Muscat: Omani youth need better facilities to ensure that the country has a long-term, successful and sustainable future in hockey, says the Secretary General of the Pakistan Hockey Association.
Shahbaz Ahmed, widely hailed as one of the best players of his generation, said there is an urgent need for academies to help develop and cultivate interest in the sport in Oman.
He is currently in the Sultanate as part of a Pakistan team, which has travelled to Oman to take part in the Friendship Cup, organised by the Embassy of Pakistan and the Oman Hockey Association to boost interest in the sport and ties between the two nations.
“The Omani youth need to be motivated to play hockey,” said Ahmed, a winner of the 1994 Hockey World Cup. “They need to be shown that there is a future in this sport, otherwise they will not want to play it. What is needed now are academies that will take care of their development and well-being.”
“These academies need to have a proper academic syllabus for them, as well as proper sports training, so that they can live full-time in hostels attached to them, and are taught discipline and their skills are improved so that one day, they can play the sport and represent their country,” he added.
Although there are about 24 hockey clubs in the country, there is little grass-roots development in the sport to speak of, and Ahmed, who also represented his nation at the 1990 World Cup and the 1992 Olympic Games, was keen to shed some light on how the Sultanate would benefit from bringing local talent through the ranks.
“What the Oman Hockey Association needs to do now is look at what is most important to help grow the sport in Oman, otherwise it will continue to stay at this level,” said Ahmed, speaking exclusively to the Times of Oman, ahead of the final of the Friendship Cup. “It can get very hot in this country, so there needs to be more focus on indoor hockey, with training on outdoor pitches provided to them when the weather outside is better.”
“There is no need right now to play on big pitches, which is what is currently happening,” he added. “Young Omanis need to play on smaller pitches, so that they get the ball every five seconds and gain confidence with it, so that they know what to do with it. It is unfortunately a similar case back home as well, because Pakistan has been out of contention for the World Cup for a while, so when our younger players get the ball, they don’t know what to do with it, they make mistakes and they give the ball away very easily.”
Long-term change, said Ahmed, could only happen with a streamlined coaching process across local and national level.
“If you look at the best teams in the world, such as Australia and the Netherlands, they have a very organised system in place,” he revealed. “Their teams will never fluctuate in quality, but stay at a consistent level throughout. Right now, Oman needs coaches who can aid in the development of their players at a young level.”
“If they can introduce the sport in schools and generate interest in boys, who are maybe between the ages of 13 and 16, there will be a future in this sport,” added Ahmed. “It is also important to have local coaches, because foreign trainers will complete their two or three-year employment contract and go back home and the players will return to the same level they were at when they began playing hockey.”