These days the standard response we get from coaches and sports administrators when the teams fail to perform is: "These are the best players available". It is no longer the excuses of lack of fitness or match fatigue or lack of exposure or not peaking at the right time, rather it is not having sufficiently good players to compete in the world arena. This seems to confront games like football, hockey, cricket ie most of the team games.
This obviously puts the whole focus on the "Development" programmes of the various sports. When a coach says: "This is the best we have", it literally means that past development programmes did not produce and breed the talents that were required ie failure in the "grassroot" development. This essentially means that " the grass shoots were not chosen properly for the roots to grow well enough to support the new grass ". This compounded with the lack of elements like sunshine, water, fertiliser and good gardening care may not have produced the sort of "grass" required. Fundamentally, we do not have world class players in team games because our "grassroot development" has been a failure.
I raise this as an example because of late Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) with financial support from the Prime Minister's Office have come up with an elaborate nationwide hockey development programme. Apparently MHF have created a system from the States to the Secretariat to a Task Force inbuilt with monitoring and scrutinising procedures in accounting for the progress for developing talents based on the monies spent. This whole programme is anticipated to cover a period of at least 5 years.
MHF has referred this as the "1MAS Hoki" and all credit must go to the TM as MHF's President and also to the Government who has time and time again shown its commitment to young Malaysians and sports. MHF is aided by an able General Manager, while the Chairman of the Development Committee must be recognised for putting together the paper, which itself is practical and has achievable capacity. It is not "a pie in the sky" sort of project, rather it is a project where those who are involved in implementation are financially paid for their services. It is not a voluntary scheme that depends on goodwill of people. This is the principle difference ie everyone becomes an "employee" of 1MAS Hoki. A corporate flavour has been introduced into development of hockey.
The key aspect is whether 1MAS Hoki has got the right people to do the job. This is important as the game of modern hockey has transformed where the requirements have also changed. What is important is 1MAS Hoki cannot carry with it "dinosaurs" ie people who are already extinct to hockey. This is going to be one of the key ingredients. More so as the programme actually targets players for the 2017 Junior World Cup. This is 7 years away and the people involved must have the passion, endurance, hunger for hockey knowledge, and, above all, the psychology to deal with young kids.
We have to admire MHF for working on a long term programme and the PM's Office to provide the support. We cannot in 7 years repeat what the coaches are saying now ie "This is the best we have". Rather it must be in the position where the coaches must be saying: " There seems to be a competition for places" as the team performs. To get there it requires careful planning and implementation with a continuous review process against set targets. This effectively calls for different teams at every facet thereby ensuring the processes get their fair attention. I believe this is something that is receiving its due consideration in MHF through an independent Task Force.
There is no doubt that there will be critics to the 1MAS Hoki programme. All the more the programme has to succeed to ensure the detractors do not have their day. What is important is putting the emphasis in the right areas rather than going down a track like what was done in the past. If so the past will continue to haunt us. There is the need to look "afresh" to start with. Iam helpful in making some suggestions.
1. 1MAS Hoki must lay down criteria for scouting for players. They must omit players who are already in State Project Schools and Sports Schools. They must create new players afresh ie the target group, which means the criteria must cover issues such as physique, physical ability, sporting flair and any other relevant aspects that could help them to become hockey players. Identifying such young kids is like getting the appropriate "root" to be planted.
This is the starting point and scouting the young kids to make them hockey players is something which cannot be compromised. Talent scouts should be coached with the necessary criteria to ensure everyone works uniformly on the selecting process.
2. Once the young kids are identified it is imperative that player's database be set-up incorporating their anatomical and bio-medical details plus continues progress reports on their training and game play.
Players performance history is fundamental in modern hockey and this program can become the foundation to set this up to track players profile in the future.
3. The programme must have targets over the short, medium and long term. These targets must be measured by independent teams and reported including the follow-up action. The programme itself must have sufficiently built action plans if planned targets are not achieved.
4. 1MAS Hoki must create its own website to highlight their programme and also use it as a basis for coaches to report the progress of their centres. This transparent approach provides an open system for people to follow the progress.
5. The programme must only recruit coaches who are also computer literate and therefore can, on a "real time" basis, update progress of the program and players' database.
6. 1MAS Hoki must also ensure that they send sufficient of their coaches for FIH Development coaching courses and ensure that they get the necessary qualification. Indeed this must be scheduled into the targets of achievement.
7. 1MAS Hoki must have its own league either as a carnival or zonal for inter development centre games. This would provide a better yardstick of measurement how the program is doing nationwide.
These are ideas that have spontaneously wormed their way out. There would be many more and it is important that if we want hockey to flourish in the years to come in Malaysia, we too must provide a helping hand. At least we have to come up with some workable ideas.
Good Luck to 1MAS Hoki and Malaysian hockey.