Academy girls reflect success of SAI programme
Criticising government agencies for shortcomings is common; appreciating them not so much. With their recent victories in the Hockey India Academy National championships, the Sports Authority of India’s hockey programme has reason to be proud.
The SAI-Academy girls’ teams won the inaugural editions of the sub-junior and junior competitions in Bhubaneswar last week, on consecutive days.
While the junior girls won 2-1 against a strong MP Academy side in the final, the sub-junior team registered a hard-fought 5-4 win against home team Odisha Naval Tata Hockey HPC in shootouts at the Kalinga Stadium.
That the teams remained unbeaten throughout the tournaments playing at international level infrastructure for the first time ever was a bonus.
“Events like this are helpful for the players as they offer international-level exposure in a national event. Playing under floodlights in an international stadium is very special for the junior, it motivates them,” said junior team coach Prakhar Patel, who is also in-charge of SAI’s Kolkata Centre of Excellence.
“At this young age, they really know how to hold their nerves in tough games like these. To play according to the situation is a big thing at this age.
“Shoot-outs aren’t easy and these girls did a great job, so credit to them,” sub-junior in-charge and coach at STC Sundergarh Pradeep Kumar Sarangi added.
The girls were drawn from SAI academies across the country and selected through open trials.
While nine of the sub-junior girls belong to STC Sundergarh, Kolkata and Lucknow had a big share in the junior side.
SAI currently has 25 STCs, and one CoE and National Hockey Academy each catering to hockey.
Both Sarangi and Patel agreed that getting players from diverse regions and backgrounds to play together was the biggest challenge.
“We had less time due to the pandemic. With girls from Punjab, Haryana, UP, Jharkhand, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, building a strong team was a challenge. At sub-junior level, players are asked to play in a specific manner so it depends how they adapt to the team and situations quickly and they did exceptionally well,” Sarangi said.
“This shows SAI-Academy is doing good work at grassroots level. When you have players from different regions, the focus is on coordination and collective mindset.
“We worked on this at a one-month camp before the tournament and improved through the competition,” Patel added.
Last year, Hockey India had restructured its National championships, separating competitions for State units, PSUs and academies.
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