Stephen banking on future breed to lift hockey to new heights

FOR 12 years, he has been in the forefront of the national hockey team, serving as assistants to foreigners and then running the team in his own right. Today, former international and national skipper Stephen van Huizen goes into his last tournament as national junior hockey coach. He talks to STARSPORT’S S. RAMAGURU about coaching and the national team. 

KUALA LUMPUR: When coach Stephen Van Huizen bids goodbye to the national hockey team on Jan 12 after 12 years on the job, there will be no regrets on his part. 

Hockey has taken up much of his life and his old job at the Bumiputra Commerce Bank will be a welcome place to unwind.  

“But never count Stephen out of the national team. The itch may yet hit him again and he may yet return. 

“For now, I have to concentrate on the bank job. I cannot tell what will happen in six months or a year from now.  

ON A HIGH: National coach Stephen van Huizen gets chaired by his players after beating Japan 2-1 in Osaka in March, 2000 to qualify for the Sydney Olympics. It was one of the high point of his 12-year-old coaching career. Stephen will retire from coaching on Jan 12.

“I certainly have a lot to offer and it is just that for the moment I have to take a break. Twelve years is a long time,” he said. 

In 12 years, Stephen has done much for the national team. Even now, the question is: Is there any local capable of stepping into his shoes?  

Several will try. Former players like Sarjit Singh, Lim Chiow Chuan, Nor Saiful Zaini, Tai Beng Hai and A. Arulselvaraj are being groomed and one of them should, ultimately, take over.  

First, Stephen says, they have to understand sports science at all three levels. “The coaching curriculum is divided into the sports science and sports specific. Many coaches tend to ignore the sports science side.  

“Sports today is a science in itself and you need to have a wide knowledge – from player management to psychology to diet, technique and tactical know-how.  

“I have learnt a lot in the 12 years under Terry Walsh, Paul Lissek and Volker Knaap. Each had his own way of doing things. But the learning process has not stopped for me,” he said. 

But if there is one thing Stephen believes in most, it is player management, the ability to get the best out of even the most wayward player. That, after all, is the first lesson he learnt as a coach. 

Stephen started his coaching career in 1990 under Australian Walsh after retiring from the national hockey team in 1988. 

And it was Walsh who taught him his most important lessons in coaching. “Terry brought a sense of professionalism to the management of the national team and he showed how important player management is. 

“He turned the most difficult players into stars and was able to get them to perform in the international arena. For me that was an important lesson. 

“Local coaches will often simply drop a player they cannot control or understand. But Terry's approach was different and it worked,'' he said. 

Some of the “tougher” players who Walsh had to handle included the likes of Sarjit Singh, K. Embaraj, Mohamed Abdul Hadi and Gary Fidelis. These players later become the core of Walsh's teams from 1990 to 1994. 

Walsh also had a bunch of coaches learning the ropes under him, people like Wallace Tan, Colin Sta Maria, James Moorthy, Kevin Nunis, V. Sasidharan and, of course, Stephen. 

“We benefited from the structure as we were given the chance to improve and learn on the job. Today, almost all of us are handling teams at domestic level and have also worked at the national level. 

“But after 1994, fewer coaches are coming through the ranks,” he said. Thus, the plan to bring in the former internationals as coaches. 

The 43-year-old Stephen said one of the things the young coaches needed to have was a love for the game and the ability to make sacrifices. 

“The coaching hours are long and at times you will find yourself neglecting your family.  

“Besides the task on the field, you have to do video analysis, which is very important these days. 

“There is no shortcut to being a good coach. And there is no guarantee that a good player will be a successful coach either.  

“But if one is willing to learn and make the sacrifice than the task will be a whole lot easier.”  

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