Even as the COVID-19 epidemic continued to spark sports calendars globally, emerging talent at the Naval Tata Hockey Academy (NTHA) high-performance center in Bhubaneswar sparked a bio-bubble in early June last year. Started as Watchful eyes of veteran Dutch drag-flicker Floris Jan Bovelander.
‘Bom Bom Bovelander’, as he was often called during his playing days, the 55-year-old has World Cup and Olympic gold against his name. Bowlender, an advisor to the hockey wing of the Tata Steel Sports Academy and an avid follower of Indian hockey, believes that Indian spirits combined with the technical nuances of Europe can cast magic on turf.
The legendary hockey player, who has scored 216 goals in a conversation with Sportstar, talks about life at NTHA, the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo, Indian hockey, the art of drag flaking, and more.
The international calendar has been disrupted twice in Europe and Indian teams have not played international hockey for a long time. How can it affect things at the Olympics this year?
In international hockey, there have been hardly any matches in the last year and the few matches that happened were without any supporters. Especially in Europe, I think the Olympics will take at least half a year to play with the audience in a full stadium.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the Olympics will be because you don’t do many top matches. You need top matches to see what is the standard and what is the level of your team and opposition. The Olympics will be a big surprise for most of us.
You have been a close observer of Indian hockey for a long time. How do you see the process of scouting talent that has developed over the years?
I think scouting has definitely improved over the last decade. The big advantage is that there are more academies with artificial pitches and good coaching, which definitely helps young children to develop. Of course, more is better, but I think infrastructure improvements have definitely been raised over the last decade so you can see a major improvement in talent scouting. I see some changes there and it is good for Indian hockey.
As a drag-flicker, do you think this is a skill that needs to be practiced from a very young age?
In general, basic techniques and skills are learned at an early age, although for drag flicks, I think you need to be more mature. In 14–15 years, this is a good period to start a drag flick. Even at the age of 16–17, you can still start if you are a physically strong girl or boy and have a good technique. In a drag flick, it is a combination of body and technique. Taller players always have a stronger drag flick.
I have developed my drag flicks only at a later age, as I hit Penalty Corner, although it went very well, but was not as good as a drag-flicker, as they were at a younger age. Could start
As Asian countries adapt to the European way of playing hockey, do you think young Indian players may lose some of their specific individual skills?
If you look at the Indian men’s team, they have many Australian and Dutch coaches, and thus, they adapted some technical parts of European hockey.
But they still have their Indian souls. I think what it should be like if we all keep playing like this then it will be dull for hockey. We need some attractive players like Indians have always been. I like the efficient and powerful dribble of Indians, though sometimes it is not as effective as it should be.
What were the implications for developing the plan of the Naval Tata Hockey Academy?
NTHA has some influence from our Bowlander Hockey Academy which is based on the European (Belgium and Netherlands’) style of hockey. Not just running and dribbling, some young stars like to play especially from the districts. We have different players – like Punjab players have different personalities than players from Jharkhand, Odisha and Assam. Some specialize in defending, while others are more into attack.
The COVID-19 bubble mentally demands too much from athletes. What measures were taken to keep their players motivated for a long time?
The players of NTHA and Odisha were very fortunate to live in a bubble and start with hockey activities in June-July. Yes, it is hard to motivate them when they are just practicing and not playing any matches or tournaments, but to be honest, these girls were very happy at the academy in Bhubaneswar. He felt that he was very privileged and had the opportunity to play.