Belgians serve up an example in planning

Belgians serve up an example in planning

“Can we win the Champions Trophy? Yes of course.” These are not the prophetic words of the Australian, German or Dutch captains but the claims of the Belgian skipper in the official press kit supplied by the FIH.

While John-John Dohmen’s confidence can come across as arrogance for a team competing in just their second Champions Trophy, his self-belief is not completely misplaced for a country that has made tremendous improvement over the last 15 years.

Well behind top guns Australia and their European rivals Germany and the Netherlands until the start of the millennium, the Red Lions are today reaping the rewards of all their hard work and commitment.

Realising success can’t be achieved overnight, the Belgians started from the grassroots before expanding the programme up to the senior level that has now seen them rise to No 4 in the world rankings.

Right from appointing high performance managers from the junior to the senior levels to ensuring that even most clubs follow a systematic method of training, Belgians now have such a brilliant a structure in place that even perfectionists like Australians have been left stunned at their meticulousness.

Today, they no longer are underdogs whenever they enter a tournament, evidenced by their fifth place finishes at the London Olympics, 2012 Champions Trophy and this summer’s World Cup. Those strong performances have also helped them rise to fourth in the rankings, showing India how proper planning can bring about sustained growth.

Coach Jeroen Delmee heaped praise on the Royal Belgian Hockey Association (KBHB) for their long-term vision.

“The federation has been tirelessly working with the hockey clubs. The aim is just not to improve the level of hockey at club level but at the national level itself. There is a strong youth programme and by the time these kids graduate to the national level, they are strong enough.

“Also, the under-18 and under-21 sides are almost on par with respective sides in Holland and Germany and that just reflects well on the senior sides. A decade ago, we were no competition for Holland and Germany but now we can aspire to beat them.

The key is to get very good coaches from the smallest level to the top-most level. We have a very strong structure in place now. I’m happy to say that in Belgium, we have at least 2-3 generations of very good players.”

Delmee has now set his sights on the Champions Trophy. “That’s the target. For Belgium standards, finishing fifth at the World Cup was a huge thing. We’ve also reached our highest ranking of fourth. We won our first silver medal at the European Cup in 2013 and a fifth at the London Olympics. We want to take the next step. Earlier many didn’t expect much from us but now people expect a lot from us. Now, it’s the question of how we live up to the expectations.”

The Belgians have so far been living up to the their hype as the dark horses, proving that by coming from 3-0 down to hold Australia 4-4. What’s needed is a crowning glory to their hard work and dedication of a decade.
DH News Service

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