Focus on your game, not on the Olympics, hockey coach Fulton’s guru to the team

The Uncut

BengaluruWell aware of the expectations from the Indian hockey team at the Paris Olympics, coach Craig Fulton is confident of the team’s preparations and his advice to his players is to focus on the first match against New Zealand without taking the pressure of the Olympics.

In an exclusive interview to Bhasha, South Africa’s Fulton said, “I know that expectations have increased after the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, but the reality is that the team has made good progress. From finishing 12th in the London Olympics (2012), eighth in Rio (2016) to third in Tokyo (2020), the team has progressed a lot.” Fulton, who played for South Africa in the 1996 and 2004 Olympics, said, “My mantra is clear that focus on the game, not on the Olympics.

This is a hockey match and the rules have not changed. I am a coach who believes in the process. Right now the focus is on the first match against New Zealand. We will make strategy match by match. Fulton, 50, who was the assistant coach of the Belgium team that won the 2018 World Cup in India, did not get enough time to prepare for the Olympics but he has no regrets.

He joined the Indian team in April last year. He said, “Usually there is time between one Olympics and another but this is not an excuse. We qualified for the Olympics by winning the Asian Games gold within three months of my arrival.

The team is full of confidence and is playing well.” He believes in the team’s camaraderie and has tried to foster it through unique methods; for example, he took the team to South Africa in January where the players went mountaineering, surfing and enjoyed barbecue on the beach.

He said, “I believe that if someone is not able to play well then the fellow player should compensate for it. For a good performance at the top level, coordination between the players and trust in each other is most important. Only on this basis they can give their 100 percent.”

He is not worried about India finishing seventh in the FIH Pro League or slipping to seventh place in the world rankings. He said, “We could not play well in some matches in the Pro League but the purpose was to select the team for the Olympics and a lot of changes were made.

But the difference between the seventh place and the winning team was only ten points, meaning it was very close. We did not play with our best team. That is why the ranking also dropped. But I am not worried about this.

Along with 11 players from the Indian team that won bronze in Tokyo Olympics, five new players will play in Paris but the coach believes that they have enough experience to play at the top level. He said, “Since my arrival, we have played about 46 matches which include Asian Champions Trophy, Asian Games, Pro League. All these players have played tournaments like World Cup, Commonwealth Games and they have a lot of experience.

Mental adaptation is important where Paddy Upton’s role will be important. He said, “Paddy has worked with top cricketers and our players are also getting help from him. There is a need to work on mental skills and the players are doing well but the focus is on consistency.” Fulton, a former Ireland coach, also emphasizes on a good defense structure.

He said, “We are focusing on PCA (penalty corner attack) and PCD (penalty corner defense) because this is where mistakes happen. Our attack is good but there is a need for consistent performance in defense as well. Field goals have increased as compared to the previous Pro League but PCA has decreased.” India has got a ‘Pool of Death’ in the Olympics which has giants like Australia, Belgium, Argentina but the coach said that he is not perturbed by this.

He said, “We have to win five matches to be in the top four. The first match will be very important which will set the rhythm. Only the top teams participate in the Olympics, so I am not worried about the pool.” Is he thinking of giving a list of do’s and don’ts to the players or banning the use of social media?

When asked about this, he said, “We do not want any internal or external interference. This will put pressure on them. We will soon decide what will be best for them.”

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