Bengaluru (Karnataka)[India], September 17 (ANI): In 2020, when the former Netherlands international Janneke Schopman joined the Indian Women's Hockey Team support staff under then Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne, the team was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics 2020 as one of the dark horses in the race to a podium finish.
Just over three years later, Janneke Schopman will be leading the Indian Women's Hockey Team as Chief Coach in the upcoming edition of the Hangzhou Asian Games, with the Indian Team tipped as the favourites for the prestigious tournament.
Schopman opened up about the team's preparations and how the players and coaching staff deal with the pressure of expectations in a candid conversation on the latest episode of Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India.
The Dutch also discussed whether the tag of favourites puts additional pressure on the Indian Women's Hockey Team ahead of the new assignment, which begins on September 27, 2023 against Singapore.
"I believe the mindset the players have as an individual and as a team will make the difference. Can we perform under pressure and deal with the circumstances handed over to us? We have talked about this over the past couple of months and what it means to not be the underdogs like we were in Tokyo but being the favourites," Schopman said, before adding, "We have spoken about how people view us and the expectations they have from this team.
"She further said,"We have also addressed what dangers are out there that might cause distraction, and trip us up, and how we can deal with the same. Sometimes, with all the stuff happening around, you forget as a coach and a player that you are just there to play hockey. It is important to enjoy the journey as well. I hope we win; I think we can win but it's life and we might not. As long as we know we were able to control what we can and we were able to play as well as we can as individuals and as a team, then we have to accept the outcome. This is what we are trying to instil in the girls that we just haveto play hockey and find a way to work around the pressure."India are placed in Pool A for the Asian Games along with Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong China and Singapore, while Japan, China, Thailand, Kazakhstan and Indonesia form Pool B. After their opening game against Singapore, India will next face off against Malaysia on 29th September 2023, followed by Korea on 1st October 2023 and Hong Kong China on 3rd October 2023. With a chance to secure a direct qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics, India are aiming to finish the tournament with a Gold medal.
Coach Schopman opened up on the reality that the team might face unexpected variables during the tournament but stressed the importance of maintaining communication in the team set-up to fix the tiniest of issues.
"We have obviously spoken about our targets from the tournament but eventually it comes down to nerves and pressure. We have no idea what the Games village would be like, what challenges we may face that we cannot influence, how the food and weather would be like. We have to deal with everything that comes our way and our team is good with that," she said.
"This is why it is important to talk about the smallest of things before each tournament. A player might feel something small but they can be like 'I am not saying because it is tiny', but I have to be like 'just say it, because it might be small now and we can solve it now. But if we don't address it now, it might become big and then we may have a problem'," Schopman added.
Schopman, a former Olympic and World Cup Gold medal-winning Dutch player, has already led the Indian Women's Hockey Team to a Bronze medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games as the Chief Coach. She also led the Indian team to a Gold medal in the inaugural FIH Nations Cup last year. But Schopman has never experienced the pressure of competing as a player or a Coach at the Asian Games and is eager to face the challenge.
"This is going to be my first time competing in an Asian Games as well. I try to emphasize that you can either go into every tournament believing it is the most important one or believing it's just another tournament. It does not matter whether it is your first time in a tournament or the last time - what matters is that you are here now and you have to make the most of the opportunity and make it count. As a team, that is what we will try to do as well," Schopman said.
India will be entering the Asian Games with a squad that includes veteran players like Deep Grace Ekka, Captain Savita, and Vandana Katariya, among others. However, several newcomers, including Deepika, Vaishnavi Vitthal Phalke, and Bichu Devi, have been given the opportunity to compete in the prestigious multi-sport event for the first time.
Speaking on her process of team selection, Schopman said, "I think it's a testament to the entire group of 34 players who were part of the National Camp that it is always difficult to select the final squad of 18 players. The Senior players are still consistently performing and the Junior players are constantly knocking on the door. Hence, every time we have to select a team, it gets tougher," Schopman said.
"We want to go to the Asian Games to win and qualify for Paris. If we are able to do it, that's a testament to all the 34 players and the work we did at the camp. For the selection of the 18 players, we cannot just take the ones with the most caps. I try to look at the team and try to see what each individual can bring in and how they can complement each other. Some of the junior players have developed tremendously in the last couple of months and hence, have become a part of the team," she signed off.
On September 27, the Indian Women's Hockey Team will begin their campaign against Singapore at 1015 hrs IST. The matches will be aired live on Sony Sports Network. (ANI)