Thorough coaching programme reason behind Indian hockey revival: Somaya

Former Indian men’s hockey captain MM Somaya feels the coaching programme put in place by Hockey India (HI) was the main reason for the team’s success at the Tokyo Olympic Games recently.

“Hockey India has done some amazing work for Indian hockey in the last decade by streamlining administration efficiently. They have also made sure that players nowadays not only receive the best training, but the best exposure as well,” Somaya said on Friday.

“The coaching programme by Hockey India is another facet where they have done well. I am happy that they are working towards enabling Indian coaches with their coaching programme, which has got recognition from the FIH (international hockey federation) as well. Moving forward, I think we must focus on preparing a fixed template for coaching at the grassroots and the club level,” said Somaya, who was a member of the team that won gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and captained the side at the 1988 Olympic Games.

Making his Olympic debut in the 1980 Olympics, Somaya went on to play a vital role in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and finally led the side as captain in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Somaya also spoke fondly about the closely-knit group of players in the Indian team during his era.

“Many of us in the Olympic gold medal-winning team of 1980 also went on to play together in the team four years later in the Los Angeles Olympics. There were special players like Zafar Iqbal, Charanjit Kumar and Ravinder Pal Singh. All of us played two Olympics together, but further, Merwyn Fernandes, Mohammed Shahid and I played together in three (Olympic Games), from 1980 all the way to 1988.

“We formed a special bond in the core group of the team in those years and shared a lot of memories together. We would look forward to not only the national team’s training camp and matches, but also spending time off the field together, as they were really fun times,” said Somaya.

On Mohammed Shahid, who was recognised as the best player in the world in his generation, Somaya said, “Mohammed Shahid started his career just one or two years before me, and we both retired at the same time in 1988. So, we had a long journey together, and there was a good bonding and level of trust between us. His prime was from 1980 to about 1987, during which time he was arguably the world’s greatest player.

“He faced some setbacks in his personal life after that and took some time off hockey, but he worked very hard and fought his way back into the team eventually for the 1988 Olympics.”

After finishing his playing career, Somaya went on to work for a long time in the Sports Promotion division in Bharat Petroleum. He mentions that he now enjoys following Indian hockey closely, after retiring from a long and fulfilling corporate career.