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Technology, Tokyo keep Marijne and Reid focused during corona shutdown

Indian women's hockey team coach Sjoerd Marijne discusses strategy during a Test match against Spain in 2019. FRANK UIJLENBROEK/Hockey India

Indian women's hockey coach Sjoerd Marijne recently cancelled his trip to the Netherlands to visit his family following the Indian health ministry's travel advisory restricting movement to and from COVID-19 affected countries.

It proved to be a prudent decision, as not only have India's internal borders been beefed up, with self-isolation becoming a nationwide tactic to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, but the latest travel advisories include a ban on passengers flying in from the European Union as well. "You're very disappointed when you can't go back home, but the family also understands the situation," says Marijne, who normally tries to go home every four or five weeks. "It was the right decision to stay here, because you don't want to risk getting infected by me. The other thing is that if I had got home, there was a chance that I couldn't have returned to India, and who knows how long that would have happened. It could have spilled over to the Olympics."

As he chose to stay back at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus, he also instructed the players to reconvene during their recovery period, which was supposed to be a break to visit family. "Some girls had already gone back and are coming back. Some girls were here, and a few of them had already gotten on the bus. I had to tell the bus driver that the bus was cancelled," Marijne tells ESPN. "The week's rest is the same as before. The only difference is that they are not with their families."

The situation was slightly different for men's team coach Graham Reid, whose wife Julia anyway spends most of her time in Bengaluru. "It's quite nice to at least have some part of my family here," says Reid. "We have two kids -- one is in Amsterdam and the other in Australia. We're used to now just talking to them on phone or over Skype. In fact, so are all our players [with their families]."

The men's team hasn't seen this as a particularly big disruption, in fact. After their first six matches of the Pro League, they are into the third week of what was intended to be a four-week camp. "Two weeks or perhaps a week and a half ago, we sat down once things started to get a little worse, especially in Europe. We went through different 'what-if' scenarios," says Reid, who says all the planning is around having the team in Tokyo for the Olympics on July 17. "For instance, what if we don't go to Germany and we do go to Argentina? What if we don't go anywhere, and we still go to the Olympic Games? All the scenarios include us going to the Olympics, and things would obviously change should that change, but we can't do anything about that."

The women were among the first Indian athletes to have their plans affected by the pandemic, with a tour of China called off in early February. Marijne agrees that this is a frustrating phase of their Olympics preparation, where the players have no control over the situation, as news changes on a "day-by-day" basis. "From this moment on, it's important they have a time schedule. Breakfast at this time, lunch at that time, and training at that time," he says. "They will do it, but they can choose their own timings. We don't have training sessions planned. If they want to train, they can come and do it. I am here, but the most important thing is they don't have to do everything."

Reid points out the luxury of having 32 athletes at his disposal -- he has already given his squad a fair bit of game time in the first six matches of the Pro League. "We can create two really strong teams each time we wish to have a game. If we don't have any external competitions, what I've been trying to instil in our players is that our international competition now becomes very important," says Reid, who knows of teams like Netherlands where all players are in self-isolation but in their respective homes, and hence unable to even train together.

Looking at how the women have had to stay in the SAI campus, Reid believes the scheduled week for the men to visit their families is also likely to get scrapped, but the recovery will take place with some minor adjustments. "That's the time when we can arrange other things like a tennis tournament, volleyball. We have a golf course and a swimming pool here. All of those things can be used and we'll work out with the guys the best way to keep everybody amused and in a positive tone," says Reid.

While Reid stresses the need to ensure none of the players feel isolated because of being away from family, Marijne is thankful for modern technology that allows him to speak to his wife, three daughters and son every day.

"I know that the family is in good health. That, for me, is the most important thing at this moment," he says. "They know my life as a coach, and they have coped really well over the last few years."

"You don't have children to never see them, but we also know there will be a moment with better times. We can be together, but when that is, nobody knows."