Hockey has become a very fast and physically demanding sport; it demands the highest degree of fitness. The changes in surface and rules have played a great part in making hockey a tough sport.
Synthetic turfs replaced grass ones on the international circuit more than three decades ago. In 1996, the off-side rule was abolished.
Obstruction and turning rules have been softened and more recently the self-pass was introduced. These changes have greatly increased the pace of the game.
There has always been a debate about which sport produces the fittest athletes? The Loughborough University of the UK is home to the world’s largest university-based sports technology research group.
The sports scientists at Loughborough studied hours of action from the 2014 hockey World Cup, looking mainly at two qualities: the distances run during a match and the intensity maintained while running.
They then compared these to two other fast-paced team sports, football and rugby 7s.
The results revealed that on average, field players in hockey cover more distance and work at a higher intensity than footballers or rugby players.
Recently, famed Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans took over Pakistan’s national team. The recent Commonwealth Games was his first assignment. According to him, the skill level of the Pakistani players is still quite good. But their fitness level is poor as compared to the top international sides such as Australia, Netherlands and Germany.
On Oltmans’ recommendation, Pakistan Hockey Federation has acquired the services of the renowned Australian physical trainer Daniel Barry.
Champions Trophy in Breda, Holland, from June 23 to July 1 is Pakistan’s next assignment. In the first phase of the preparation, a physical conditioning camp for 38 players has been set up at Abbottabad from May 1-15.
Daniel Barry holds a Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Perth’s Edith Cowan University as well as professional accreditation from the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association.
In his professional career of more than 10 years, he has worked with sports persons from a number of disciplines in various countries. These include Australian Rules football, basketball, cricket (Western Australian state women team and Perth Scorchers of Women’s Big Bash League), diving, hockey, track cycling and volleyball.
Barry also had a stint with the Shanghai Sports Institute, interacting with athletes of various disciplines.
Barry is confident of enhancing the fitness standards to the required levels in six months. The national team might give a big surprise at the World Cup in India later this year.
In hockey, he was with the Indian national junior women team though his guidance was also sought by the national senior squads. In an interview with ‘The News on Sunday’, Barry spoke on a variety of issues related to player fitness. Following are the excerpts.
TNS: What sort of fitness programmes are you carrying out here?
Daniel Barry: I believe it is possible to take the fitness of Pakistani players to a level comparable to that of world’s top hockey teams. It is a long process. Some fitness markers such as aerobics should show improvement in a few weeks. But in terms of results on the field, it might take up to six months to attain the levels we want to see.
TNS: What is your assessment of the general physical condition of the Pakistani players?
DB: Speed and aerobic endurance is below par. For instance, in a typical aerobic test, the average was found to be 17, not satisfactory for the national senior outfit. Such a score may be acceptable for the national junior women players. My goal is to take it to at least 20. Currently, only a couple of players are there.
TNS: And strength?
DB: Body strength in hockey is obviously essential for running fast with or without the ball as well as for effective execution of skills like hitting, flicking and pushing. A strong body is also more resilient to injuries. For this, work in gymnasium is of paramount importance which is a part of our daily routine.
TNS: Are Pakistani players enthusiastic about what you are telling them?
DB: I have found them to be very attentive and, importantly, quick learners. It was visible from day one.
TNS: How important is food?
DB: Roelant and I stress a clean diet, which means less fat and less carbohydrates. Carbs are good but only to a certain extent. Normal Pakistani meals carry a lot. For a top level athlete, body fat should be below 16. But most of the players have more than that. In this regard, we work with the kitchen staff.
TNS: Will you elaborate on your fitness plans?
DB: There will be a centralised general programme during the first few weeks focused on core competencies such as aerobic training and running techniques plus upper body and lower body strengthening. Later, some specialized element would be included such as different running techniques for the forwards. It will be definitely different for the goalkeepers. An individual’s strengths and weaknesses will also be considered in devising his particular fitness programme.
“Players will have to come to minimum levels such as the timings to cover five metres, 20 metres, etc. Then there are strength markers. Individual’s body weights should be appropriate.
“We have been told that often Pakistani players get complacent when they go home and return to the next camp with poor fitness levels. To counter this, the players will be given homework so that they remain fit. Periodically online surveys will be sent during these off camp days. They have to feed data related to the fitness markers. Of course, a lot would depend on trust. But on their return to the camps if they don’t hit the markers, the team’s hierarchy would deal with them in an appropriate manner.”
TNS: Are you satisfied with the facilities here?
DB: The army setup here is very good. It is a beautiful mountainous place and we have been provided with a nice accommodation. The gymnasium needs a little bit of uplift. On the whole, the facilities are very much satisfactory.