" To become the best, you must play against the best". This is what good sports administrators and coaches tend to strategise as they prepare their teams for vital tournaments that have significant bearing to world ranking or to build-up a future generation of world class players. This means the meticulous planning must be done in advance taking account of the top countries in the game particularly their own schedules eg hockey season, invitation tournaments plus whether their national team is in training, in order to incorporate our visiting plans. This effectively means that we need inroads with the team management of the teams we plan to have warm-up matches with including their respective hockey administrators. A lot of this rests on personal contacts where the major aspects are generally done by telephone calls and confirmed by e-mail. A distinct advantage of the electronic age.
This is where a good foreign national coach comes in handy as his peers are usually in similar positions in the other teams. This facilitates the personal contacts as the fraternity tends to be helpful to one another. Unfortunately our chief national coach has been out of the international circuit since 2002 while his assistant, having the exposure, is reluctantly kept away from important tournaments like the 2010 World Cup, other than for attending a coaching course. The lack of thought in exposing our local coaches at gatherings where the top coaches gather is a price we are paying today.
This "short sightedness" including the lack of a "will" to appoint a highly rated foreign coach only goes to show that we will not have the capacity to be a highly ranked world hockey nation. I say this because such foreign coaches bring with them not only the contacts but also the latest innovations in every facets of modern hockey. Unfortunately, we blur ourselves with such truth and get caught in a false web of thinking that our local coaches have the ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Australian, German, Dutch or Spanish national coaches.
Yes ! we can get there but it requires our coaches to get the appropriate qualification eg FIH Master Coach and the right exposure. In the past the pathway for them to get there has never been considered and this is where Malaysian hockey has suffered badly. The Coaching Committees were made up of people who lacked the foresight while the local coaches themselves were self contented not to pursue higher qualifications in coaching. All these get complicated when MHF and NSC appoint coaches without clear criteria on qualification, experience and success profile. Their ad-hoc thinking manner has allowed a "rojak" approach to the whole system that the aspect of meritocracy in sports has lost its actual meaning.
It is these finer points that have made planning in hockey suffer. We seem to have a 2nd rated thinking ie playing with 2nd rated teams in our build -up for vital tournament like the Asian Games that has a significant bearing to our pursuit of qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Games. So what have we done?
1. Go on a China tour recently when that country is not even in the top 10 in the world ranking. Further we play in a 4 nation tournament there with Russia which is ranked around the 25th in the world and Pakistan who literally sent a 2nd team as their 1st team was on a European tour. Honestly, we could not even defeat China in the final, who incidentally are ranked lower than us.
2. Now the team is on an Australian tour to play with the Australian Institute of Sports teams and various clubs. They are not playing with the Australian national team as they are away in Europe preparing for their Champions League. What is our national team's plan to achieve with this tour? Probably the satisfaction of having some sort of "good" feeling. Either they want good results or to avoid defeats of a thrashing score. Maybe it is this false sense of feeling that is blinding them to the reality of where Malaysian hockey is standing today.
3. Proposed tour to Europe and Ireland seems again to be omitting playing the top hockey nations there. The national team is playing club teams in Europe and matches against Ireland. They are hopeful to be invited to play at a 4 nation invitation tournament in France where their opponents could probably be France, Scotland and Ireland. Again they are teams that Malaysia believe they have an even chance of beating, thereby making their tour a success. It would seem that the "feel good" feeling be created so as everyone is happy despite the standard of Malaysian hockey.
We just have to look at Pakistan, India and Japan who are already in Europe and are playing the top national teams there. The reason is that they have foreign coaches who are taking advantage of warm-up games for the top teams in Europe before the Champions League. There seems to be a careful and progressive thought process in what these countries from Asia want to do.
The question we have to ask is whether these 3 tours are really beneficial for our national team? I believe the team management and maybe the money wasting people in NSC must obviously think so. Maybe it is an exercise of confidence building and therefore the players and team management have a better state of mind to perform at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games later in the year. A twisted sense of thinking that is only helping our boys to be soft in their mental state by misleading them that they are good. Creating a "state of denial" by creating this "feel good" feeling is a hopeless way of giving the impression of the capabilities of our national team.
Seriously, i think lets start writing off our chances in the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games as i believe our preparation is not taking the right approach. If we want to pamper our team then it would seem that there would only be "softies" who cannot perform with the teams who daily practice to be top ranking nations in the world.