Striker Navneet Kaur has credited India women hockey head coach Sjoerd Marijne for instilling confidence in the team that has allowed it to play aggressively and without fear against top-ranked opponents. Also Read - Another Blow to India Men Hockey Team Ahead of Tokyo Olympics as Analytical Coach Chris Ciriello Quits
“Earlier, we feared playing against top teams like Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia. We lacked that match-winning confidence and this was perhaps why many teams even considered us as underdogs,” Navneet said. Also Read - Archer Atanu Das Hopes to Put up His Best Performance at Tokyo Olympics
“Apart from winning important matches, I think there are a lot of other factors that have contributed to this change and one of them being Chief Coach Sjoerd’s style of play. He likes aggression, he has instilled that belief in us that we are a team that can play with good speed in our attack,” she added. Also Read - Hockey | COVID-19 Experience Made me Mentally Stronger, Says India Men's Captain Manpreet Singh
It is this belief that helped them overcome USA in the two-legged Olympic qualifiers in November last year as they sealed a second straight berth at the quadrennial event.
“Marijne always tells us it’s not over until the last whistle. Even during the half-time of the Olympic Qualifiers, he said we will begin the third quarter as though the scores are 0-0. We have been instilled with that fighting spirit,” Navneet said.
India have been placed in the same group as Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland and South Africa for the Tokyo Olympics. “We will play our first match against the Netherlands at the Olympics and quite frankly, we are really excited to play against them because we have not faced them in the past. We don’t fear playing against these teams and are focused on preparing well. We are currently undergoing a week-long recovery which involves light gym session, stretching and swimming pool recovery. Resting well is also emphasised before we resume intense training from next week,” she said.
One of the key factors behind their recent upswing is the improved fitness standard. “I also believe our improvement in fitness has been another big factor. Every girl (including new comers) are aware of the importance of fitness, recovery and diet. Apart from this, small things like support staff encouraging us to improve internal communication, point out openly in meetings about what we can do differently in training sessions etc, these things make us feel bold and confident,” Navneet explained.