New Delhi: A lot has been written and said about Harendra Singh's emotional side, ever since he guided the junior men's hockey team to the World Cup title earlier this month. While emotions do play an important role in a sportsman's life, Harendra is clear, that this triumph was a result of 'meticulous planning' and 'scientific approach', something that was lacking in Indian hockey for long.
"We had a simple pyramid in mind while creating the blueprint for this tournament. It was all about Vision, Planning, Execution and eventually the Result," the Hockey Junior World Cup winning coach told News18.com during an exclusive interview.
Harendra didn't have a decorated career as a player. But what he had lost out on, on the pitch, he has more than made up by being on the sidelines. He was the assistant coach of the senior men's hockey team during the 2000 Sydney Olympics. India needed a win against unfancied Poland in their last league match, to reach the semi-finals for the first time in two decades. But a late goal put paid to that hope. Sixteen years later India is still waiting to get a shot at an Olympic medal, but Harendra feels things have started moving in the right direction.
"Mental toughness is the key in big tournaments and that is needed to avoid chocking at crucial moments. This is possible when your fitness levels are very high and that is where the big change has come. These boys are so fit that the Europeans and Australians are worried about matching up to them for 70 minutes."
"If you have the gas in your legs till the end, you can stage a comeback at any point. The reason, why you saw the team come back from losing positions to win crucial matches at the World Cup," the coach said.
"We knew the boys could outpace their opponents at any point. Hence we had different strategies for different scorelines. Even when we were leading, the focus was on keeping the ball in the opponent's half without committing too many players forward. The last ten minutes of a hockey match are all about mindgames. A fresh and fit body is the key to a fit mind, and see we didn't fall prey to old habits," Harendra quipped proudly.
"Punjab has always provided top notch players to the Indian team and it was the case this time as well. Hockey has seen a renaissance in Punjab due to Pargat Singh's vision. His decision to bring in experienced coaches like Sukhvir Singh Grewal at the Surjit Singh Hockey Academy changed the lives of Harjeet (captain of the Junior Men's team) and the other boys," Harendra said.
But the biggest clincher, according to Harendra, is the unity in the dressing room. The coach was clear that the boys had to move beyond their regional tendencies to come together as a group and believe in being an Indian team.
"Groupism and factionalism has cost Indian teams of the past dearly. I can say that we have lost out on international medals because we didn't play as a team. I was determined to change this. The first thing I did was to change the room partners. Despite a huge number of players from one state, I ensured that the boys mixed with each other and stayed as a team".
"We did everything as a team. From sitting on the dining table wearing the same coloured clothes to celebrating every festival together, the idea was to create a family. And the results were seen on the pitch, as each player was standing behind the other to support in crucial times," an excited Harendra said during the telephonic conversation.
"This win will serve as a precursor to the senior men's World Cup, which will be held in India in 2018. The target should be a top four finish and then aim at the medals in the Tokyo Games."Asked if he would be interested to take up a role with the national side, Harendra said, "I am a soldier. Whenever and wherever my country will need me, I will go there."