Coach Marijne keen to imprint Dutch style on team India

Hockey India

For Sjoerd Marijne, coach of the Indian women's hockey team, it's not the six competing nations at the Hockey World League Round 2 in April which forms the most pressing worry at the moment. It's scaling language barriers.

"The biggest challenge for me at the moment is language," Marijne tells ESPN. "Not all team members understand English so it's difficult to convey the ideas I have in mind on the game and the style of play."

Presently, the captain Rani Rampal says, the modus operandi Marijne follows is that if he has something specific to convey, he speaks to a couple of players, mostly seniors including her, who in turn convey it to the rest to the members.

"When he addresses the team, he clarifies with us a number of times whether we're able to follow what he's trying to put across," Rani explains. "Also, an Indian support staff member is present during meetings who explains whatever is spoken by the coach in Hindi for the benefit of the entire team."

The Dutchman got his new stint off to an untroubled start, with the team wrapping up a 5-0 win in the Test series against Belarus in what was his maiden outing as India coach earlier this month. Having previously served as coach of the Dutch Under-21 women's team, steering them to a world title in 2015, Marijne is a man with a plan and a decent coaching record.

Currently placed 12th, India are the highest-ranked side at the HWL, a competition which is held over two years and in its present cycle will serve as a qualifier for the 2018 World Cup. Alongside India in Pool A are Belarus and Uruguay, while Pool B has Chile, Canada, Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.

The thrust in the series against Belarus, according to Rani, was largely on making tactical adjustments rather than mechanical goal-scoring.

"We tried to analyze aspects like ball positioning or speed of play, looking into the areas where we lacked. I think it helped us understand and introspect our game in greater depth and detail," she says.

Field hockey, which possibly only trails soccer in terms of following in Marijne's country of origin, the Netherlands, owes some of its remarkable successes to the country's rather ingenuous style of play - pacy, aggressive and seamlessly switching positions. It is a style that is considered to have been borrowed from the country's 'total football', made popular globally by Johan Cruyff's Holland, who made the FIFA World Cup final in both 1974 and 1978.

Among the many areas that Marijne feels the side needs to build on, the speed of play is the most crucial one.

"We have the skills to play fast but it is also the most difficult way to play," he says. "To have an attacking style is great but championships are won by teams who defend well. So it's essentially about finding the right blend. Also they're used to hitting the ball a lot and have to learn to use the push pass if they have to play 'give and go'".

Speaking for the team, Rani admits that the players are still coming to grips with fresh coaching methods and a new style of play.

"He trains us just like he would train a Dutch side. He hates us playing slow be it at a match or a training session and pushes us to challenge our limits," she says. "We are slowly grasping his ideas and I think it would really help our game if we can adopt the Dutch style."

Prior to Marijne, Australian Neil Hawgood coached the women's side and Rani feels the concept of working alongside foreign coaches is no longer alien or awkward. Marijine, in fact, has introduced individual and team video sessions in order to get to know the players and understand the backgrounds they're coming from, better. "We have 33 girls, so you can imagine that would take a fair amount of time," he says.

While he ranks discipline and skill as two of the side's crucial strengths, Marijne feels the players also need to work on the physical aspect of things.

"The importance of the physical factor is quite pronounced in international hockey. The team needs to learn that you are what you think you are. It will take time but I'm hopeful of a positive outcome."

The team will leave for Vancouver 10 days prior to the tournament which will offer them time to get acclimatised to the conditions. Vice-captain Deep Grace Ekka doesn't count the cold weather as a major factor, saying instead that the focus will be on plugging the gaps in defence and goal-scoring.

"Reaching there ten days ahead will give us a fair idea of how to play or alter our strategies. Our primary goal is to qualify for the semifinals," she says. The HWL Semifinals will take place in June and July, with Johannesburg and Brussels set to be the two venues.

With fresh ideas, Rani feels, the setting up of a fresh structure, too, has been set in motion by Marijne. One that she feels will lend the side sharper focus and greater vision.

"More than anything else, he instills us with the belief that once we're out on the field, no team is beyond us."