On 5 August 2021, the Indian men's hockey team registered a historic win in the Tokyo Olympics. A 41-year-long drought for an Olympic medal ended when they beat Germany 5-4 for a bronze.
While Captain Manpreet, goalie PR Sreejesh, goal scorers Harmanpreet, Rupinder Pal, Dilpreet, Simranjeet, and indeed all the men in blue will be remembered for the magic they created on the turf, the one man who orchestrated this moment for months is Team India's coach — Graham Reid.
It was the hockey genius and the coaching rigour of the legendary Australian hockey Olympian that took the Indian men's hockey team to it's first Olympic semi-final since 1980. It was the self-belief and motivation coming from Reid that saw India come back from a two-goal deficit, and snatch the bronze from Germans, by a two-goal margin.
Graham Reid joined the Indian team as a coach in April 2019. Apart from being fully focused on the team, Reid has always, before and during the Olympics, regularly interacted with media, giving updates on the team's preparation. He has transparently spoken about team strategy, technique, and the skillset he's been trying to push for.
So who is Graham Reid and what did he do to lead India to this historic moment? What changes did he bring to the Indian men's hockey team, both in terms of the technique, strategy, and mindset?
Legendary Defender and Midfielder
Graham Reid was part of the Australian national hockey team. He played 130 international games for Australia, taking part in 2 Olympics, 1 World Cup, and 9 Champions Trophy tournaments. He also scored 36 goals, pretty handy for someone who was not a striker.
Reid was a part of the Australian team that won a silver medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Ironically then, the gold was won by Germany. He was also part of the Australian squad that won back-to-back Champions Trophy titles in 1984, 1985, 1989, and 1990. Graham Reid also has a bronze from the 1990 Hockey World Cup.
After being appointed Assistant Coach with the Australian Men’s team in 2009, he was elevated to Head Coach in 2012, guiding them to the Champions Trophy title that year.
Under his guidance, the Aussies also won the HWL Semi-Final in Antwerp and went on to win the HWL Final in Raipur the same year as well. He was also the Assistant Coach of the Netherlands hockey team that won the sliver medal at the 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup.
Reid's India Focus: Stronger Defence
Reid's biggest focus since the start of his coaching tenure in India has been to transform the team's defence. He has repeatedly said in media that his approach is to "go back to the basics" as "India's defensive structure needs a major overhaul".
I will continue with the improvement India is making without tinkering with their original style. My emphasis would be on basics of hockey, working on principles. India has experience, but they need resilience.Graham Reid
Reid's technique considered psychological training of the team as a significant component. He wanted the team to change its mindset, to shift focus from the outcome of the game, to the game itself.
A key part is to stay focussed on the present and not think about the outcome. What is important is the process.Graham Reid
Reid repeatedly told the team that they need to play with confidence; that their defence needs to be tough and ruthless.
Keeping Emotions in Check
Throughout the Tokyo Olympics, Graham Reid worked relentlessly on keeping the team's emotions in check. A tournament is invariably a roller coaster ride, with many ups and downs. In a high-stakes tournament like the Olympics, this uneven ride can easily disturb the team's emotional stability.
"...there is a difference between passion and emotion. Sometimes, we let our emotions take over. We need to keep 11 focused players on the pitch."Graham Reid
He taught the team how to draw on their experience, keep their defence and playing plans intact despite the emotions involved in playing all-or-nothing games.
'Different Skills Make Team India Unique': Reid
Reid worked on making the Indian team realise that they possess a different set of skills compared to European teams, and it is this difference that makes them unique.
"Indian hockey comes from a different place... you have developed different skills. A lot of Indian skills have developed because they are not big-bodied like the Europeans. We have to bridge the gap in strength."Graham Reid
So, he wanted the Indian team to hone their unique skills, but also to consciously compensate for what was lacking.
As the country rejoices India's historic Olympic medal, there's a need to also focus on the process that led us here. The team, the coach, and the synergy between the two. It's a collective effort that has taken Indian hockey to new great heights.