Fighting corona pandemic sportingly, after football, hockey may show the way

International Hockey Federation | Bengaluru Sports Authority of India Centre | Coronavirus

The corona pandemic notwithstanding, Germany’s football league san spectators took the spotlight early this month. Close on the heels of German experiment, other high contact team games, too, are planning a safe return. Hockey is one of them. While the Indian men and women core probable groups housed in the Bengaluru’s Sports Authority of India Centre suspended high-intensity hockey training in the third week of March following a nationwide lockdown have been using indoor workout regime to maintain their fitness.

Safety first as its motive, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is also all set to make a cautious return to action. As national associations, including Hockey India, have started to make plans for a safe return to hockey activities after the necessary restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the FIH has produced a document to help and support Continental Federations, National Associations and clubs through the process.

The guidelines, which are aligned to those issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), cover the entire hockey workforce – athletes, coaches, officials, staff, administrators and volunteers. Along with a risk assessment chart to which all hockey organisations are advised to adhere, there are also guidelines for organisers of international events once there is a return to international competition.

With the progression of the virus at different stages across the globe, the guidelines should be used alongside local laws and policies, providing their own bespoke guidelines for hockey providers within their area.

A speedy return to playing sports such as hockey is seen as a crucial measure to help in the promotion of mental and physical health but, with the virus still claiming hundreds of lives across the world every day, any return to training and playing has to be carefully implemented to prevent any resurgence in infection.

Three “PST” measures have been put in place by governments across the world – Public gathering restrictions (P), Social distancing (S) and Travel restrictions (T). While sports and recreational activities are gradually being reintroduced, this is subject to strict controls and regular review, taking these three measures into consideration. Hockey, as a team sport, with contact, is seen as a higher risk activity and so is subject to higher levels of control and restriction.

Within its Health and Safety guidelines, FIH has included a risk assessment – produced by Dr Sean Carmody, a doctor of sports medicine at Manchester Metropolitan University. Prior to resuming any activity, all hockey organisations should carry out an assessment based on Carmody’s risk assessment chart.

Even before any return to activity can be considered, facilities must be assessed. To ensure a safe environment, the venue or facility is likely to require a deep clean; watering systems may need to be flushed; and, through accessible information and signage, social distancing restrictions must be made clear to anyone visiting or using the facility.

These are very early days when it comes to a return to action but, within its guidance FIH has produced a five stage process showing the route back to something resembling normality. This starts, as has been seen in the Netherlands and Belgium, with a return to carefully managed training, still with social distancing measures in place. The next stage will be a resumption of regional competition, followed by local travel between neighbouring nations. Trans-Continental competition will follow and, finally, once a vaccine is in place, it is hoped there will be a return to normal competition.

There is no time scale for these stages to be reached and it will vary from country to country. There is in no doubt is that future events will look very different for the foreseeable future. When competition does resume, organisers will need to be hugely conscious of safety measures that will need to be implemented, in order to keep the hockey workforce and the fans safe. These measures are highlighted in the document.

Encapsulating a sentiment that has been expressed across the international hockey community, Australia’s Stephanie Kershaw, urged people to “stay safe and train responsibly”. As the Hockeyroos says that while everyone is excited about a return to action, this is tempered with the knowledge and understanding that global health and wellness is a much bigger priority and one that transcends all else.

Coming back to the training of Indian men and women core groups, interestingly the coaching staff is also based out of the same facility. To ensure social distancing norms the probables turn to applications that would help disseminate everyday workout schedules to them all.

“Earlier, these apps were mostly used by Coaching Staff to plan the week’s activities and share it with us. But during the lockdown, with social distancing norms in place at SAI, using Google docs for wellness data submission and Google forms for training load submissions became mandatory to update what we had done during the day and this would further be discussed through a video call with Chief Coach or our Scientific Advisor,” explained Savita, vice-captain of the Indian women’s team.

Applications like Zoom call or Google Meet has now become the ‘in-thing’ replacing ‘team huddles’ or ‘team meetings’. Putting things into perspective, Harmanpreet Singh, vice-captain of the Indian men’s team, said, “Though our support staff is based in the same campus, we use Zoom calls for individual meetings where we discuss our nutrition intake and also discuss match analysis. We are now used to apps like Google Meet platform which we use for team meetings as all of us can’t get into a huddle in the meeting room any more.”

Harmanpreet further added that the players have ensured that they learnt something new during the lockdown. “I feel we made use of this time by learning something new. Most of us in the team are gadget freaks no doubt and enjoy using social media platforms to stay in touch with our family, friends and also fans. But using these applications on an everyday basis was something we never did,” said the drag-flick specialist Harmanpreet.

While the Indian teams began using the TPA (Team Performance Analysis) software in 2017, players ensured they made maximum use of this during the lockdown when they were all tasked with the activity to analyse key matches played over the last two years. “Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne introduced us to TPA in 2017 and he made it mandatory that we all have it on our ipads so we can analyse our match. I think we made maximum use of this software during the lockdown and each one of us were asked to study the opponents we personally thought are the toughest. This was one of the most important activity we undertook during the lockdown,” added Savita.

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While the teams await further guidelines and SOP from the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports and SAI in order to resume hockey training, the players are well-prepared to return to the pitch. “I think regularly analysing our performance, both individually and as a team, has given us more clarity on the areas we need to improve and we have discussed at length about the same with Coaching Staff. With regular bodyweight training and indoor workouts, I believe we have been able to maintain good fitness level and we are ready to return to full training,” expressed Harmanpreet.