In the last 10 years the advancement has been so significant and if any national hockey coach has not kept abreast with such developments, he would be severely handicapped in trying to obtain the best out of his players and team. This is probably why the richer nations are in the top 6 in world ranking, as they have the resources to ensure their coaches and supporting staff are well acquainted with the latest developments in hockey.
This brings me to Stephen Van Huizen, who has been recently appointed as the chief national hockey coach. Stephen is a good hockey "pedigree" for he is the son of Lawrence Van Huizen, popularly known as "Hoeji", a former hockey international donning national colours for the 1958 Asian Games and 1964 Olympics. Lawrence was also the assistant national coach of the 1966 Asian Games team and from 1981 to 1987 he coached the ladies national team. In 1989, Hoeji coached the Singapore ladies team.
Lawrence greatest legacy in hockey is developing young talents in Seremban particularly for St Paul Instituition (SPI), which was the kingpin school in hockey in Negri Sembilan in the 60s. 70s and 80s. Hoeji's tiring effort of spending time every morning and evening at N.S Padang before and after work, coaching young kids is a testimony of why Negri Sembilan was a major "supply chain" of talents to the national team. Stephen himself was one such person and there were many others by the score. Indeed Hoeji also had 2 teams in the NS hockey league namely Rangers "A" & "B", which were the base for the young players to continue playing hockey after they leave school. If a census was done, there is no doubt that Lawrence Van Huizen would have produced more national players than any other coaches in the country. What an achievement !!!
The Van Huizen hockey pedigree did not stop there, Stephen's uncle Peter Van Huizen too was a former hockey international. A national goalkeeper he was in the 1st national team ever to play in an Olympic ie 1956 Melbourne Olympic and thereafter he joined his brother Lawrence for the 1958 Asian Games. Peter was a "terrorising" keeper and any player within the reach of his stick or legs were potential victims of his robust and "gutsy" style of play. Many forwards playing in his era would tell you stories of Peter's goalkeeping exploits. Indeed the late Datuk Ho Koh Chye always regarded Peter as his goalkeeping mentor and he always encouraged Koh Chye to take him on and displace him as the State goalkeeper. This is Peter's "greatness".
Stephen had to continue the traditions of the Van Huizen hockey pedigree. He was Captain of the 1979 Junior World Cup team to Paris which came 4th in the tournament. He played for Malaysia in the 1982 & 1986 Asian Games, 1984 Olympics and 1982 World Cup. He reached the pinnacle of his playing career by being Captain of the team to the 86 Asian Games.
Being a "chip of the old block", Stephen embarked into coaching and his "stars" gifted him to be assistant to all the foreign coaches that were appointed to guide the fortunes of Malaysian hockey. He was assistant to Terry Walsh for 1992 Barcelona Olympics, to Volker Knapp for 1996 Atlanta Olympics & 1998 World Cup and finally to Lissek for 1998 Commonwealth Games and 2002 World Cup. He was the national coach for the 1998 Asian Games and 2000 Sydney Olympics. At both these instances Lissek was the Consultant for the team.
Effectively for this 10 year period ie 1992 to 2002, what is referred to as the "glorious era" of Malaysian hockey, Stephen had played a significant role either as a coach or as an assistant. This track record is yet to be surmounted by any other coach and the way Malaysian hockey is heading it would seem that such a track record would be preserved for years to come.
People have asked why Stephen is so successful with the national teams? Some say "greatness" comes when you are at the right place at the right time and of course doing the right things. Others say it is the constellation of his "stars" that has placed him there at that time to do the right things. Yes ! we could debate this day and night but the point being it has all happened for Stephen and that is what is important.
Today, his father Lawrence and his uncle Peter must be relishing in joy seeing that the Van Huizen hockey pedigree is yet again brightly illuminated as Stephen starts his Round II in Malaysian hockey as coach. The question this time is whether Stephen's constellation of "stars" now would put him in the right place to do the right things for Malaysian hockey.
I have to ask this question because :
- Stephen has been out of international hockey for nearly 8 years and there have been significant changes.
- For the 1st time Stephen would not be an assistant to a foreign coach or have the added advantage of having a foreign coach as a consultant.
- Stephen is going to coach a team whose world ranking was around the 16th and just moved up to 14th. This is an added pressure which he did not face previously.
- The "supply chain" of talents to the national team had been severely disrupted over the years and the quality of players today are significantly different.
- The hockey "climate" now is distinctly different from the issues of discipline of players and the encroachment cum interference from officials including team management.
The list can continue but i feel i just want to give Stephen an "appetiser" so as he knows what he can expect in the "main meal". Stephen has to realise the equation has drastically changed as many of the "old guards" whom he had worked with and carry themselves professionally have left the scene. In today's climate there is an atmosphere that seems to be more related to individual self preservation combined with the greed for self propelling glamour. Aspect of what is good for the team and country seem to take 2nd spot because certain players and officials have other agenda to enrich themselves monetarily or otherwise. This decadence, very much like "cancer cells" has been eating into the foundation that held hockey together and it seems the collapse of Malaysian hockey may be inevitable, which i hope is wrong.
So Stephen, Are you coming back at the right time, equipped rightly, to do the right things to put Malaysian hockey right?