Dilip Tirkey, former captain and current Hockey India chief, has reaffirmed that the national championships are essential to create and prepare young athletes. “Grassroots development is vital for any sport to flourish”, he stated during an episode of Hockey Te Charcha, a program that discusses hockey-related topics.
By providing different platforms of competition for young athletes to hone and develop their skills, Tirkey discussed plans to proceed along with creating a structured grassroots system. “A strong foundation results in good players and strong senior and junior national teams. In the past, athletes in the sub-junior (U-17) and junior (U-19) categories haven’t had enough game time. We are going to rectify that by introducing a zonal system, where they will play intra-zone and inter-zone competitions,” Tirkey revealed.
To engage the players, Tirkey added that “not everyone will play for India, but this setup will at least allow players to take pride in representing their respective zones and give them a feel of a competitive atmosphere at an early age.”
In terms of benefits, Hockey India’s President mentioned that the new system would help vast committees and administration in the selection process. Hockey India is also introducing specific training programs, with the involvement of former international players, to enhance and develop young players’ skills and familiarize coaches with the necessary nutritional and training requirements.
Tirkey said, “The game of hockey is rapidly evolving, and based on the level of competition we see at the zonals or the nationals, we can accordingly provide training modules, such as a drag-flicking program or even a goalkeeping program involving former international players who can lead these clinics.
He further added, “Focusing on individual development is crucial, and that is why we are emphasizing on residential facilities for younger athletes rather than a simple academy-based model. This will enable them to familiarize themselves with the necessary training and nutritional requirements to perform optimally.” according to Hockey India’s Chief.
In establishing more options for players, Tirkey mentioned creating a U-17 National team and a U-19 National team to complement the current U-21 setup. Furthermore, at the upcoming National Championship, to be held in Odisha in April, players can expect to operate under a world-class setup with matches played under floodlights.
“Once we give our junior athletes the responsibility and experience, by simulating high-level competition from a young age, they will find it easier to cope with the challenges that accompany playing for India at an international level. By adding the U17 and U19 National teams, we can also give our athletes benchmarks that they can aspire to and work towards,” said Tirkey.
According to Tirkey, reviving interest in domestic competition is necessary for growing the sport. So, to enhance the experience of players taking part in the tournament Hockey India is introducing live streaming of matches this year onwards. Tirkey also plans to introduce the video referral system so that players get comfortable with this at a young age, following all the other recent developments in hockey.