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Indian hockey fell to its lowest point today when the men’ s hockey team lost to Great Britain and could not even qualify for the Olympics. Hockey, by the way, is supposedly our national game. This means for the first time since 1928, India will not be represented in the men’s hockey, an event which we virtually monopolized between 1928 to 1956.

At one time India was synonymous with field hockey. Our players mesmerized their opponents with their deft stick work, dribbling and ball control. The world watched spellbound as our players  showed their prowess on the field in one Olympics after another. Dhyan Chand, probably India’s greatest player ever was called the Wizard of Hockey.

What did our opponents, countries like Holland, Germany, Britain and Australia do? They changed the way the game was played. Aided by specially designed Astroturf grounds to aid their style of play, over the years they made the skills of dribbling irrelevant. They changed the game to a power game with emphasis on speed and combining with each other rather than play based on individual brilliance as we did. They had the better strategy.

Our players are perhaps as talented but they lose out because they do not combine very well with each other. In match after match, over the years, we see our teams lose because some one hung on to the ball for too long – to score the goal himself. Passing the ball quickly to one who is better positioned to score does not come easily to us.

Sadly, we have lost the edge in defence too. There was a time when we were the undisputed penalty corner champions. Almost invariably a penalty corner in our favour meant a goal. Other learnt and learnt fast. Now we are the besieged team and our defence cannot match the penalty hits by our opponents.

I have written about this in A Step A Day because of the following lessons I learn from Indian hockey:-

  1. Strategize. Play to your strengths and diminish any advantage your opponent holds by changing the rules of the game.
  2. No amount of individual brilliance can offset solid team work.
  3. Specialization is the name of the game. You need specialist players in different roles. Every one can’t play all the roles.
  4. Never underestimate your opponent. A weak team will not remain weak for ever.
  5. Never rest on past laurels. What matters is today’s game, not what you did in the past.

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This is the 99 th of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.