We won't be just participants anymore: Women's hockey coach Harendra Singh

Senior women’s hockey coach Harendra says he wants to change mindset of players as well as fans

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We won't be just participants anymore: Women's hockey coach Harendra Singh
Indian women’s hockey team is currently placed 12th in world rankings, but Harendra Singh says he wants team to fight for medals; (inset) Harendra Singh


When Harendra Singh got a call from Hockey India (HI) asking if he was keen on being the head coach of the Indian senior women's hockey team, he says he had no second thoughts about the answer.

His daughter, he feels, had a big part to play in that.

"After the 2016 Junior World Cup, some people asked me to invest my time in the women's team. And when HI gave me the offer, I immediately said yes because I saw my daughter in each player of the team," Harendra told DNA from the national camp in Bengaluru ahead of his first training session with the side on Monday.

"That is the biggest reason why I'm excited about the new role. All these girls are like my daughters, and they're of the same age group as my own daughter. A father-daughter bond is always special, one that no other relationship can come close to. I'm looking at this job from that angle," he added.

Harendra, the man behind the Indian boys' success story at the 2016 FIH Junior World Cup in Lucknow last year, was regarded as one of the front-runners to replace the sacked Roelant Oltmans as the head coach of the senior men's team. Why, he had even made his desire to take up the job public.

However, HI decided to play a game of musical chairs, giving the men's role to women's coach Sjoerd Marijne and asking Harendra to fill up Marijne's shoes.

Some might have looked at the move as a bittersweet pill for Harendra, who is a Level III certified coach. But not for the man himself.

"I wasn't disappointed at all," Harendra said. "People in India always talk about men's hockey, about them winning and losing. I want to change fans' mindset, and they should want to see the women's team on the podium as well. That's the change I want to see, and it starts from Harendra."

The men's team is ranked 6th in the world, the women's team is placed 12th. The men's team finished 8th in the 2016 Rio Olympics, the women's team finished last, 12th. In most major world tournaments that the Indian girls have participated in over the last few years, they've generally been also-rans. The fact that they qualified for the 2016 Games was in itself considered a creditable achievement.

But Harendra wants to change that too. Apart from the fans' mindset, he wants to bring about a paradigm shift in the minds of the players as well.

"Whenever I take charge of any team, winning medals is the first priority for me. We will not go to any tournament just to participate. That's a challenge I'm accepting myself first with this role, and I want to put that in the girls' mind as well. We won't be just participants anymore.

"We want to challenge the big teams, win medals for the country. That's the change I would like to see, and that's the change I would impart in these girls," he said.

The line of foreign coaches that have taken charge of the women's team in the recent past have always spoken about being 'realistic'.

Not Harendra, though. He wants to move the goalposts.

"I've set up Mission 2018. It has three major tournaments: Asia Cup, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. My mission is winning the Asian Games and directly qualifying for 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And I'd want the team to finish in the top two in the CWG and Asia Cup.

"Long term will be 2020. Once I finish Mission 2018, I'll evaluate the performance and come up with Mission 2020. Also, I want to qualify for the World Cup, and in that, I want to bring the team to a place where it can claim a medal, while also thinking about the 2020 Games," he said.


Harendra Singh believes his appointment as the head coach of a senior national team can open the door for other aspiring Indian coaches to come into the system, provided they have the passion and will to do so. "I have become a role model for other Indian coaches who want to be here. If anyone wants to come here, they have to work hard. It's not just about talking and saying I want to be there or I should be there. It's about qualifying to be there by crossing all the levels of coaching: Level I, II and III. Nobody can come from top to down, people have to come from bottom to top," he said.

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