India's hockey coaches view Tokyo delay as chance to train better, free minds

Coach Graham Reid addresses the Indian team during their Pro League match against Belgium in Bhubaneswar on February 8, 2020. Hockey India

Indian men's hockey team coach Graham Reid says the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics on March 24 initially brought disappointment for his team, but the players quickly saw the positive side of it.

"This allows us extra time to get used to our way of play and opportunities for each of us to get much better," said Reid, adding that the announcement of a complete lockdown starting the next day, now extended to May 3, helped the players, who were all at the Sports Authority of India campus in Bengaluru. "It helped put things in perspective for everyone -- what's important in life is maintaining the health and safety of each of us and our families."

The women's team have been in Bengaluru since the middle of February -- "nine weeks, and that's a long time" in coach Sjoerd Marijne's words -- and news of the postponement of the Games to July 2021 caught Rani Rampal and the other players by surprise as they were in the middle of a team meeting. "The girls told me this gives them another year to prepare well because over the last two years, our performance graph is upwards. For the girls to have a positive outlook was reassuring," said Marijne.

Reid says the fact that self-isolation for the team had begun even before the government announced the lockdown has made some of the unusual practices a bit more normal for the players. "We had already started to test the online software we were using and held some online internal meetings to get everyone accustomed to the technology," Reid told ESPN. "But the athletes are now used to staggered dining room times, two-metre distances while eating food and exercising in our rooms."

Marijne has taken this opportunity to turn author in his spare time. "As a group, we created activities which are allowed -- individual video meetings, training mindfulness, strength and conditioning, watching sport documentaries. We challenge the girls to create a kind of competition," he says. "I am writing a book about my experiences in India and building a team. This keeps me busy in the free time next to the things just mentioned. We all try to stay in the present -- that's also mindfulness."

Marijne and Reid are both in contact with other coaches around the world, and the common challenge is to tide over the period of uncertainty with no competitive hockey in sight in the near future. "I think we have all been asked to hold online coaching courses and Q&A sessions which keep you relatively switched on with how things are going in different countries," said Reid.

"From a coaching perspective, the positive and unprecedented part of this situation is that every team around the world is going through it at the same time. It certainly makes it easier to know if we de-load the players a little now, we can be confident that we will have time to ramp up in time for when it is required next year, minimising the risk of overtraining them."

Marijne said the enforced break is an ideal opportunity for both athletes and coaches to rest and calm down mentally. "Make the mind free and remember that everyone can be with their family," says Marijne, who himself hasn't been home to his family in the Netherlands over the last two months.

Reid is luckier -- his wife Julia is with him, though their two children are based in Netherlands and Australia, two countries where Reid has experienced extremes of nature as a coach.

"We have had cyclones in Australia and two or three weeks of frozen fields in the Netherlands," he said. "But to have the whole world suffering all at the same time is quite unbelievable."