Interview: Don't treat players as machines, says hockey great Pargat Singh

Image credit: Getty Images

Image credit: Getty Images

In an exclusive chat with IBNLive, the former India captain believes Indian hockey is at the receiving end due to the absence of a structured coaching system

Pargat Singh is considered the Kapil Dev of Indian hockey, never minced his words and as a captain always expected maximum effort from his players. What the Kapils and Pargats knew the best during their playing days was play to win and what they can do the best now is share their knowledge and experience.

Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way in Indian sports, where administrative powers rest with individuals who have never played the game and have no level of understanding that qualifies them to run a sports federation. The case of hockey is no different.

When it was four years to Olympics to now, just about 365 days away, hockey coaches continue to come and go. From Michael Nobbs to Paul van Ass recently, we have failed to learn our lessons and continue to be governed by the whims and fancies of individuals.

As a result, the larger interest of Indian hockey is at the receiving end. And Pargat, a politician (MLA) these days in Jalandhar but still very much interested in the game's health, agrees in this interview with IBNLive.

Sir, I don't think there is a more obvious question than this to begin: What's ailing Indian hockey?

We don't have a coaching structure in place. I would say we haven't even attempted to develop a structure. Every country has that, but we don't have it still. We are dependent on foreign coaches.

The problem is that there is no transfer of knowledge, only people are coming, earning money and going back. For example, we brought [Michael] Nobbs. He wasn't a good coach but was a good teacher, but we didn't utilise his teaching to create a structure.

But at least we can persist with a coach for some time, instead every one leaves before completing his tenure. Why we don't manage to retain a coach?

We haven't created a system, which is leading to change in coaches every now and then. Until and unless there is knowledge transfer, this will keep going on. We are the buyers; we should know what to buy, [otherwise] they will keep earning and then criticise us.

Take the case of our national championship. You find scores of 20-0, 15-0. Where is the competition? It shows we are not strengthening our grass root. It again comes down to building a structure, which is missing.

Where does it leave the players, especially so close to the biggest stage for any sportsperson, i.e., the Olympics?

Every coach has his own thought process. Players are not machines; we are only confusing them by changing coaches. That is where the problem is. Players have to adjust, understand the coach, and by the time they do it, that coach is on his way out.

That unfortunately leaves the team in not a good shape, but still there is a year to go [before the Rio Olympics].

Do you think the fans of Indian hockey are being left in the dark about India's Olympic prospects?

We are not consistent, and if we continue to harbour such [coaching] system, then don't expect much. There is no coaching system. Until that is there, we won't be able to perform consistently.

Let's talk about the team's most influential player - captain Sardar Singh. He is 30 now and not getting any younger. Is he, according to you, the same player he was two years back?

When there is so much load and not the same calibre overall, there is more wear and tear than normal. That's where Sardar is suffering. Because of pressure, he is not able to perform to the level we expect of him. As far as his leadership is concerned, I think he is doing fine.

Of the changes made for the Europe tour, Gurbaj Singh was dropped on charges of creating disharmony and indiscipline in the team. Do you think it's actually the case?

I can't really comment on that because I am not in touch with the team. Of what we see from the outside, he is a good chap. As long as he is performing for the country, it's fine. I don't really know about the controversy and what led to it.

At the end of the day, it's about handling. If you are able to conduct yourself and handle like you should, you will be fine.

How is Pargat Singh making an effort to make Indian hockey better?

I tried to give a commercial angle to hockey, but neither Hockey India nor the FIH showed interest. As far as Pargat Singh is concerned, I want to promote the game. And at the moment, I am trying to do that by making hockey's production units stronger, from where India gets most of its players. I want to make the clubs stronger and conduct more and more tournaments to improve competition.