Hockey India to launch zonal championships at sub-junior and junior levels

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Hockey India announced their ambitious new Grassroots Development Program which is designed to unearth young talent and improve the bench strength of the National Senior and Junior teams for men and women. Under this initiative, HI will conduct zonal championships at Sub-Junior and Junior levels.

The program aims to find the most talented players in each of the zones – north, south, east, and west. The first inter-zonal tournaments will begin on 19th March 2023, with an expected 30 state teams participating. 

President of Hockey India, Padma Shri Dr Dilip Tirkey, spoke about the potential impact of the introduction of Zonal Championships, “The Zonal Championships will provide young athletes with exposure to the same match conditions as the Hockey India National Championships. Shortlisted athletes identified in the zonal championships will be required to participate in the National Championships, giving them opportunities to further develop their Hockey skills.” 

To promote the identification of talented athletes, each zone will be equipped with selection committees, Hockey India Secretary General Mr. Bhola Nath Singh said, “Each of the zones will have its own selection panel. The selection committee will consist of a minimum of three members each. The selectors and the coaches of the zonal teams will be responsible to monitor and keep us updated on the further development of all the players” 

In addition, Mr Tirkey added that Hockey India officials are focusing on developing players in specialized positions, such as goalkeepers and drag flickers. “We are looking to develop the sport of hockey in a holistic way. We want to grow players in specialized positions such as goalkeepers and drag flickers. A group of ten men and women goalkeepers and drag flickers will be selected initially and trained under Indian as well as foreign coaches.” The Grassroots Development Committee will identify locations for the players’ training and adequate facilities will be provided for conducting specialized coaching camps with the support of Hockey India.  

The programs aims to track the development of players from the age of U16 and monitor their progression throughout their career. This will enable Hockey India to identify the current skill set of each player and focus on honing and polishing their skills. Mr. Tirkey further added, “the development of players in Junior and Sub-Junior teams is also a focus, as not everyone can play for the Indian national team. The zonal championships will allow players to take pride in playing for their zonal team and enhance their resumes.” 

Hockey India officials are also looking to create U17 and U19 Indian teams and send them for domestic and foreign exposure. This will help players gain experience and draw in more fans, generating interest in the sport. As a result, the future bench strength of the main Junior and Senior Indian teams is expected to become stronger. Mr Tirkey asserted that, “The development of players will be strictly scrutinized as they proceed through the various development phases, and Hockey India officials are determined not to miss a single talent.” Finally, U-23 National development squad will also be integrated into the ecosystem to serve as a feeder for the Indian team. 

To supplement their vision, Hockey India further identified two crucial components. A special coach's panel is being formed for the Inter-Zonal Championship, which will consist of coaches who hold a minimum FIH Level 1 Certificate. This panel will not only coach the teams participating in the championship but also ensure the development of their fellow domestic coaches. Along with coaches and players, match officials are also crucial to the success of hockey in India. Hockey India Secretary General Mr. Bhola Nath Singh said, “Match officials are as important as coaches and players. We already have a list of promising technical officials from across the country, they will form a robust match officials panel that will officiate the grassroots tournaments.” 

Overall, the new grassroots development program augurs well for the development of hockey in India. The initiative aims to identify and train young talent, develop specialized positions and track the progression of players from a young age. With a strong focus on the development of players in junior and sub-junior teams, the program will help enhance aspiring players and generate more interest in the sport.

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