Me and Pakistan Hockey 1994-2015

Cuddled up to my pillow in my blanket on a chilly winter morning, I was half awake and half asleep waiting for my mom to wake me up for school and just like any other kid on a cold morning, I also wanted to skip school that day. I was busy thinking of reasons and suddenly the alarm struck, it was 6:30 AM and mom showed up to my room, “Hurry up, AD! Wake up son, I need to go to work early today. Come on, wake up or else I’ll be late!” I got up half-heartedly and showed up to the breakfast table quickly after dressing up. While putting Jam on my toast I realized that my dad wasn’t ready for his office. I asked him the reason of his delay and he said he wasn’t going. I was a little surprised because he seldom took off from work, so obviously I asked him why he wasn’t going and that’s when he told me that it our national television will be telecasting the Hockey World Cup Final and the match was between Pakistan and Netherlands.

I got a reason for an off too, and with dad’s help we convinced my mom and it was finally a day off from school.

As the match began, my father started to tell me the rules and knowhow of the game. The final one was a dream and the decider came through penalties. In the end Monsoor Ahmed GK of Pakistan saved the last penalty flick of Delmie and Pakistan made history on 4 of December 1994 by showing up as Hockey World Champions! Woo!! What a game it was, I still remember the moment we won; the excitement, the adrenaline rush that I felt in my body. Everyone in my building started to celebrate the win and dad and I both joined the celebrations too.

As I took to bed that night at 10:00 pm a few names remained stuck to my mind. Mr. Shahbaz Senior, Tahir Zaman, Kamran Ashraf, Qammar Ibrahim, Khwaja Junaid, Mansoor Ahmed, Delmie and Stephen Veen. It was that day when I decided that I wanted to be a professional hockey player and that historical day changed my entire life. My passion and hobby turned into my profession and now I have been working as a professional hockey Coach/Player for almost 15 years. This final game of the hockey world cup, gave me an Identity, wearing a green shirt and representing Pakistan in different FIH tournaments was more than stuff of any dreams.

In my short career, I saw many ups and down, but I must say the tenure of PHF president Mr. Gen Aziz and Sectary PHF Mr. Brigadier Mussurt Ullah was the best of times. I found myself very lucky to be a part of Pak Jr. and the senior squad in this tenure. They modernized Pakistan Hockey and worked in a professional way. At that time all the senior and junior coaches were FIH’s high performance coaches. For eg: Tahir Zaman, Asif Bajwa, Khwaja Junaid Qammar Ibrahim, Mr Ronald Oltamans and others. Also, in their tenure, the Pakistan hockey federation for the first time organized an FIH course for the local and professional coaches to give a chance to improve their coaching skills and implement modern hockey at grass root level.

During this tenure, Pakistan hockey was not only successful on the field, but also in the marketing department. We got Mr, Sardar Naveed Haider, who did a marvelous job and brought huge sponsors. The result of his hard work was that Pakistan became a host of FIH Champions Trophy and played many home series against different countries. PHF also organized a Super Hockey League for the first time in the history of Pakistan hockey. A lot of foreign players participated in this league and live coverage on TV made this event successful. Medals came in huge numbers during this time and a lot of youngsters also made their name. This PHF management gave us a boost and people all over started to recognize us.

Unfortunately, politics has always been a part of PHF. When this management started to work well, our Ex Olympians started to feel neglected and they began a huge campaign against the federation. In Pakistan, only if you are against the federation, the country’s media will highlight you. The media didn’t bother who spoke what till they had masala for the shows.

The worst part was most of these guests did not have basic qualifications required to be a coach. But in Pakistan if you are an Olympian or an international player that is enough for coaching, managing and trainer. When they become a coach they have nothing to teach. The only thing they do is wearing a green tracksuit, drink tea, eat Samosa on the side and watch players sweat it out. They have no training regimen for players; they have no clue of what players should eat and give them fatty goods and no supplements. They completely lack vision and there is no development program. Their behavior with players is appalling to say the least. They assume of themselves, as kings while the players are slaves of some sort.

This result in stressed players who never enjoy the game. The facilities are poor, which adds to the misery and this means there is no drive from the player’s side to improve him via competition, both domestic and international. This results in very few victories. These kind of coaches are insanely proud of their achievements of the 1960-1994 and don’t want to see beyond them. While we all respect that and we also are proud of them and acknowledge the fact that they are living legends, but as a coach/manager/trainer, etc when I see them, I know not much is coming out as a dividend.

