After a disappointing World Cup campaign, the Indian team's head coach, Graham Reid tendered his resignation along with analytical coach Greg Clark and scientific advisor Mitchell David Pemberton.
Under Reid, India enjoyed a successful Tokyo Olympics campaign where they won a medal after 41 long years. He also oversaw India's third-placed finish in the Pro League last season along with the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games 2022.
The year 2023 is quite important for India, with the Asian Games, being a qualification event for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Failure to win gold at the Asiad will result in India having to play a tricky qualification tournament later this year or in early 2024 to make it to Paris.
In the past, many coaches, foreign and domestic, have found Indian hockey to be a difficult terrain to navigate. Expectations are always huge; while the team's performances are often hampered by inconsistency.
So, what will the new coach face and what ought to be the goals for the team? We list it out:
FIH Pro League:
This season, India are placed second in the table after having played four matches in the top international league, with 12 more to go. They will restart their campaign in March so this will most likely be the new coach's first international assignment.
It will be tough for the coach and the players to hit the ground running as soon as they start playing, but Pro League matches present a perfect opportunity for players to implement their new coach's ideas and style. Although India finished a credible third last time around, there are no real consequences or benefits with regard to where they finish on the table. Well, except for finishing last because that would mean getting relegated to the Nations Cup.
The biggest test for the new coach this year will be the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. India will remain favourites for the gold irrespective of what happened at this World Cup. There will be strong competition from the likes of Malaysia and South Korea who impressed at the World Cup. In fact, South Korea were the only Asian nation to qualify for the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Last time in 2018, India started off with a bang but lost in the semifinal against Malaysia. They came back home with a bronze after beating Pakistan in the third-place playoff. Despite the medal, the campaign was considered a failure. The new coach will be aware that anything other than a gold will bring added scrutiny and pressure.
It will be interesting to see if the new coach will opt for a complete overhaul of the squad, although it's a bit premature. The current set of players endured a tough World Cup, but there's enough talent in place. The likes of Hardik Singh, Abhishek, Sukhjeet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Shamsher Singh should be part of the long-term plan of the men's team.
In addition, PR Sreejesh said he's not ready to give up his boots just yet while former captain Manpreet Singh will also have to be in the mix.
One area the new coach should devote time and energy to is the development of junior team players. It may not be their primary job, but India need a regular supply of junior players into the senior team. At this World Cup, India had only one player from the 2021 Junior World Cup squad - Vivek Sagar Prasad - who had already made his senior team debut before playing the Junior World Cup.
Another dilemma for the new coach would be the appointment of a captain; or rather, whether Harmanpreet Singh gets to keep his armband after a tough tournament. Captaincy is not significant in hockey, but Harmanpreet had to face tough questions about the team's performance as well as his loss of form at the World Cup. The pressure was very much visible on his face, and performances.
High performance coaching
India do not have a strong domestic structure. The approach from the federation is very top-down in nature, where the players selected in national camps (senior and junior) are provided with the best of facilities and training methods to improve their standards.
It's different in Europe, where players feature in strong domestic leagues. The new coach will have to develop ways and methods to raise the performance and fitness levels of domestic players - without quality game time. It's exactly why previous coaches, including Reid, spent a lot of time preparing their charges in national camps. It is of the utmost importance that new players coming in are quickly upgraded to high international standards.
Before Reid put in his papers, he went public with the need to have a mental conditioning coach for the senior team. In Reid's case, it was about the players' failure to deal with the pressure of playing a home World Cup. The new coach will no doubt be asked about his opinion on the matter.
There are benefits of having a long-term sports psychologist with the team. It could be related to dealing with pressure or about game management and how to stay in the moment. Whether the coach and the players will be open to having one is another important question. Reid thought he had in him to manage the players mentally, but it didn't work. In the end, it resulted in Reid's tenure coming to a disappointing conclusion.