BHUBANESWAR: It’s not necessary to play at the highest level to become a hockey coach. Former Dutch national coach Paul van Ass never played for his country, but under his guidance, they won silver at the 2012 Olympics. Known for his ‘opportunistic’ style of coaching, the 54-year-old has been roped in by India with the hope to revive lost glory.
Van Ass has made a modest start after taking over from Aussie Olympian Terry Walsh seven weeks ago. Under him, India won the Sultan Azlan Shah bronze last month and are leading 1-0 in the series against Japan. On the eve of the third match, Van Ass had a chat with Express. Excerpts...
How has been the experience since you took over?
It’s been a mixed bag. I took charge two weeks before Azlan Shah, had no idea where we stood and had to learn quickly to perform under pressure. I’m happy India won bronze.
Tell us about your playing career
I was among 25 probables and attended the national selection camp. I then started my business — steel production, trading and construction. But hockey is in my veins. I took to coaching and guided Dutch club HGC, Jong Oranje and finally the Dutch national team.
What prompted you to take up the Indian assignment?
I guided the Dutch team from No 4 to No 2 in world rankings. During my tenure Netherlands reached six finals, out of nine tournaments. I didn’t take this job for money. India is a big country having one-sixth of the world’s population. I took it because I love challenges.
Has language been a handicap?
Communication in hockey is 80 per cent body language and 20 per cent words. Players understand my point even if I don’t speak their language. On occasions, members of our coaching staff help us by translating.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian team?
We know India as eight-time Olympic champions. But after 1980 they’ve been struggling and finished 12th in London. That’s because they haven’t been able to keep pace with modernisation of the sport. Especially, the switch from natural to artificial turf has hit India hard. They are skillful, but need to improve technique.
How do you rate India’s chances at the Rio Olympics?
I don’t know the possibility yet. Our focus is on the World League finals, which will be in India in December, featuring top eight nations. Doing well in the league stage and reaching semifinals will be our immediate goal.
How do you handle pressure and criticism?
I’ve clear vision and some basic theories. When under pressure or feeling frustrated, I analyse with a cool mind and try to find the way out.
What is more important, fitness, skill or temperament?
Winning is all about playing well off the ball. Reading the game and taking quick decisions are other key factors.
How is your working relationship with Hockey India?
Working in India is different from working in Holland. Here you’ve to adjust and I’ve had no problem with the administration so far.
How are you gelling with high performance director Roelant Oltmans?
We belong to the same country and know each other well. It’s a nice experience working with him.
What are the things you like and dislike about India?
It’s the traffic that surprises me the most. It’s organised chaos, but works well. In India everybody is in a hurry, but never on time.
What are your goals as a professional hockey coach?
I’ve no goals. It was an honour to be the head coach of the Dutch national team. Now it’s a challenge to guide the Indian team. I’ll take life as it comes.