Coaching:

The world of sports has transformed and sports’ coaching has become a subject. A number of nations spend a huge amount of money in the development of their coaches. Belgium is one of the prime examples. Seven years ago when the Belgium, hockey team was struggling to qualify for the European Championship, they spend the right amount of their funds in the development of coaches and systems. They brought in number of foreigner professional coaches who have not played internationals but have also worked on the grass roots levels. These coaches helped them build great processes and the result is for everyone to see. Belgium today is one of the top 5 sides of the world.

Doctors:

Pakistan is the only team in the world who takes a doctor along with the team for the past 15 years. If you have a chance to look at FIH match sheets, then you will find sports physiotherapist and trainers have replaced doctors. England is the only team that also has a Sports Scientist with the team.

Hockey is a pro-active game that requires top fitness and good health and only fit and healthy players are selected in national squads. Hence, what is the need of a doctor? What we are showing to the world? Pro Athletes get muscular and joint injuries, which can be only looked after by sports physiotherapists and trainers.

Disadvantage of an unprofessional Doctor:

I played in The Pakistan Junior Team in 2003, we had a doctor. I observed him quite closely and if there was one thing all players would unanimously to be that he was USELESS. He had no clue regarding physiotherapy but would pretend he knows everything and would always bring his portable massager that was useless. I have known him since then, he is not a qualified trainer, but he runs physical training sessions without any program/plan/targets etc. He is not a sports nutritionist, but he pretends that he is the best one. The worst is that he injects steroids to injured players to make them play in injury and unfortunately a few players finished their careers because of his stupidity. Now the question is why he is around? Maybe because he is a very good entertainer and keeps the management happy and he knows how to play with medical terms. Hats off to PHF officials who come under his influence.

Have you noticed Jamie Dwyer is still playing? Why is that globally top players keep playing even after crossing mid-thirties while Pakistan hockey players mostly struggle after they touch 30. That is because of the fitness issues. This is happening because the players’ fitness if not based on a solid foundation. Hockey is becoming a very high physical demanding game that requires top fitness. You are living in dreams if you think these kind of stupid fake doctors can take these players’ fitness to the international standards.

Tactical and Technical Coaching:

Pakistan has golden memories in hockey. I proudly have said before that we have won several top Gold medals at World Cups and Olympics but have struggled since 1994. Europe and others started research on hockey around that time. They started changing the game’s rules and introduced modern technology and brought fitness professionals to cope up with the game. Pakistan hockey, though kept basking in their glory and never tried coping up. The fact that they never wanted to come out of their successful era and still feel that their old style is good enough is where they fool themselves.

Pakistan should consider itself fortunate that they find so much talent. Unfortunately, talent can win games, but not championships. The players work so hard, but without a set regimen which is of global standards, not much can be achieved. The kind of people running the administration is unqualified professional and are in the majority. They are busy in playing musical chair like in the case of Pakistani politics (Aaj Saadi Vari kal Tuadi Vari).

There is no doubt in my mind when it comes to capabilities. We are fully capable to bounce back, but for that we need to appoint the right people for the right jobs. If the federation keeps appointing their friends who can’t even organize a senior and junior championship and can never be the coach of a local side, the results will be of the standards that we are seeing now.

Video Sessions:

Video analyzing plays a very important role in this modern era sport. But in Pakistan it’s become a joke where the laptop is an entertaining machine for the officials. I think it’s enough to say this here. We haven’t had any organized online library or any player database system where coaches and players can analyze their performance.

GK trainer:

Goal keeping is a totally different department of coaching and unfortunately no one is keen to work in this department. This definitely needs a specialized coach who knows his job rather than someone who rolls 1000 balls on GK pads every day. I think this is the more ignored department in the Pakistan set-up and also unfortunately there is also not a single qualified GK trainer. If you see current international matches, you can find Pakistan goalie dive on his both knees and do some very basic errors that shouldn’t be done at this level. I think Salman Akbar got lucky to have Shahid Ali Khan and Dutch GK coach Ronald Jenson, who polished Salman in a solid defensive wall of Pakistani defense. Unfortunately, due to federation behavior and pathetic policies he didn’t continue his services for his beloved country and moved to Netherland. Pakistan’s most talent GK is running his academy there and playing for a national league club.

