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Hindustan Times: Brittle Indian hockey team seeks mental toughness (6/9/2019)
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Hindustan Times: Brittle Indian hockey team seeks mental toughness

B Shrikant

The main reason for the questions regarding mental toughness is that India beat Poland 10-0 in the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia three months back, but struggled to quell them on Friday.

“It’s all in the mind. The players tend to relax at times and that’s why they commit mistakes.” This comment was by Paul van Ass, Indian hockey team’s former chief coach, after a late goal was conceded in the Azlan Shah Cup in 2015.

“One of the things we keep talking about is that the guys get distracted from their task and we have to find a way to stay focused on doing our job.” This statement was made on Friday by new chief coach Graham Reid after India’s scratchy performance in the 3-1 win against Poland in the FIH Men’s Hockey Series here.

It has again brought to the fore concerns of a fragile mind and poor concentration of players that result in mistakes and late goals, raising questions whether the team needs a sports psychologist before tougher competitions like the Olympic Qualifiers in October-November.

The main reason for the questions regarding mental toughness is that India beat Poland 10-0 in the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia three months back, but struggled to quell them on Friday.

Both teams had made three changes from the Azlan Shah Cup encounter and hence there was no justification for India’s inability to re-impose its superiority over Poland. India clearly lost focus many times, allowed their opponents many chances, and showed a lack of coordination and missed many chances.

That was why Reid felt they were distracted from their main job of scoring goals. The Australian said he was not averse to using a sports psychologist to help the team maintain focus, be it a match or an entire tournament.

His predecessors too have sought the help of psychologists to tackle the problem.

Last year, the team had some sessions with an expert from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) following the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast and before the Champions Trophy. Michael Nobbs had used the services of Bangalore-based psychologist Dr Chaitanya Sridhar during a camp. In 2017, the Indian junior men’s team had used the services of sports psychologist Mrinal Chakravorty ahead of the World Cup.

While foreign experts are in favour of using experts to infuse mental in the team, Indian coaches do not approve of such intervention.

Last year after the Asian Games, where India had to be content with bronze, coach Harendra Singh had rejected the idea of using a psychologist to help the team deal with pressure situations. He said the coach can be the best motivator as he spends a lot of time with the players and knows them inside out.

“Apart from the coach, the player himself should be able to lift himself as playing for the country is the biggest motivation,” he had said.

Harendra does have a point as an international player should be able to tackle such situations himself. The players have had such sessions in the past—many in this team have graduated from the junior side and have gained from a psychologist’s help.

Whether Reid goes ahead and ropes in a sports psychologist or not, one this is clear—he needs to tackle the inconsistent performances and a lack of mental toughness promptly.

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