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September 15, 2000
Straight from the heartCedric D'Souza
Prior the '96 Atlanta Olympics we gathered that we had done everything possible to rectify gray areas we thought were prevalent within the team as well as mistakes of the past.
For example: We did not disclose our strategy and plans to the other teams whilst playing in tournaments. In fact, we deliberately used certain set-plays on a continuing basis to make it seem that these were our trump cards whereas in actual reality they were decoys.
We rested key players. We worked very hard on our fitness and other specific skills - - penalty-corners to the tune of 150-200 per day, possession, midfield control, counter attacks, closing down when not in possession etc- all match-like situations with pressure tactics were employed, drilled and worked on.
We were ready - - at least that is what we assumed -- but whatever our plans/projections, aspirations and hopes were, we were sadly mistaken; we were badly crushed. A team that was touted by the rest of the world as a medal prospect crumbled and plummeted to its worst showing in Olympic history.
I still do believe that although the results were not forthcoming, this did not diminish the fact that our team was the best that left the shores of India and a definite top four finisher. The hard work, tireless hours of training, meticulous planning and tactical analysis put in, really did not warrant an eighth place.
For me, coaching is total involvement -- in heart, mind and soul -- and so, as coach, I was totally committed and consumed by the team's requirement -- emotional, psychological, discipline, coaching, planning etc. In all honesty, I do believe that I did give it my all, did my level best to fulfill these self made requirements that I imposed on myself when I took on the mantle as national coach.
So, the debacle was the most deflating, ego shattering and heartbreaking experience that I have faced in my sporting career. Winning and losing is part of parcel of every sportsman's psyche -- but after knowing that there was a very thin margin between victory and defeat and preparing oneself that a loss could happen even to the best, when the time came to eventually face the reality, it was most unbearable.
What was our performance like? Our record in the pool matches was 1 loss, 2 draws and 2 wins.
Loss to Argentina -- when we totally dominated the match. Draw with Germany, after leading till the penultimate minute. Draw with Pakistan, when we again should have downed our reputed neighbours. Victory over minnows USA and eventual finalists Spain.
Our total points tally was 6. We were just edged out by a solitary point by Germany.
And how costly that little point was? We lost out on a semi-final berth!
Then came the most distressing stuff - - the 5th to 8th place classification matches, where we had to lock horns against Korea, Great Britain, Pakistan - - all teams that we had beaten during our build-up to Atlanta. However, we were in for another rude shock as we lost both these matches. Against Korea, after leading for more than 50 minutes by two goals, and against GB, after leading till the last 10 minutes.
You might rightly ask me what happened? Yours was a team projected to make the semi-final stage but it landed up a dismal eighth.
Well, four years later it still haunts me that we blew it ourselves. But without criticizing my team or anyone personally I feel justified in making it known where we went wrong.
Overconfidence against Argentina (holding onto the ball, being individualistic and not being able to transfer midfield dominance into goals); the inability to handle the pressure and regroup for the next task after performing below par in previous matches; tactical blunders at crucial moments (not shutting the door in the last few minutes, the inability to put into practice those theories and tactics that were part of game plans); some horrific umpiring decisions against Germany and Pakistan (which I feel was due to the India- Malaysia match at the Olympic qualifier) in Pool matches.
In the classification matches, it was total loss of focus. The inability to raise and believe in oneself after not qualifying for the semis saw us plummet.
Catching the flight back to India, I was in a mess - - emotionally broken and physically drained while trying to still keep my head held high. At that moment I felt my entire focus was to try and keep the team as united as possible. By telling them that they did not have to go criticizing one another to safeguard themselves at the cost of blaming others. That I would take full responsibility for the team's lackadaisical showing.
On that long arduous flight back home I began to doubt myself. Did I still have the ability and forte? Did I not let the country, federation, family and myself down?
Should I continue in this position in spite of Mr. Gill coming out very strong that I would continue?
Ares my knowledge and modern coaching theories really beneficial to the team?
Well, I guess these must be thoughts that go through every coach's mind when he/his team has not performed to expectations. For the better part of a month, post-Atlanta, I was hounded by calls from all and sundry asking what really happened. This really made it impossible for me to really put the team's performance in true perspective. So I flew back to the USA and went through the entire sequence of the Olympics and then wrote my report to the IHF. One that I felt was unbiased and factual, and what I believed would help Indian hockey in the future. It was during those moments that I came to my decision that I would resign as national coach but continue to try and help the IHF in developing the sport by imparting my knowledge that I had accumulated over the past years during international sorties.
Today, as we prepare for another onslaught at the Olympic gold we last won at Moscow in 1980, I presume that the IHF and the team management has taken heed of the shortcomings post-1996. Indeed, going by recent performances of the team, things do seem very positive for a good showing at Sydney.
From an ex-coach who still has his heart in hockey as always, I wish the boys every success.
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