike with some of the foreign coaches in the past, Reid seems to have done a good job of earning the players' confidence and trust in quick time.

So much so that when the 55-year-old tries to sell the idea of each of the 11 players on the park defending and not just fulfilling their roles as strikers or midfielders, the Indians are buying into it.

(According to Manpreet Singh, India head coach Graham Reid (R) wants to know every detail of each player, including about their feelings, family and the like)

"Reid has a philosophy, and he gave us an example of Michael Jordan. He said, 'If your attack is good, you will win watches. If your defence is good, you will win championships'," Manpreet said.

"This is the philosophy which he wants us to follow, that if our defence is sorted, then we will win tournaments. If we only focus on our attack, then we will concede goals and then, we can only win matches.

"So, the players have brought into this philosophy that we must all defend together," he added.

Reid doesn't just want his players to think like defenders. He wants them to think like legends. It's the quality that the captain admires most about his new coach.

"He always gives examples of legends. He says, 'No one becomes a legend easily. A legend always sacrifices, and it starts with your training'. He believes that if you train well, you will perform well in the match. If you are slack during training, you will be slack during the match. Be it ball stopping, receiving or passing, if you don't execute it during training, you will never be able to do it come the match days. So, he always tells us, 'Come for training with the mindset of giving it your all'," Manpreet said.

The Indian team has no room to relax over the next few months, anyway, which are crucial keeping in mind next year's Olympics in Tokyo. After the low-key Olympic test event beginning on Saturday, India will depart for a tour of Belgium next month in the tune-up to the all-important Olympic qualifiers in Bhubaneswar in October, which India simply cannot afford to lose. If they do, the men's hockey team can bid its Olympic dream goodbye.

The 27-year-old Manpreet isn't running away from its magnitude, nor trying to downplay it. But he and his coach have tried to find a way to counter it.

"Everyone knows how important it (Olympic qualifiers) is, there's no hiding from that," Manpreet said.

"But we keep telling each other, and the coach also believes in the same, that whether we're playing against Japan or Australia, the mindset should be the same. It shouldn't be that we take Japan a bit lightly and play with pressure against Australia. We will treat every team the same, and with equal respect.

"And, more importantly, have confidence in ourselves. We shouldn't underestimate or give more importance to any team. We know now that if we play to our potential, we can beat any team in the world. And we have shown that in the past," he added.

It's a theory Reid also believes in, trying to grill into this troops' mind that every battle must be put on an equal pedestal, be it a World Cup final, Olympic qualifier or a bilateral match.

It's easier said than done, though, especially for Indians who often tend to crumble under the weight of expectations in big matches of major tournaments.

Manpreet said it is more a case of trying to calm the nerves of youngsters in the team.

"If there's a new player in the set up, then maybe he can have a few problems adjusting to that. The experienced ones can handle it, and it's their responsibility to make the youngsters understand this. So, we senior players, like me, Sree (Sreejesh) Rupinder, Surender etc, have to motivate the new guys coming in. For example, when we play Australia, it's our job to ensure they do not feel extra pressure. We've been trying to implement this for a while now," Manpreet said.

The skipper is glad he has got an opportunity to hit the pause button for a while, having been rested for the Olympic test event along with a few other senior players. He's still in the camp, though, working on things that Reid has spoken about. But, for a change, his mind is not all about hockey.

"I'm glad that they gave me a break, because I've been playing non-stop without any rest. When you play continuously for a long time, physically as well as mentally, you get tired. So, not just me, even a few other senior players who have been playing for a long time, it's good that we have got this breather.

"We can freshen up our mind and body. Our next few competitions are really important. And for them, we need to be at our fittest," Manpreet said.

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