India men’s hockey team had a decent start to their Pro League campaign in 2020, with wins over The Netherlands and World Champions Belgium. After playing Australia in home games, coach Graham Reid’s side had a nearly two-month break before the away games against Germany. The side was camping at Sports Authority of India Center in Bengaluru when the coronavirus pandemic led to travel restrictions all over the world.
Eventually, a nationwide lockdown was announced in India by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the hockey team still at the national camp. “It’s been interesting living here at the moment,” India men’s hockey coach Graham Reid tells Hindustan Times in an exclusive chat. “I think it’s been six weeks since we got into lockdown within the walls of SAI. We got into a lockdown 11 days before the rest of the country.”
Reid recalls Bill Murray’s classic romantic comedy ‘Groundhog Day’ to explain his life amid lockdown. “Into the sixth week of lockdown, and it’s sort of becoming like ‘Groundhog Day’ movie – the same day, the same sort of things,” he says.
The Australian has been away from his family in these uncertain times, and he uses technology to stay in touch with them. His daughter works as a physio in Perth back in Australia, while his son is pursuing an online law course in Amsterdam. “The great thing about technology is that we can stay in touch – we can FaceTime pretty regularly. We keep getting updates and try to keep a finger on the pulse on how both of them are doing. They both have great support groups,” he says.
“They are both grown up – so it’s a little easier for us than those of us in the group who have smaller kids. My heart goes out to them,” he adds.
The coach understands the situation is also difficult for players, as they are unable to meet their families. “Being away from the family for so long – no one likes that,” he says. With hockey tournaments and training cancelled amid lockdown, Reid says it’s a difficult task to keep players feeling motivated.
“It’s a challenge when you are not able to do the thing you love – playing hockey. We are hoping that we are able to get back to doing that over the next couple of weeks, depending on how the situation develops,” he says.
With plenty of time in hand at the national camp, Reid has been having individual meetings with his players to asses their progress. “We are getting a good opportunity to talk about how the last 12 months have been going, what our objectives are as a group, but also individually, for the next 15 months,” he says.
He also enjoyed the online coaching session for outside coaches, an initiative organised by Hockey India and SAI. “We are providing online coaching for 300-400 outside coaches. That’s been a lot of fun. All the lot of foreign coaches have been involved in doing presentations for the same, so that keeps you busy. It also keeps you thinking about how the game changes, and what we need to do in the next 15 months, to get better,” he adds.
Reid has also been walking around the 89-acre campus to soak in sunlight and also been reading a few books to keep himself busy. “But it gets really interesting during the day on how to keep yourself busy,” he says.
In the meantime, the coaching staff has been setting up individual objectives and targets for players. They are also watching old match videos to assess potential improvement areas. “We also giving them physical challenges to perform in pairs so that they can keep their strength up. That’s quite good for their mental health,” he says.
The Australian believes it is important to continue to challenge players to ensure their mental fitness amid tense times. “We keep challenging them – be it through reading books, or online research, or looking back through old videos. We have also been sending them some quizzes on the last few games we have played – what are the learnings and all those sorts of questions,” he says.
Reid further adds that the current scenario is also a good time for the boys to explore other areas of life which they are interested in. “The boys also spend a lot of time playing video games online with their friends all over the world – it’s good that technology allows us to stay connected a lot more these days,” he adds.
With the rise of coronavirus cases in Japan, the International Olympics Committee decided to postpone the Tokyo Games to 2021. Reid admits that though the decision was a necessary one, it has posed difficulties in his plans for the team for the Olympics.
“You may think it’s just as easy to put off your plans for the next 15 months, or 12 months or whatever, but all the periodisation that goes behind trying to get your athletes to peak at the right time, they are the sort of challenges we face now,” he says.
He further adds that the uncertainty over when the team will be allowed to return to full-time training further poses a challenge in devising a post-lockdown strategy. Reid wants his team to go home for sometime after the travel restrictions after lifted but adds that it might not be possible to do so.
“It’s very difficult to devise plans now post-lockdown period, I expect them to keep changing. We are already into plan C. After the lockdown, it will be nice if the players get a chance to go home for a few days. But I don’t know if that would be possible,” he says.
The coach adds that he will continue to follow the guidelines given by the authorities after returning to training. “We will start training when we are allowed to, it may be in smaller groups, following the guidelines. When things open up a bit more, then we will return to our full training – and then we will see what goes on from there,” he signs off.