New Delhi, 24th February 2023: A veteran of over 400 matches and the first hockey player in the history of the sport to be elected as President of the governing body of hockey in India, Padma Shri Dr Dilip Tirkey eloquently discussed the importance of a robust grassroots development programme with primary focus on giving the right exposure to aspiring hockey players in the country.
In a freewheeling conversation with Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India in 2021, the former India Captain reiterated the importance of the Hockey India National Championships in preparing young athletes and discussed the roadmap ahead in order to build and nourish a well-structured grassroots system by providing various competitive platforms for young players to hone and develop their skill sets. This would also be crucial in the selection process as it enables early identification of talented individuals.
“For any sport to thrive, grassroots development is vital. A strong foundation results in good players and a strong Senior and Junior national teams. In the past, athletes in the Sub Juniors (U-17) and Juniors (U-19) categories haven’t had enough game time. We are going to rectify that by introducing a zonal system, where they play will Intra Zone and Inter Zone competitions. Pragmatically, not everybody will play for India, but this set up will at least allow players to take pride in representing their respective zones and give them a feel of a competitive atmosphere at an early age.”
He further added that the new system is not only beneficial for the athletes but will also help the selection committees and the administration immensely. “We are trying to build a pipeline of talent. From each Zone we could potentially have a pool of around 50 players. At any given time, we should be aware of what level our Sub Junior or Junior athletes are at and therefore we can accordingly give them the resources they need.”
As part of the same effort, Hockey India is introducing special training programmes for athletes and coaches. “The game of Hockey is rapidly evolving, based on the level of competition we see at the Zonals or the Nationals, we can accordingly provide training modules, such as a drag-flicking program or even a goalkeeping program involving former international players who can lead these clinics. Focusing on the individual development is very important and that is also why we are emphasizing on residential facilities for younger athletes rather than a simple academy-based model. This will enable them to familiarise themselves with the necessary training and nutritional requirements in order to perform optimally.”
Frequent simulation of competition will also contribute to developing the mentality and psyche of players. Tirkey spoke about establishing an U-17 National team and an U-19 National team to compliment the current U-21 set up. Furthermore, at the upcoming National Championship, which is to be held in Odisha, in April, players can expect to operate under a world class set up, with matches played under flood lights. “Once we give our junior athletes the responsibility and experience, by simulating high level competition from a young age, they will find it easier to cope with the challenges that accompany playing for India at an international level. By adding the U17 and U19 National teams, we can also give our athletes benchmarks that they can aspire to and work towards.”
Before concluding, Tirkey reemphasized the importance of grassroots and that reviving interest in domestic competition is an important part of growing the sport. He said, “We have kept this in mind, and have introduced the live streaming of matches this year onwards. We have also ensured the National Championships have the same standard as any international match that is hosted by us. This will enhance the experience of players taking part in the tournament. This is all a collective effort by Hockey India staff and moving forward we also want to introduce the video referral system so that players get used to this at a young age itself,” Tirkey opined.