Unorthodoxy is India's strength: Schopman

Unorthodoxy is India's strength: Schopman

Indian women's hockey head coach Sjoerd Marijne (left) with the newly appointed analytical coach Janneke Schopman at the SAI campus in Bengaluru on Tuesday. DH PHOTO/VIVEK MV

Janneke Schopman was part of a Netherlands team which won reputed trophies. A decade after calling it quits, the former defender has been tasked with guiding India to excel at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Only a couple of days into her new role as analytical coach, Schopman called the ninth-ranked women's team the underdog at the quadrennial event. 

"This group has a lot of experience. India is a dark horse," Schopman began in an interaction with reporters at the Sports Authority of India, South Centre, here.

"Many of them were there in Rio (Olympics) last time. I told them 'sometimes you also need to learn what not to do'. I see India as a team with a lot of potential. You have a solid goalkeeper (Savita Punia), a good penalty corner attack and defence. Those are the things that make a difference. You also have some very key players. And the rest is very unorthodox. India does something different from most of the countries. It's a disadvantage that we aren't in the Pro League but it also an advantage because teams don't see us so much and we can throw it all out there," she offered. 

The 42-year-old, who was appointed by Hockey India on Friday, is a 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medallist and played for the Dutch side that finished second at the 2004 Athen Olympics. Schopman essayed a key role in Netherlands' triumph in the 2006 World Cup. Talking from experience, Schopman explained what it takes to win an Olympic gold. 

"The most important thing for a team is unity. You have to do it together and everyone is important. Also, your expectations have to be clear. The difference for me between the silver medal and the gold medal at the Olympics was that at the time we won the gold medal, our expectations were very clear. Every player knew what was expected of her," Schopman said. 

Only a couple of months ago, Schopman, as the head coach of USA, watched from the opposite dug out, as India inflicted a heart-breaking defeat on her team in the Olympic qualifiers in Bhubaneswar. The hosts had clinched a close 6-5 win on aggregate to book the tickets to Tokyo. Her stint with the US was all but over. During the period, it was India's women's head coach Sjoerd Marijne who showed interest in having Schopman in the coaching team. 

"She has the knowledge on how it is to be in the Olympics," said Marijne on what Schopman can bring to the team. "In India, players don't approach the chief coach. That's the way it goes. Because I was alone for a long time, they approached me. But still, some are still hesitating. But on her first day, they came to Janneke. As for me, someone who speaks the same language when I have the head-set on is of great help. Because we have to communicate direct and fast. Now I have someone to talk technique to," the Dutch reasoned. 

Adapting to the country's culture will be one of the challenges for Schopman. But she is confident of hockey uniting everyone. "I am excited about it. There are differences in culture but the sport and love for the sport is what we all share. That's the common denominator," she said. 

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