India: Hockey great M.M. Somaya sheds light on tournament’s importance

~Somaya also foresees a quick rebound for the Indian Women’s Hockey Team with strategic enhancements and coaching after missing out on the Paris Olympics’ berth~

New Delhi, 12th March 2024: M.M. Somaya, celebrated former Captain of the Indian Men’s Hockey Team, who was also part of the 1980 Olympics’ Gold medal winning squad, views the recent women’s hockey setback – failing to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics – as a temporary glitch. He asserts that with strategic enhancements and effective coaching, the team is poised for a swift rebound.

In the latest episode of Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India, Somaya discussed the current state of Indian hockey, with a focus on women’s hockey. He shed light on how the upcoming 14th Hockey India Senior Women National Championship and the proposed introduction of a Hockey India Women’s League mark essential steps in aligning with the discussed strategies for talent development and the overall growth of women’s hockey in India.

Talking about the setbacks faced by the Indian Women’s Hockey Team during the 2024 Paris Olympic qualifiers, Somaya expressed disappointment over the missed opportunity but emphasized the need to analyse and address specific areas, such as penalty corner conversions and injuries to key players.

“We boast a talented lineup of players, yet a critical aspect that warrants attention is our performance in crucial moments, notably during the Asian Games and Olympics Qualifiers. Finishing, particularly in penalty corners, has been an area where we fell slightly short. Despite facing the setback of missing key players in the Qualifiers in Ranchi due to injuries, we acknowledge that this should not serve as an excuse. It underscores the need for focused improvement and strategic planning to address these challenges effectively,” Somaya said.

“However, I believe, women’s hockey has come up in leaps and bounds over the last four to six years. We are so delighted to see them. Even after the Tokyo Olympics, where they finished fourth, they have played some very good hockey,” he added.

In a forward-looking discussion, Somaya proposed starting talent development programs for under-12s and under-16s, emphasizing the importance of widening the talent pool to regions beyond traditional hubs.

“Our focus must shift towards nurturing talent from the grassroots level. Establishing academies and competitive leagues for aspiring players should ideally commence at the under-12 stage. Many existing academies initiate programs only at the under-16 level, which is a delayed start. We must prioritize evaluating the performances of young talents identified at the age of 12 when they reach the under-16 level, emphasizing continuous improvement strategies,” Somaya asserted.

“Another crucial aspect of talent identification is the geographical concentration from limited regions, primarily Haryana, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab. However, numerous untapped pockets across India are rich with talent. Ensuring equal opportunities, exposure, and proper coaching becomes imperative. To address this, we must expand our reach from the grassroots, casting a wider net and engaging players at a younger age. This comprehensive approach is vital for long-term development and success,” he added.

Expressing optimism about the future, Somaya discussed the potential benefits of establishing a Hockey League for women. “Introducing a Hockey League for women holds immense potential. This initiative would not only provide valuable exposure but also foster confidence and instil a profound sense of belief in the women’s team. It stands as a key element for their development, preparing them for upcoming tournaments and ensuring a brighter future for women’s hockey.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming 14th Hockey India Senior Women National Championship 2024 in Pune, Somaya stressed the event’s significance for identifying and nurturing emerging talent. He advocated for the creation of a development squad to complement the main team, fostering a pipeline of players for the future.

“The Senior National Championship plays a crucial role in talent identification. With a core group of about 30 players during the Olympic preparations, it’s essential to have a broader scope. By reducing the selection to 30 but maintaining a development team akin to cricket’s A team, we ensure players who miss the main squad still have opportunities. This approach nurtures talent at junior levels and promotes a robust development squad. It’s vital to extend beyond the main team, fostering experience, improving standards, and establishing a continuous supply of skilled players for the future,” Somaya stated.

Meanwhile, Somaya commended the strides made in facilities for both the men’s and women’s teams, acknowledging the support from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Ministry of Sports. He emphasized that these advancements have contributed significantly to the recent progress in Indian hockey.

“The facilities in recent times, and what a marked improvement over the years, not only in terms of facilities but also in terms of personnel. They employ some of the most meritorious coaches and some of the best practitioners available internationally,” Somaya remarked during the podcast.

Discussing the performance of the Indian Men’s Hockey Team, Somaya highlighted their standout performance in the Asian Games, acknowledging the challenge of facing higher competition from Europe and Australia in the upcoming tournaments, especially in the Paris Olympics. He expressed confidence in the talent and balance within the team, emphasizing the importance of strategic planning and rest periods between tournaments.

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By Hockey India

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