At the start of October, it was finally time to play a tournament again. The past two years many players of our academy were only able to practice. And even then, they were very lucky to even be able to train. Players from outside the academy didn’t had this opportunity. Because of COVID-19 there wasn’t much possible. But although people are still afraid of a third wave, hockey is all starting again in India.
Hockey in India is different than how we know it in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands we play in several competitions, but in India you have to participate in tournaments. With the travel distance, participating in tournaments is also more practical. With the train it takes easy a whole day to arrive to your destination. And to be doing this every week for a competition game, is a lot. So it seems that there is someone who has thought about this in a clever way. However… sometimes there are still some difficulties with the current system.
There are tournaments which are organized by the Indian Hockey Federation and there are tournaments organized by private organizers. An effect of this is that sometimes tournaments are organized at the same time. This results in that than one tournament needs to be rescheduled. It looks like that there is no further coordination prior to every tournament and when and where its being organized.
Composing a tournament is sometimes a bit difficult. The Indian Hockey Federation has standard age categories, but because of COVID-19 this differs sometimes and private tournaments can set up their own age categories. This makes that we sometimes have to change our team selections, because we have to make sure to send the right aged kids. It also can happen that when age is not a problem, sometimes players are still not allowed to participate because they already played games for their home state (which is in India a huge honour).
Normally we try not to focus to much on this and make sure to have a clear structure within the academy. We follow the age categories of the Indian Hockey Federation and try to look at the in and out flow of the school years. However, the age categories of the Indian Hockey Federation change at the first of January. Which is in the middle of the tournaments and in the middel of the school year. This results in the fact that from the first of January until the end of the school year we have a group of kids who are not allowed to play Junior tournaments anymore and we have a shortage within the teams. To change the in and out flow of players to the beginnning of January is not an option, because we don’t want to send children back home in the middle of their final school year. So that means we need to get creative with the team selection. Next year we luckely have a senior team as well. So then we can create a structure to always have players that we can put in teams.
The fact that there are different age categories is hard to believe when you see several players at a tournament. For example, the birthday of one player can say that he is only 13 years old, but his length, full grown beard and overall appearance doesn’t look like a thirteen year old… This is a familiar problem, that age registration is not completely trustworthy. Luckily, the Indian Hockey Federation created a system that when a player is registered once, that this is not changeable.
Within this chaos it is up to us, the coaches, to create a good and clear season strategy and selection procedure. Sometimes it is difficult to maintain this in the current structure. But with a clear structure we can achieve huge steps in the development of the players, the staff and the academies as a whole. Let’s hope that this will also shine through to the Indian Hockey Federation and all Indian hockey players.