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Coach Stefan Kermas swears by team culture, process

Stefan Kermas was assistant coach to two Olympic gold-winning German teams under Markus Weise. Hockey India

If you step into the German dressing room ahead of the World League Final semi-final encounter against Australia, there's a good chance you might find coach Stefan Kermas in a corner with his head in his lap.

Kermas, 38, listed a 15-minute power nap as a pre-game ritual while assisting former coach Markus Weise during the 2012 London Olympics, one where the German men won their second successive gold under Weise and Kermas. Weise was also head coach for the German women when they picked up gold in 2004.

Germany came into the World League Final with a young team, ranked fifth in the world, and just six players with 100 or more caps. Some, like attacker Johannes Grosse, will not even reach 10 caps at the end of this event, but have contributed to a strong performance already -- topping a strong pool ahead of England, Australia and hosts India before beating the Netherlands in a shootout in the quarterfinals.

Kermas took this job only in November 2016 and was given an eclectic mix of support staff in February. Russell Garcia, once Great Britain's youngest Olympic gold medallist (with the men's hockey team of 1988) left soon after to join England, but former Swiss national coach Aditya Pasarakonda stayed. Coach of the 2016 bronze-winning team from Rio, Valentin Altenburg, two years younger than Kermas, took charge of the junior team ahead of the World Cup in Lucknow, and it was perhaps Kermas' day job as a risk-assessment analyst that swung the senior team appointment the way of the qualified lawyer.

"It's not only about having 25 players and giving them a ball and making everyone run. It's a lot [about] the team culture and the team process, as coach, so that when they play on the pitch, they have a clear idea of playing hockey. A clear idea of the responsibility for their own kind of play," says Kermas. "There are different topics like how to work together like a team, how to build self-confidence, how to learn the right way to improve yourself at each and every stage. These are several things you can transfer from business life to personal life to sports life."

Weise, who Kermas assisted for two successful Olympic campaigns, and his predecessor Bernhard Peters -- Germany coach during both their World Cup wins in 2002 and 2006 -- both went into football management following their stints in hockey: Weise with TSV Mannheim and Peters with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Hamburger SV, roles that required both men to interact with and support Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Loew from time to time. Kermas insists he has no immediate plans of the sort.

"The football guys are looking at professional structures and good leadership and guys good at strategies for federations. In Germany, the hockey family is known as a professional federation. If you have success, the guys from football and handball will look at what good the hockey guys are doing," says Kermas. "But the first idea for Markus and Bernard was that they were successful with the team. In Germany, you say the next door will open to the next job, but only if you are doing a good job where you are working."

And that job -- geared towards a podium finish at the World Cup next year and another Olympic gold in 2020, according to Kermas -- is going well if the first year is any indication. Germany missed a podium finish at the summer's European Championships, but are back in the thick of things at the World League Final. Kermas knows Australia will be more physical than their Dutch neighbours, but has prepared his team well and wants them to play a perfect game like the one against India.

And do his boys seek his financial advice?

"No! Where could I take the money from? In Germany, the federation doesn't pay the players. They only get paid by their clubs. I don't have any money in my rucksack to give them," he says. "They have to play for the country and with their heart, and I am happy that they play with a lot of passion for Germany. [They realise they have] to study during the career, because they know after their career at the age of 27, 29 or 32, they have to work for the next 35 years of their life."

And if their coach is literally not losing any sleep over it, why should the players?