Umpiring:

Pakistan used to produce quality Grad 1 FIH umpires like Rashid Ali Khan, Faiz Muhammad etc. But currently we have very low representation in FIH. The reason is no development program for umpires and no one wants to be an umpire simply because the federation failed in this department as well. A sad part of the story is no one respects umpires in Pakistan domestic hockey. PHF needs to bring educated players in this department and launch a development program for young umpires for the betterment of hockey in Pakistan.

Structure:

To be honest, there is no structure in Pakistan Hockey. Where are the academies and where are the academy coaches? Where are the grass root hockey projects? Where is club hockey, where is age hockey? Where is single hockey system?

Sorry to say there is nothing at all and even the so called legends don’t bother to visit a local ground, though they want to become the Head Coach of a National team. In this crappy system, there is no sign of any qualification for any Job. Being an Olympian or an international player qualifies you to be a head coach, which is ridiculous to say the least. It doesn’t matter whether you have played 5 minutes or 5 Olympics; these players sit on TV shows and pretend that they are the best coaches of the world without qualification.

The funny thing is that there is no post of Director of development and Director of coaching, which means there is no check and balance on coach’s performances. These coaches have a free hand and it is this system from which we expect a miracle.

Media:

PHF website is down and this highlights the progress of this department (Pun intended).

What we need to do:

We need to introduce a single hockey system ASAP. And also forget international hockey for few years and start working on the grass root level. We need to introduce a basic educational program for sportsmen and women. Start a development program for coaches and umpires, hire professional Trainers/S&C coaches, bring sports professionals on board to build a basic structure. We need honest and sincere people, especially those who really want to do something about this game rather than posting their picture on FB and Tweeter.

Make a criterion for each post, train coaches before they are coaching youngsters, and make sports lessons compulsory in schools. We need Sardar Naveed Haider Khan’s services in the marketing department as I think he is the only person who can help PHF at the moment in the marketing department. We need Waseem Ahmed,Zeshan Ashraf, Salman Akbar, Muddasir Ali Khan, Sohail Abbas, Mohammad Saqlain, Rehan Butt, and others seniors players in the coaching field. These players have played in the modern era and have a good understanding of FIH high performance hockey. Bring Mohammad Faiz in Umpiring department as Umpiring development officer. And in the end bring Mr. Tahir Zaman as director of Coaching with full authority and give him 5 years to build a solid structure.

Players Respect:

In Pakistan, there is no sign of a decent way of players retiring. PHF always treats big players like a tissue paper. Then being called in a training camp and didn’t pick them is a recent example of indecency that the recently did with Sohail Abbas, Kashif Jawad, Salman Akber, Rehan Butt, Mohammad Shabbir, Muhammad Sarwar, M. Saqlain, Mohammad Imran and others as well.

Though there are some players who use their brains. For example, I knew the monopoly and the politics of these coaches as I knew them very well. Like me who knows them very well and didn’t take any chance to make get their selves embrace and take an initiative and say bye to PHF with their heavy hearts, I never understand that why PHF invest in players? They select them in a team, give them an exposure and when they become mature and experienced players they kick them out without any sensible grounds. Also, PHF is the only federation who makes the debut of players in the World biggest events like the Olympics.

This is so strange but you can recognize that there is no vision no planning no system. Different nations planned for long times to participate in the Olympics. They designed their programs, select the best available players and started working on them. But In Pakistan there is no security of a player’s career, PHF has always given a shock to their players. This act makes players so stressed during the training camps and even during the competition and if a player is playing in stress, it means he is not going to give his best.

Due to this weird system of no proper Goodbyes, fans are left hurt to see their Super stars being treated like this, for example, if Sohail Abbas took a stand on this then I am sure it would not fall out with Salman Akber and Mohammad Imran and others. That’s all what I can articulate. This is so insulting to our players that we can’t even say proper goodbyes and appreciate our superstars for their services.

Unfortunately, we didn’t learn anything from the past and we are still blaming the players for the recent defeat and made Mohammad Imran and others to resign.

A part of this crap sportive system we still love our national game and we are hoping one day someone changes the disable system and take our national game to the top again.

Ameen