The Indian Junior Hockey team ended their 15-year-old title drought as they registered a clinical 2-1 victory against Belgium in the Men's Junior World Cup final in December 2016.
Having finished a lowly 13th in the last edition of the tournament in New Delhi in 2013, it was a tough mission for the hosts to make history by winning the tournament again after 15 long years. Yet Team India, under coach Harendra Singh, duly achieved laurels for the nation, riding on their brilliant performances in the 11th edition of the event in Lucknow.
Coach Harendra Singh embarked upon on a stupendous mission and mentored the team to world cup glory, courtesy his hard training regime and superlative hockey tactics.
His journey has been a man’s trek through thick and thin to the very top. India's victory was the culmination of a journey that began two and a half years ago, when Harendra first met the group of youngsters at New Delhi's Dhyan Chand stadium.
Getting the basics right is fundamental to Harendra's coaching manual. He knows only one language and that is hockey!
Coach of Indian Junior Hockey Team Harendra Singh spoke exclusively to News Nation Digital and shared his thoughts on the path to World Cup glory.
Here are some excerpts from his interview -
Question: Please throw some light on your struggles and achievements in your playing career?
Answer: The state from which I hail did not have appropriate hockey infrastructure or an ideal platform to begin with, so I had to struggle in my initial days to make a mark at the national level.
Wearing the Indian colours and representing the nation surely goes down as the proudest moment of my career and memory to relish for lifetime. I donned the Indian jersey in 1990 and till date this is the most memorable and proud memory for me.
Q: What made you think of taking to coaching post achieving considerable international success in your playing career?
A: I had gone through difficult times in my playing career, so thought of making some radical changes to the coaching system in India. I took to coaching to improve on the traditional approach of coaching in Indian hockey.
One area where Indian hockey lacked big time was adopting to the modern style of playing hockey. I thank Dhanraj Pillay and my family for their untiring support in achieving my dreams.
Q: What was the recipe behind India's success in the Junior World Cup Hockey?
A: The team was focused, well disciplined in their training regime and above all had the hunger and huge appetite to win the title. The journey is important and not the end result. An excellent process was put in place and the outcome was there for everyone to see. Hockey India had a road-map in place for the tournament.
The concept of playing 'Total Hockey' was envisaged and successfully translated on the field and the game plan set in place was well-executed, courtesy state-of-the-art playing equipment and training facilities provided to the players.
The international exposure I recieved as the coach by both Hockey India and Sports Authority of India (SAI) helped me a lot. The day I took over as the coach, I told the players to follow 3Cs mantra that means Cool, Calm and Composed and that will help us become Champions.
I told the players that they would have gold medals around their necks if they were ready to work very hard and sacrifice their comfort.
Q: Who are the Indian colts from the World Cup winning squad who can be potential stars for Indian hockey in the future?
A: I don't believe in the very concept of star players contributing to a team's success. Success is achieved through teamwork. Every player has a definitive role assigned to him to play in accomplishing the overall goals of the team.
It is not about a Harjeet Singh or any player for that matter, it is about the whole team rising to the challenge and playing well as a collective unit. If the players execute their play in synch with the team's overall plan, success is imperative.
Q: With the enormous success of Indian hockey both at the senior and junior level, how do you see Indian hockey shaping up in the future?
A: I think we are in the right direction. Narendra Batra, the current president of International Hockey Federation, has envisaged a roadmap for Indian hockey which shall auger well for the sport going forward.
When I took over at the helm of affairs, Indian hockey was languishing at the 13 place in FIH rankings. We then catapulted to the 10 position, courtesy a string of impressive victories in both the senior and junior level.
As on date, we are placed in the top ten and hope to further improve in the rankings. If we continue with our winning momentum, we have a realistic chance of winning a medal at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and 2018 Hockey World Cup. Hockey India has equipped the players with all the basic facilities.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles faced by you in coaching the Indian hockey team to World Cup glory?
A: India is a big and diverse country, players hail from different parts of the country with varied cultural backgrounds and social mindsets, so there certainly is a cultural difference which had to be overturned to achieve a common goal. Hockey is the sole binding force which cuts through the differences and helps the team gel as one to play under the National Flag.
Q: Do you feel the Hockey players and the coaching staff are adequately rewarded after winning laurels for the country, just like you did in the Junior Hockey World Cup?
A: A soldier does his duty for the sheer love of his motherland. Similarly it is a great honour for any Indian sportsperson or hockey player to don the Indian colours and play for flag. There is no greater satisfaction than playing for your nation and bringing laurels to the country.
Monetary gains and other forms of cash benefits come a distant second behind honour and glory for your nation.