Janneke Schopman has observed from close quarters the Indian women’s hockey team enter Tokyo Olympics as also-rans and metamorphose into a top team that finished third in the FIH Pro League 2021-22. She was assistant coach to Sjoerd Marijne before Tokyo and subsequently took over as chief coach.
In this interview, coach Janneke assessed the Indian team and its opponents at the World Cup.
How do you assess the Indian women’s hockey team’s chances in the World Cup?
I think if we can play like I know we can, we have a good opportunity against the majority of the teams. I think in women’s hockey, the difference between the teams is small except for the Netherlands, as their level is quite better than the rest of the teams. If we play to our potential, we have a chance of beating any team here. With the Netherlands, it would be more difficult, you need luck.
We are in a group in which not a lot is known about New Zealand, which has not played in international hockey for nearly two years except in the Tokyo Olympics. How do you see them as challenge for India?
I think, all the teams in our pool are good and I think we are in one of the groips in which everyone can beat everyone on a good day. That’s a big challenge and India have to be wary in terms of New Zealand as nothing much is known about them. But every team has a certain style, a DNA, they play to. Hence we kind of know what to expect from New Zealand, but yeah, we will see in their first game at the World Cup where they are, what they have been doing and what their level is.
England, again would be India’s biggest challenge in the group and we have had a lot of success as well as setbacks against them. How do you see their challenge after seeing them play in the Pro League?
England is, of course, a very strong team and since the Rio Olympics where they won the gold medal (It’s Great Britain but largely England, so lots of similarities), I feel that they are a very dangerous team, they have a lot of attacking threats, they use their qualities really well. At the same time I also know that it’s a team that if you can compete and bring the same level of work to the field, it’s a team you can play well against.
India could not play against England in the Pro League as they cancelled their visit citing Covid. Do you think playing those two matches would have given the team more confidence and helped them?
You can never be sure. We did play those games during the Junior World Cup anyway, which meant that would have missed some players in our squad. In that respect, we would not have been playing with the squad that is currently here. Same for England because a lot of their players actually play in the Dutch League, so they wouldn’t have travelled to India regardless of Covid or not. So yeah, it would have been nice preparation. But I think with Tokyo fresh in our minds when we play them, it’s wise to have them fresh. Their DNA is the same, their structure is the same, and they have a new coach — their new coach was an assistant like me. Go a lot of things we know and we like the thing that we know how we want to play against them. Like I said at the start of the interview, for me it is more important that we play to our potential, and that we execute our plans. Let’s see, if the other team is also good, it would be very tough to beat them. But if we play to our potential, we have a good shot at beating them as well.
Overall, how do you see the competition in the World Cup?
I think in the last few years in women’s hockey the game has developed tremendously. I feel like lots of countries have shown that they can beat the 3 or 4 traditional (powers). But if you have seen Ireland finishing on the podium four years ago, I think the top tier of women’s hockey is quite broad and it is getting broader. I think Belgium is getting better, Spain is getting better, and Argentina is always good. So you have this group of 6, 7, 8 countries that are quite competitive, and I think that’s good for hockey and it makes the world cup extra interesting. I do think that we can potentially see some surprises as well in teams going through to the quarterfinals.
The Pro League just got over. How happy are you about the Indian team’s performance? How happy are you with the way they finished? Are there any matches, any situations where you think, they could have done something different and the result could have been as per your expectations?
I think, in hindsight, you can always say like this could have gone better and we could have improved here. Overall, the experience of playing these games was crucial for the development of our team. Our players have not been exposed to pressure games against top-level teams for a long time. You do play the bigger tournaments but in the meantime, you are reliant on playing practice matches and travelling to other countries to play, which is also a great experience but at the same time these games ask a question every time because something is at stake. I feel that every game contributed to the level we are at right now and yeah, I think for example in Belgium we didn’t play well (India lost 2-1 and 5-0), but at the same time it gave us the opportunity to learn from it and get better and I would like to think that that was a good time for it and hopefully, we don’t have to do that and experience that now in the World Cup.
Have you set any targets for your team for the World Cup as well as the Commonwealth Games?
Not necessarily. In the sense of, what you are asking I am assuming is like a top-8 finish or whatever it might be. For me, as a coach, I know what our team is capable of because I see them every day and for me, I will look at it from that perspective. So, if we can play well in our pool games, chances are high that we will continue and then everything depends on how well you play on that day, at that moment and the mindset and the mental side of things will come into play, and we have worked hard on that as well. So, for me it would be literally seeing, ‘can the girls show up in the way I think they can. Can they perform the way I know they can and then let’s see what happens’.
You have seen the team pre-Tokyo and have been more involved with them post-Tokyo. How do you assess their development pre-Tokyo and after that?
I think the base for our performance in Tokyo was just the foundation and the level that we needed to have. I think what Tokyo did was to help the players believe that they can win important games like against Australia (in the quarterfinals). I think after that my job as a coach has been to develop and improve their individual level and their team level. So, I think the players at this point know better what they are good at, how they can improve themselves, and what they need to do to play for six as I like to put it, and take ownership of the field. I think that is something that Sjoerd (Marijne, former coach) had started with but I feel like the players have more ability now to actually make their own decisions and that is something that I am really looking forward to seeing. Can they do it in the moments of high pressure and can they make their own decisions as a unit out there and play to their potential.