Consecutive Sundays, Malaysian hockey had 2 teams in the finals, one the Seniors at World Cup qualifier in New Zealand and the other at Asia Cup Under 18 in Myanmar. In both instances we ended up playing "2nd fiddles". It seem that the "winning crown" is eluding Malaysia.
Some put it to the fact that our players are unable to cope with the "big game" temperament. The pressure of wanting to qualify for the bigger event adds a higher level of stress which either allows them to start with a "bang" and then fizzle out with time or start poorly with a number of goals down thereby staging a "fightback" against the clock. Both these scenarios seem to fit with our teams in New Zealand and Myanmar respectively.
This "yo yo" temperament of the team seem to reflect the lack of consistency throughout the game and thereby hurting themselves from becoming champions. This is because we do not educate our players to familiarise how to cope with different pressure scenarios and the varying levels of stress. Both the finals in which our boys were involved is a classic reflection of the lack of such familiarisation. Part of the reason is that our national league is not highly competitive as it is dominated in the main by 1 team which has most of the national players. Therefore the training ground does not exist.
One does not have to be a "rocket scientist" to analyse these issues. If we are aware we must take the necessary steps to prepare the boys accordingly, it is imperative that the coaches understand this and select and substitute the players accordingly. This is where Sports Science and Bio Medicine data of the players are fundamental. This has to be incorporated into an IT system where the coaches can utilise it on a real time basis during the game. Modern progressive qualified coaches use such tools to cope with the growing demand of ensuring their team has that added advantage over their opponents.
To be fair to our senior national coaches like Beng Hai and Nor Saiful, against all odds and the predictions of certain naysayers they have done well. More so if we look at the adversities they had to face during the time they were handling the team. It is incredible they still could get the best out of the team. I am not saying that they are brilliant coaches, rather hard working and highly focused of wanting to achieve their objective. Their principle minded nature where they call "a spade, a spade" provides an uncompromising position particularly on discipline and training methodology. This had upset a few senior players plus certain key officials who were trying to undermine the coaches. However the leadership at MHF and NSC had kept faith with both these coaches and in a way the New Zealand final is a testament to these coaches determined quest of working and geting the best from the available talents.
At this point it must be noted that our reservoir of talents as part of the supply chain is slowly but surely "drying up". Almost 1 year has gone by and the Development Committee is still at the drawing board working out their development programme. This is what that puts the pressure on the future when the wise men find it difficult to put together reasonable effective plan to develop talents. The "high flying" stature and the huge financial commitment they are looking at, in the absence of a sound integrated platform seem to reflect the lack of understanding of the terrain of grass root hockey in Malaysia. While the Development Committee continues on its "mental gymnastics" , they must be aware that the ground does not get fertilised with development while they "think". This delay would bring its price too.
Reverting back to our Under 18 team, the coach Dharma supported by Nor Azlan and Gopi are doing a good job. They are moulding the boys well, cajoling at the right time and using the "rod" where it is required. Dharma's boys are shaping up well and they have taken the game to the top teams in Asia. That itself is a good start but we must recognise that Asian hockey is on a downward spiral and therefore we must always look at the Europeans and Oceania nations as a basis of comparison. Can we match with the teams from these regions? That would be the real test.
The Under 18 coach seem to ooze a high level of confidence particularly viewing his pre match comments. At a point it would seem he had portrayed a degree of arrogant over-confidence and Dharma has to be cautious of this. It would seem the defeat at the final had brought him down to earth as he accepted responsibility for the tactical error. Maybe with time and more international exposure the coach too would be able to fine tune his approach.
Dharma's greatest task is how he is going to hold the team together for the future. As it is they are being coaxed with monies and other attractive offers to turn out for various teams in the MHL. They are going to be exposed to all sort of things from good, bad and ugly, which is going to tempt them accordingly. Many had paid the price and in a way had affected the "bolts and nuts" of the teams in the past. Something Dharma and his fellow coaches have to look at if they want their "stars" to perform consistently in the future.
If we are not careful the consecutive Sunday finals where Malaysia appeared has given some hope to Malaysian hockey and may only be a one of matter. We can be in many finals and get all the "crown" but it requires people passionate of hockey with modern, progressive, intellectual outlook, who can bring with them scientific and corporate culture to be incorporated into the operations of Malaysian hockey. That is the only "WAY FORWARD".