Allsportspk had a candid interview with Khawaja Muhammad Junaid , Pakistan’s National Hockey Coach, just before our team left for Newzealand & Australia tour in March . Junaid is former Olympian and was part of the Bronze medal winning team at Barcelona Olympics in 1992 . A spot account was taken of the techniques that are formulated to improve the team especially for the tour of Australia and New Zealand.
ASPK: Since when have you been the head coach and what’s your level of satisfaction?
KMJ: Its been almost nine months since I took charge. Although I’ve been working with PHF in the past, I took this assignment as a challenge and so far, by the Grace of Allah, I’m satisfied that we’ve been successful in devising the right strategy,which I am confident will bear great results in the next two years.
ASPK: What are the goals to be achieved in the next 2 years?
KMJ: The root problems have been identified and the right strategy devised to solve them. Firstly, we expanded the available pool of players from 20 last year to 35 now. Then we have made three groups in it, seniors, intermediates and juniors. The prime focus have been on all important aspects of sports development, be it mental, physical or skill-wise. The result has been that in two international tournaments i.e. in Azlan Shah, we won 4 out of 7 matches and in Asian Hockey Championship, we reached the finals and won the silver medal.
ASPK: Could you elaborate upon the areas of prime focus?
KMJ: To me, mental strength is the number one requirement. In recent times, our players have been conceding easy goals under pressure and situations seems to get out of their control. We’re working on their mental toughness by employing competent sports psychologists. Another problem was grouping. I told my players to play as one unit. The basis of our unity would be Faith, Humanity and then our Nationality. As for their technical faults are concerned, we analyze the faults of each player during and after the game through video analysis so that each of them gets to know his peculiar weak point and also any collective coordination problem . They’re improving game by game and it’s a good sign for us.
ASPK: Why have our standards gone down during the past two decades?
KMJ: During 70s and 80s, when it was the golden period of our hockey, the main contributing factor was the involvement of club hockey. There were many clubs in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Gojra, Bannu and other cities of Pakistan which had talent mainly from the schools and colleges. The other factor is that in our times, there were many departments which provided permanent jobs to talented players and due to this support, there was always a large pool of players available to choose from. Due to very high level of competition, the standards were naturally raised. With the passage of time, due to commercial and other factors, most of the finances were diverted to cricket. Departments stopped sponsoring Hockey and players could not find permanent jobs. As you know hockey is an expensive game. On average, the hockey equipment per player ranges from Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 50,000 depending on quality. So boys from humble backgrounds are not able to support their game without a stable job. Now, Punjab and Federal Government is showing keen interest to revive hockey so we have successfully convinced concerns like Fauji Foundation to provide permanent jobs to our players and we hope we’ll be able to convince others to do the same.
ASPK: Have any steps been taken to revive the club level Hockey?
KMJ: Yes, you see, we only have 10 astroturfs, whereas countries like Holland & New Zealand have over 1000 astroturfs for much smaller population. Since one Astroturf costs Rs. 50 million, due to lack of funds, we have decided to introduce smaller Austro turfs, around quarter of the original size which are worth Rupees 7 to 8 million. We plan to take their number to 100 in the next 5 years. So in order to improve the skills, we’ll make our boys at the domestic level practice on the smaller Astroturfs, with 4 to 5 players on each side.
ASPK: What are your views about the Australia & New Zealand tour?
KMJ: This is an important tour as these countries are the top teams of the world, especially Australia. Our target is to perform at our best and get the maximum out of it. If we’re able to produce good results in this tour, this will help build our morale before we move to London to play World Cup Qualifying round to be held from 15th to 20th June this year.
ASPK: Do you think Pakistan players will be able to match the stamina, physical fitness and skills of Australians?
KMJ: Yes. I think we can really put up a good show against them. I admit that Australia and other Western Nations have been working since long on scientific lines to improve their game from every aspect. On our side, it has taken a while but now we’ve started working on those lines and now we have hired sports scientists, sports psychologists having PhDs in those areas to train our boys. We now have our own Biomechanics Lab as well to analyze our players and to improve every aspect of their game and physical fitness.
In the end, pleasantries were exchanged and allsportspk expressed its best wishes for successful revival of hockey in Pakistan.
Note: An interesting interview of Khawaja Junaid after returning from Newzealand & Australia tour with fascinating details of our young team’s performance will be posted soon.