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Psychologist, needed: Hockey skipper Sardar Singh

Citing his own experience of interacting with a mental expert, India skipper Sardar Singh says team will surely benefit from one

The all-important Rio Olympics is just a year away, and the Indian hockey team is not quite in a position it would have liked to be.

The national team’s inconsistent results have found them managing a bronze at the six-nation Sultan Azlan Shah event in Malaysia — a tournament they have always done well in previously (India won gold five times since the tournament’s inception in 1983). And the first person to admit this inconsistency is skipper Sardar Singh.

Skipper Sardar Singh
Skipper Sardar Singh in full steam during India’s match against Canada at the Sultan Azlan Shah tourney in Malaysia recently. Pic/PTI

Starting problem
“Our start to the tournament was not good at all… the problem is that we are not consistent,” a disappointed Sardar told mid-day before supporting his young team nevertheless: “We played higher ranked teams like New Zealand (World No 7), Korea (No 8) and Australia (No 1). Credit to our youngsters, who lifted their game as the tournament progressed.”

World No 9 India first drew 2-2 with South Korea (2-2), before losing 1-2 to NZ and 2-3 to Malaysia (12). They beat Canada 5-3 and shocked world champions Australia 4-2, before beating Korea 4-1 for bronze.

Sardar admitted he was surprised by the defeat to Malaysia, but 'wouldn’t want to point a finger on the forwards or defence or midfield.'

“All 16 of us must improve if we wish to make it to the top four in world hockey. If I, as an individual have a problem receiving the ball, I must take time out and work on it, and that applies to all” said the 28-year-old mercurial midfielder.

As Team India prepares for Rio 2016, Sardar warned that every match from now on will be crucial towards winning that elusive Olympic medal. “Our entire preparation is keeping Rio in mind. We do not have too many matches this year. Next, we have a four-Test series against Japan from May 2, followed by the World League in Belgium (June 20 to July 5) with the final in India (28 Nov to 6 Dec). Our new coach (Paul van Ass) also needs time to settle in,” said Sardar.

Mental expert
Coach van Ass recently he’d look into roping in a psychologist given the pressure of the modern game, and Sardar could not agree more. “We don’t have any fitness issues, but lack a bit in concentration. A psychologist will help the boys be at ease both on and off the field,” said Sardar, who himself benefitted from a mental expert back in 2010. “We trained at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune then and coach Jose Brasa introduced me to a psychologist for the first time. It was a very good interaction. He helped me forget all other distractions and focus only on hockey for 70 minutes. It helps especially in pressure matches.”

Our new coach has made good changes

Skipper Sardar Singh gave the  thumbs-up to coach Paul van Ass’ tactics overall: “He’s had just 15-20 days with us before the Azlan Shah and made some changes that worked. He stressed on how the midfield should take the lead when there is a build up for a scoring opportunity. He also fine-tuned the running of some of our forwards. I’m sure he’ll plan better for the national camp beginning in Delhi on April 22.”

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