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  • Rajiv Seth

The emergence of Hockey HPC in the Hockey crazy state of Odisha!

In this article, Rajiv Seth, Project Director, Odisha Naval Tata Hockey High Performance Centre, (ONTHHPC), Bhubaneswar and an alumnus of the 2nd edition of the High Performance Leadership Program shares an overview of the success that the state of Orissa has had in scaling its hockey infrastructure with stat-of-the-art High Performance Centres and identifying sporting talent from the grassroots level.

As the curtains came down at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, the world of sports had reasons to smile. Notwithstanding the spectre of Covid-19, the worst pandemic in a century, the planet’s biggest sporting event concluded rather successfully.

India too had reasons to cheer. Hockey striking a podium finish after 41 years for the Indian Men's team, and the Women's team also narrowly missing it brought the glory back for the nation that embraces Hockey as their national sport.

So, how did Team India finally break the jinx? Was it good luck at play? Or was it something else? That’s where Odisha comes into the scene.

It was just a matter of time that Bhubaneswar would catapult into a sporting hub. The city today boasts of 10 High Performance Centres for a varied range of sports – from hockey and football to shooting, weight-lifting and half a dozen other games. Each HPC – equipped with world-class coaches and state-of-art training facilities -- is a public-private partnership involving the Odisha government, a corporate sponsor and an academy manager. In the case of hockey and football, the corporate sponsors – the Tata Group and Reliance Industries respectively – also double up as managers of the training academies.

On August 13, 2019, the Odisha Naval Tata Hockey Academy – the first HPC of its kind in the state -- was launched as a partnership between the Odisha government and the Tata Group (Tata Steel and Tata Trusts), which has a long history and experience of supporting the development of sports in the country. The Odisha Naval Tata Hockey Academy has a technical tie-up with legendary Dutch Drag flicker Floris Bovelander. It caters to the best of talent (both boys and girls) under the age of 18 years from across the state. A small number of trainees are also drafted in from other parts of the country.

The HPC, which is housed inside the sprawling Kalinga Stadium of Bhubaneswar, offers a best-in-class infrastructure that includes a gymnasium, a target performance centre and a swimming complex – everything that a modern-day athlete needs. Most importantly, through its “Athlete Management System”, it provides exposure to the use of technology. Top coaches, strength trainers, video analysts, mental trainers, nutritionists and educationists, all work in tandem to ensure that the sporting talent get the best of grooming. The HPC also runs 12 Grassroot Centres across four districts -- Sundergarh, Sambalpur, Deogarh and Dhenkanal -- catering to more than 2,600 trainees. It also started its grassroots league in 2020, promoting talent to be honed at its regional development centres before they walk into the High Performance Centre at Bhubaneswar.

What does this Hockey High Performance Centre bring to the table for young athletes who are honing their skills at the elite facility is the question most would ponder about? For starters, it is their well-knit Grassroot program in the majority hockey pockets of the state that gives rise to the talent of the state at the HPC level & above. First and foremost the areas in psychological, biological, chronological & training age are mapped at the HPC along with the Age Verification process using TW3 Swedish Technology. The medical history of each player is taken into consideration for correction and onward planning and training. LTAD ( Long Term Athlete Development )is not just the buzzword here at the HPC but every aspect of it is followed to the core. Advance AMS on halofit platform ensures every athlete is connected with the coaches & support staff in the minutest of detail. The awareness levels about self for the athlete is equally important. HPC grooms their athletes to be self-starters beyond a point and adapt to modern-day demands as they strive to climb the ladder. The importance of sports science, which is still a relatively emerging phenomenon in our country, is very diligently followed through in-house experts and the Abhinav Bindra Target Performance centre in the vicinity. The recent addition of the Khelo India Sports Science centre in Kalinga Stadium has also started to contribute. A lot of emphasis is given to Injury prevention while Recovery management, and Rehab mechanism remains the nucleus of the strata. Another aspect that is critical to any HPC athlete is in the arena of mental training improving upon their anxiety levels and decision making largely. The U18 age group that the HPC handles essentially needs a good foundation of all these ingredients to break into the senior league for the athletes.

The key ingredients of a High-Performance centre of this nature is essentially in how it deals with the structured approach of modern-day sports culture and its demands. The raw talent identification and the right fit to a sport, Athlete Mapping and planning, Mental Training to address their typical mindset and cultural restrictions, education for onward career and embracing technology for having the edge over fellow athletes at the elite stage - all these aspects are tackled at the High-Performance centre. The parenting given at HPC is far more challenging than it appears as one has to change and adapt to many adversities, to say the least. The different levels of exposure to the young age group of U17 also need to be handled well to avoid early saturation of advanced skills. The one-size-fits-all approach is also not the call of the day when handling young athletes as their requirements and delivery could be very different to what the elite coaching staff may gauge off hand. This is where the selection of the right Coaching and Support staff makes or breaks the momentum at the HPC level. Exposure to teamwork and bonding activities makes it more conducive to collective results and common goals unlike individual sport. One of the key focus areas in our Hockey HPC is also to encourage athletes to express themselves freely, both on and off the pitch,which helps them feel wanted and engaged in the program. Let’s not forget it can be a very lonely journey for a young athlete if not engaged amicably and we need to build their confidence to face the fast-changing sporting world. The HPC also provides Foreign Exchange programs with its tie-up in the Netherlands and Australia.

The district of Sundargarh remains the epicentre, having produced the bulk of hockey players from Odisha including great players such as former Indian hockey captain Dilip Tirkey and four members of the both teams that went to Tokyo- Birendra Lakra, Amit Rohidas, Deep Grace Ekka and Namita Toppo. Plans are afoot to provide astro turfs in each of the 17 blocks of Sundargarh. A brand new state-of-the-art hockey stadium with a capacity to seat 20,000 is getting ready in Rourkela – Sundergarh’s main city – to co-host the Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 alongside the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.

None of these would have been possible without the steadfast support and encouragement of the important stakeholder in the Odisha govt.

Odisha’s experience is a great lesson for the rest of the country. If other states followed suit, each adopting a particular sport or more in the same manner, India could very soon be scripting a new story on the global sporting stage.

The recent ELMS knowledge sharing program attended by the undersigned has also given added dimension to the outlook of a High performance centre like ONTHHPC and some essential learnings have been taken for best references in future.

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