Play The Game, Not The Occasion: Indias Hockey Coach For Paris Olympics 2024-Bounde Mens Team

Play The Game, Not The Occasion: Indias Hockey Coach For Paris Olympics 2024-Bounde Mens Team

Head coach Craig Fulton is well aware of the expectations from the Indian men’s hockey team in the upcoming Paris Olympics and his mantra to his players is to play the game and not bother the occasion.

“I agree that the expectations are higher after Tokyo bronze but the bottom line is that the team has been progressing well. They are in the top eight and from 12th in London (2012) to 8th in Rio (2016) to bronze in Tokyo (2020). It was a big jump and now we are preparing for Paris,” the South African coach told PTI Bhasha in an interview.

“My mantra to players is play the game, not the occasion. It’s still a hockey match and rules have not changed,” said the former Olympian who has represented his country in 1996 and 2004 Olympics.

He said he’s a “process driven” coach and all focus now is on the first game of the Paris Olympics against New Zealand. (Neeraj Chopra Strikes Gold At Paavo Nurmi Games 2024, Video Goes Viral – Watch)

“We are training for that and we take one game at a time which is the most realistic way to do it,” said the 50-year-old who was assistant coach of the Belgium team that won the 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup in India.

He did not get a full four-year cycle for the preparation of the team but has no complaints.

“Yeah, you normally have a four year cycle from one Olympics to another to prepare. It’s not an excuse but that’s how it is. I think we did well in three months to qualify for the Olympics through Asian Games gold. The team is confident and playing well,” said Fulton, a former winner of FIH coach of the year award.

He believes in players who are ready to take a bullet for his teammates and his team bonding methods have yielded good results too. He took the team to South Africa where the players did mountain hiking, surfing, barbeque at the beach, etc.

“I believe that if someone is not playing well, you have to cover him up. At the end, If you want to do something special at the big stage, it’s all about the chemistry between the players and how much they care for each other.

“The bond and the trust needs to be there so that you can give 100 per cent for each other,” said the coach who had guided Ireland to Olympic and World Cup qualification in 2016 and 2018.

Fulton is not bothered by India’s seventh finish at FIH Pro League or the current drop in the world ranking. India is placed at seventh position in the latest rankings.

“We struggled a little bit in the Pro League but the main purpose there was the selection so there were lots of rotations and changes and that’s all right. Our main goal was to get the right team for Paris,” he said “Not bothered by the rankings as we were trying to improve the depth of our squad, so we gave new players opportunities. We try to win every game with whatever team we play and that’s not an excuse. We had six draws and five wins and 10 points was the difference between 7th team and the winner, so it was really close,” said Fulton.

He feels mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton, who has the experience of working with top cricketers, has an important role to play.

“Paddy has worked with high profile cricketers like Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli which also encouraged our players to open up to him. Mental skills are one of the things we needed to improve but the real challenge is to do it back to back and that is what we are focusing on,” he added.

His focus has been on creating a good defensive structure because that is the area where teams often make mistakes.

“Focus is on basics like PCA (penalty corner attack) and PCD (penalty corner defense). In today’s hockey, anyone can beat anyone on their days. So a lot comes down on the goalkeepers, PCA and PCD where you make many mistakes. It is the area where we are trying to make technical and tactical improvement. We have a good offense but we need to keep improving the consistency of defence,” he said “Field goal numbers have improved from the last Pro League to this one. But in the last Pro League, PCA count was higher. So it’s like a zig zag and we are trying to put it together in the Olympics,” he added.

On India getting a ‘Pool of Death’ with Australia, Argentina and Belgium in the same group, the coach said, “We have to win five games to be in the top four. First game against New Zealand is very important.”

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