If you speak players' language, they will adapt or else they quit, says coach Siegfried Aikman

It’s fair to argue that international hockey wouldn’t be the same without Pakistan’s foresight and innovation.
Pakistan hockey team coach Siegfried Aikman
Pakistan hockey team coach Siegfried Aikman

BHUBANESWAR:  It’s fair to argue that international hockey wouldn’t be the same without Pakistan’s foresight and innovation. The World Cup and the now defunct Champions Trophy, two of the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) blue-riband products, were conceived by them. In recent times, though, the country has fallen behind in the sport. While others have taken the elevator and adapted to modern methods, they staunchly stick to a sepia-toned era. Fitness, as seen during the ongoing junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar, is an area which continues to elude them.

There are other problems, too. According to the FIH, the country doesn’t have a single FIH accredited turf. They were supposed to play in the inaugural edition of the Pro League but were evicted by FIH after they informed the world body of a fund crunch. They haven’t qualified for the last two Olympics and have won three World Cup matches in 17 games from 2006. They are now ranked 17th in the world, just above Wales and Scotland. Off the field, too, they have had their fair share of problems. Officials involved in running the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) have faced allegations of corruption and malpractice.  

Suffice to say, they are not in a good place right now. The coach entrusted with resuscitating the country’s hockey fortunes is Dutchman Siegfried Aikman. Aikman, who has Indian roots, led Japan’s charge for the last two years. In a wide-ranging interview with this daily, the 62-year-old touched upon his vision, importance of modern coaching and what he thinks of Pakistan hockey. Excerpts:  

On how the opportunity arose
In September, I was asked if I was interested. I liked the challenge, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to help Asian hockey grow. Pakistan should be one of the leading teams in the world. They have the potential but like India, need time. That’s why I have a long-term contract (five years) to not just work with the team but also improve the coaching structure.

On whether he has been able to identify some of the issues
I know some things. Olympians are in charge and they do things they did years ago. They have to change. They need to get the knowledge, understand the modern way of coaching. They are from another era, the youngsters now grow up with the internet, with many possibilities. So they have a totally different life, different way of communication, thinking. It is very interesting to see how they will develop. If you speak their language, they will adapt. If not, they will give up hockey and lose interest.

How did you see them when you were the opposition coach?
They are skillful but physically not fit enough to play modern hockey. Technically, they are unable to use their skills to play modern hockey. They make many unforced errors, get tired, decision-making is not so up to the mark and their tactical concepts are a litte bit old-fashioned. There is a lot of playing space behind their lines to be successful. If we were to go in detail, their technical skills are also going to a lower level because the modern way of hockey demands a different execution of skills. For instance, in the Olympic final, there were 40 aerial balls by both teams. In the past, they have long aerial balls. Now, they have short aerial balls; hockey becomes more like football. You need to have different receiving skills, different passing skills. It demands a totally different approach to hockey. If you are continuing with concepts used 10 years ago, you lose connection. 

On his analysis of them
They have the technical abilities and skill. It’s very important to give them the structure. Within that, you have rules and values. If everybody understands, they will be okay. If we can create that in our hockey, then you use skills better. We should not spend time on people who do not want to do this. We need to be hard on people who go into excuse machines. If we can change it, the money part will come. 

On his vision for growing Pakistan hockey
I will move to Lahore, we need to be part of the culture, understand it. I don’t want to go there and tell people what to do. The culture here is you get the ball and you attack, dribble. So, you make them understand that you can’t do that all the time. But you cannot ban it because that’s their strength. This is what they are, their identity. So please do it, but at the right moments. 

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