When Sjoerd Marijne took over as the chief coach of the Indian hockey women’s team in 2017, the team had just returned from its first Olympic Games experience in over three decades.
Whilst the tasting the Olympic experience again was an achievement in itself, the team were not able to launch a medal challenge.
They returned to India without a win and a number of the senior players deciding to retire.
A rebuilding had to be done. It fell to the Dutchman Sjoerd Marjine, a motivational speaker, to take up the challenge.
Sjoerd knew he had to get down to business at the earliest. While the team’s skill level was unquestionable and fitness could be worked upon in the coming months, an area that Sjoerd Marijne believed needed a radical change was the mindset.
He wanted to ensure that the girls, at no point during the match, caved in. Though it took a while to instill, the Indian hockey team has taken on board this mental fortitude.
“It’s all about the mindset the way I am thinking. And yes, we’ve taken some big steps (in that direction). Otherwise, we wouldn’t have qualified (for the Olympics),” Marijne told the Olympic Channel.
Leaders on the pitch
One of the things that has been different the Sjoerd Marijne-era has been the emphasis that he has put on having leaders on the pitch. For someone who enjoys being hands-on with his job, the Dutchman has worked on assuring that the players take it upon themselves to find solutions on the field.
“Every coach is different in nature and style. He has a different style to go about with players,” Indian drag flicker Gurjit Kaur pointed out.
“He wants us to find an answer to the problem we face. Yes, he’s always on the pitch to help us when we need, but with Sjoerd, the onus is on us to find ways.
“He’s open to our feedback and helps them out wherever required. He helps solve problems on the ground and is a good guide,” Gurjit Kaur added.
This change has come in handy for the Indian women’s hockey team in its recent encounters against some of the best in the world.
Be it taking the fight to the reigning Olympic champions Great Britain in their home den or lining up against the 2018 FIH Women’s World Cup bronze medallists, Spain, the Indian team has never shied away from a challenge.
But nothing showcases this better than the two matches that the team played against the USA in their FIH Olympic qualifiers last year.
While the first match forced the Indian eves to switch tactics to bypass a dominant American midfield to score the goals, the second match tested their defensive resolve and character under mounting pressure. And Sjoerd Marijne believes the girls excelled well.
“Normally the team would give up two-three years ago. But now they spoke to each other and changed the match completely and this is because of their improved mental health,” Marijne said.
It’s this mental toughness that the chief coach is banking on as the team prepares for an uncertain journey in times of a pandemic.
“We were ready for (for the Olympics in) July this year,” he remarked. “But I think we have a young squad and they will only get better.
“The more we are together with each other, the better. We have a lot of time in our hands and I’m really happy about that. It will only make us stronger.”